Is Decaffeinated Coffee (Decaf) Healthy? November 28 2015


Here's an interesting question we got during our recent Coffee Appreciation Session - "is decaffeinated coffee good for you?" Now, before we can answer the question, let's understand what decaf is and how it's made.

Some people have an adverse reaction to caffeine, the active ingredient in coffee and tea. Side-effects include increased blood pressure and a faster heart rate. The idea behind decaf drinks is to allow those with adverse reactions to still enjoy the taste of coffee without the associated side-effects. 

Now that we know what decaf is, how is it made? There are 2 main methods of making decaf coffee, the chemical solvent method (more popular) and the super-critical carbon dioxide method. In the chemical solvent method, the green beans are first moistened before being soaked in a chemical solvent. The usual solvents are either methylene chloride or ethyl acetate. Once the caffeine has been dissolved and stripped from the beans, the beans are first rinsed, and then steamed. 

Methylene chloride has been linked to a range of cancers including cancer of the lung, liver and pancreas in laboratory animals. However it must be noted that there weren't any studies found regarding the cancer causing effects in humans after oral exposure to methylene chloride.

Ethyl acetate is probably best recognized as a chemical in nail polish remover. Unlike methylene chloride, the side effects noted are less severe, mainly involving liver damage at high concentrations.    

Proponents of decaf say that rinsing the beans is supposed to clean them of the chemical solvent used. We agree that this will probably get rid of most of the solvent, but would you want to take a chance on what long term consumption of these chemicals could cause over a long period of time?

With the super-critical carbon dioxide method, carbon dioxide which is a liquid at high pressures is used as a solvent to extract the caffeine of the coffee beans. Carbon dioxide is a preferred solvent over the other 2, with less side-effects. It has to be noted that when you buy your coffee, which method was used isn't usually stated.

We hope this helped you better understand what decaffeinated coffee really is and how it is made. As for whether it is healthy, our personal choice is to avoid it although if you have serious adverse reactions to normal coffee, taking decaf in moderation should be fine. Do drop us any questions you might have on coffee and we'll be happy to answer them or direct you to someone who can help!