Coffee Facts

Does Decaf Coffee Taste Different?

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If you are thinking about cutting back on your caffeine intake or eliminating it altogether, switching to a decaf version of your favorite coffee can be a great place to start. By drinking decaf coffee, you can still enjoy that warm cup of coffee without the caffeine that might make you jittery, anxious, or unable to fall asleep.

One common concern for regular coffee purists who are making a switch to decaf is flavor. How can you cut back on caffeine without compromising on flavor? This article will help dedicated coffee lovers understand if decaf coffee tastes different from its caffeinated counterpart, why they might notice a difference in flavor, and how to find quality decaf coffee that still delivers on flavor.

What Makes Decaf Different

Decaf Coffee

Decaffeination is a simple process that involves warming and soaking regular coffee beans to remove the caffeine. Some beans are soaked with water alone, although most coffee makers use solvents to help strip coffee of its caffeine. The end product is decaffeinated coffee beans that contain only 3% of the caffeine they naturally do.

The problem is that solvents strip not only caffeine but can also strip the variety of chemicals in coffee beans that give them their unique flavor. Some regular coffee drinkers describe the flavor of decaf coffee as bland, fake, or even sour. Others say they do not notice any difference in flavor.

Some attribute the difference in flavor to the grind of decaf coffee. Because decaf beans are soaked and dried before roasting, the result may be an overall drier bean. Because the bean is drier, it grinds finer, resulting in a more bitter flavor than a courser, caffeinated grind.

In a blind taste test, Gourmet Traveller found coffee tasters were unable to distinguish decaf from regular coffee and that decaf coffee scored overall better on flavor. The difference in flavor may be more about reputation than the actual taste of the cup of decaf coffee. 

Depending on your unique palette, you may or may not notice a difference in the flavor of decaf when compared with caffeinated coffee. Whether or not you notice this difference also depends on finding the right decaf for you. High-quality decaf coffee can be just as tasty as the caffeinated stuff.

Finding the Best Decaf Coffee

One key to finding a decaf that satisfies as well as caffeinated coffee is to go with a stronger flavored bean. Look for words like “bold” or “robust” in product descriptions or opt for a darker coffee roast that will have a more robust flavor.

We recommend these top five decaf coffees for 2021:

Atlas coffee, a monthly subscription service that will deliver flavorful, decaf coffee beans right to your doorstep

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Atlas Coffee Club
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coffee of the month club that curates amazingmicro-lot coffees from around the world.Tanzania, Kenya, Colombia & beyond.

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Lifeboost, which uses a water-only decaffeination method, promises a smooth, medium roast without the caffeine

Lifeboost Coffee
Lifeboost Coffee
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Enjoy delicious, healthy, single origin, chemical-free, non-GMO coffee from small farms in the mountains of Nicaragua.

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Mother Tongue Coffee Decaf Fincas Mierisch, a medium-dark roast Nicaraguan coffee that tastes like chocolate cherry cake

Mother Tongue Coffee Fincas Mierisch
Mother Tongue Coffee - Decaf Fincas Mierisch
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This Mother Tongue Coffee yummy decaf is water processed from Jinotega, Nicaragua, and tastes like cherry chocolate cake.

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Stay Golden Coffee Company Easy Does It Decaf, a sweet medium roast you can enjoy without that jittery caffeine spike

Stay Golden
Stay Golden - Easy Does It
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As delicious as it is easy-going, this decaf features notes of cherry and lemon alongside a deep toffee sweetness.

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PT’s Coffee MWP Decaf Huerta Del Rio, a 98% caffeine-free quality coffee roasted medium-dark with a smooth, balanced flavor and aroma

PT's MWP Decaf
PT's MWP Decaf Huerta del Rio
Our rating:

Medium-dark roastiness and all the candy bar sweetness you can hope for makes this single-origin decaf one you’ll be happy to relax with.

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Some decaf drinkers would rather buy instant coffee because they simply are not going to make a whole pot of decaf. If you prefer your decaf of the instant variety, check out these instant decaf coffees recommended by us:

Waka Coffee Decaf Instant Columbian Coffee, a medium roasted Arabica coffee with a smooth, balanced flavor

Decaffeinated Waka Coffee
Waka Instant Columbian Coffee - Decaffeinated
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Just like our caffeinated instant coffee, the decaf version is also freeze dried to preserve aroma and original flavor of the beans.

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Mount Hagen Organic Freeze-Dried Instant Decaf Coffee, a fair trade organic brew that promises drinkers a 99.99% caffeine-free cup of joe

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Café Bustelo Espresso Instant Decaf Coffee, a bold instant coffee best enjoyed mixed with milk

Starbucks Via Italian Roast Instant Decaf Coffee, a strongly-flavored dark roast available in a variety of grocery stores

Folgers Classic Decaf Instant Coffee, a mainstream staple that promises classic American medium roast flavor without any of that pesky caffeine

Conclusion

The initial decaffeination process that strips coffee of its caffeine may also strip it of some flavor. The jury is still out on whether decaf actually tastes worse or even different than caffeinated coffee. If you’re a true coffee connoisseur and find yourself dissatisfied with the flavor of decaf, opt for a bolder bean or darker roasted coffee. You can start your decaf exploration by checking out our best decaf coffee list for 2021.

Happy (De)Caffeinating!

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