Last Updated on September 13, 2023

What is the Difference Between Decaf and Regular Coffee? Here are 8 Things You Should Know

difference between decaf and regular coffee

If you’re a regular coffee drinker, the difference between decaf and regular coffee can be H-U-G-E. I mean, we enjoy our java for a variety of reasons…the boost it gives us, the rich, full-bodied taste, the ritual of the preparation, and more. 

The Differences Between Decaf and Regular Coffee

So considering a switch to decaf can be life-changing for some die hard coffee drinkers.

Still, there are times in our lives when it is better for our health, our overall sense of well-being, and our sleep patterns, to consider a decaf version of our beloved cup of joe.

Is decaffeinated coffee still coffee? Is there any caffeine at all in it? Will it cost more…be harder to brew??

Here are eight things you should know when considering the difference between decaf and regular coffee1

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What is Decaf Coffee, and  How is Decaf Coffee Made?

Decaf is short for decaffeinated. Decaffeinated coffee is coffee that has had at least 97% of the caffeine removed.

The process of de-caffeinating coffee beans takes place at specialized processing plants.

In general, decaffeination involves water-logging coffee beans when before roasting (while they’re still green) so that the caffeine inside can be made soluble, meaning that it can be dissolved. There are different ways of washing that caffeine out of the beans.

Although it is not required for companies to disclose how they removed the caffeine from the decaf coffee you just purchased, it probably happened in one of these ways:

  • chemical solvents are used in miniscule amounts to remove the caffeine from green coffee beans
  • carbon dioxide is used to separate the caffeine from the green cofffee beans
  • the Swiss Water Process, which involves soaking the green coffee beans in water until the water becomes saturated with the coffee components, filtering out the caffeine using carbon, then taking that uncaffeinated green coffee extract to remove the caffeine from rehydrated green coffee beans. The result is decaffeinated coffee beans. 

The Difference Between Decaf and Regular Coffee: 8 Things to Know

8 differences between decaf coffee and regular coffee

 1 | How Much Caffeine is in Decaf Coffee vs. Regular Coffee?

When we think about the difference between decaf coffee and regular coffee the first thing that comes to mind is…how much caffeine? Good question!

Decaf coffee is not totally caffeine-free. On average, an 8-ounce (236-ml) cup of brewed decaf coffee contains up to 7 mg of caffeine, whereas a cup of regular brewed coffee contains 70–140 mg.

How about your favorite coffee shop cup of decaf coffee? Here are some interesting stats showing the caffeine content of some popular brands (medium size regular coffee, brewed):

  • Starbucks: 15-30 mg
  • Dunkin Donuts: 7-18 mg
  • McCafe: 8-14 mg
  • K-cup: 2-4 mg
  • Tim Hortons: 6-15 mg
  • Caribou: 4-6 mg

2 | Does Decaf Coffee Taste the Same as Regular Coffee?

The coffee that we brew and love with a passion contains a tremendous number of chemicals, with over 1000 aroma compounds. It’s a complicated explanation, so we’ll just leave it at that for  now. 

During the decaffeination process, many of the naturally derived chemicals in our little friends the green coffee beans are removed. The result? A cup of joe that has greatly reduced caffeine in it, but also a taste that will not be the same as its caffeinated cousin.

whiskey barrel coffee gift

Here’s the thing. Well, two things. First, if you find that reducing the amount of caffeine you ingest is necessary, then you make the switch and keep an open mind (and palate) about the taste of your new friend, decaf coffee.

Second, brewing a tasty cup of coffee, decaf or regular, is a very personal thing. You and I can both brew a cup of joe using the same brand of coffee, even the same brewing process, and achieve a very different result. Why? It comes down to the amount of coffee used, whether the beans are ground fresh or pre-ground, and the type and amount of water we choose.

Bottom line? No, decaf coffee does not taste the same as regular coffee. But it doesn’t have to taste bad. You’ll need to experiment with different brands, and roasts, and brewing methods, to find the taste that works for you.

3 | Is Decaf Coffee Brewed the same as Regular Coffee?

The quick answer is yes, it is brewed the same way as regular coffee. There isn’t a special coffee maker you need, or a particular brewing method that is required.

But keep in mind what we discussed in point #2:

  • the roast and brand you select
  • whether you grind the beans fresh or use pre-ground decaf coffee
  • your choice of water
  • the brewing method

You make decisions about all of these steps in the coffee brewing process, and they will have an impact on the taste.

4 | Does Decaf Coffee Cost the Same as Regular Coffee?

The short answer is, sometimes. It’s not a black and white response because of the variables in coffee roasts.

But, keep in mind that the process to decaffeinate coffee is involved, takes time, can be more labor intensive, and therefore can result in a higher price than regular coffee.

There is so much variation, too, in the type of roast as well as brand, that it makes it more difficult to compare.

So let’s do this. We’ll compare one brand, Peet’s Coffee, Major Dickason’s roast, and see how the price varies – note that the regular roast is for an 18 oz. bag, and the decaf is for 10.5 oz. bag:

So, you’re paying, in this example, 63.5 cents per ounce for the regular roast, and 85.6 cents per ounce for the decaf coffee. You are going to pay more for Major Dickason’s decaf coffee than the regular roast.

5 | Can I get the Brand and Roast That I Want in Decaf Coffee?

It depends on what brand and roast you drink, my friend, but most likely you’ll find that there is less availability and options in decaf coffee than with regular roast.

Let’s go to our friends at Peets Coffee again as an example. On the day that I did this sampling, here is what I found (all types of coffee, including ground, K-cup and Nespresso cup):

  • 48 regular coffee choices 
  • 8 decaf coffee choices
  • 5 half-caf choices

If you find that drinking decaf coffee is better for you, it might mean you’ll be sampling a variety of decaf coffee brands to see what appeals to you the most from what is available. Yes, the difference between decaf and regular coffee is a real thing!

6 | Are There Antioxidants in Both Regular and Decaf Coffee?

Yes, both regular coffee and decaf coffee contain helpful antioxidants. Decaf coffee may have about 15% less antioxidants, though, than its regular counterpart, having lost some of those antioxidants during the decaffeination process

Antioxidants are very effective at neutralizing reactive compounds called free radicals. This reduces oxidative damage and may help prevent diseases like heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.

In addition to the antioxidants, decaf also contains minor amounts of some nutrients. One cup of brewed decaf coffee provides 2.4% of the recommended daily intake of magnesium, 4.8% of potassium, and 2.5% of niacin, or vitamin B3. I know, it doesn’t seem like very much, but the benefits can add up if you drink more than 1 cup of decaf coffee per day.

7 | How Much Decaf and Regular Coffee Can I Drink each Day?

If you regularly drink coffee (my little paw is raised high) and don’t feel any negative affects like the jitters, sleeplessness, anxiety, etc. (and if you’re not pregnant), the general consensus is that it’s okay to drink 4 to 5 cups of coffee per day, with a total of about 400 mg of caffeine. An average cup of coffee has about 95 mg of caffeine.

And, we all have different levels of tolerance, so what works just fine for me might not have the same result for you. We can also acquire a tolerance over time, as our bodies adjust to the daily caffeine intake.

My magic number is 3 cups, 8 to 10 ounces each, per day, of strong, black coffee. I know that as long as I consume my java before 4 p.m. I’m good. It won’t keep me awake at night.

Decaf coffee has had at least 97% of the caffeine removed from it, and as such, it is not harmful to drink.

8 | Is Decaf Coffee Bad for you? Is Regular Coffee Bad for you?

Drinking decaf coffee is not harmful, according to research, and actually can provide some health benefits. While it’s true that decaf coffee can contain very small amounts of methylene chloride (used in the decaffeination process), the FDA does not consider this to pose a health risk

Drinking regular coffee within reasonable amounts as discussed above has not been shown to be harmful to people. Keep in mind, though, that your individual tolerance as well as other foods and beverages you consume that contain caffeine, your overall health, and medications you may take, can have an impact on your ability to drink coffee without side effects

infographic - difference between decaf and regular coffee

So, how about you? Is it time to think about adding some decaf coffee into your daily java consumption? Hopefully you’ve learned everything you need to know about the difference between decaf and regular coffee to make a wise and informed decision!