Decaffeinated coffee is presumed to have little or no caffeine. The amount of caffeine in decaf coffee can be surprising, though. Here’s a look at just what you might be drinking if you have a cup of the unleaded stuff.
In the United States, “decaffeinated” is best understood as having gone through a process. For a coffee to be called decaffeinated, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that 97 percent of its caffeine is removed. The agency doesn’t require coffee companies to state how much caffeine was originally in a coffee, though. Nor does it require companies to state how much caffeine is left in coffee. (There are several processes for removing caffeine from coffee.)
In theory, this requirement should ensure that only a negligible amount of caffeine is left in decaf coffees. The Mayo Clinic lists the caffeine content of a cup of coffee at between 75 and 150 milligrams. (These figures include both robusta and arabica coffee. Robusta beans contain about twice as much caffeine as arabica ones.)
Cups of decaf, thus, should have between 2.25 and 4.5 milligrams of caffeine. These figures aren’t “0,” but they don’t amount to a lot even after drinking several cups.
In practice, however, decaf coffee can have more than 4.5 milligrams of caffeine. While most decaffeinated coffees have only a small amount of caffeine, some have a lot more than would be expected.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the amount of caffeine in decaf coffee can range anywhere from 2 to 25 milligrams.
A study of decaf coffee at national chains that was conducted by Consumer Reports in 2007 is even more surprising. The study found that most cups of decaf had less than 5 milligrams of caffeine, aligning with the expected amounts. There were outliers that had a lot more. One cup had 32 milligrams of caffeine, and another had 29.
The coffees that had 32 and 29 milligrams of caffeine were exceptions, but their caffeine content is likely alarming to some. This amount of caffeine is on par with a can of Coca-Cola, (23 to 35 milligrams) and close to a can of Pepsi (32 to 39 milligrams). It’s also close to the amount in green tea (25 to 35 milligrams) and bottled tea (5 to 30 milligrams). It’s even within the range of black tea (14 to 70 milligrams).
Decaffeinated, in short, doesn’t mean caffeine free. It’s a term that’s used to tell consumers that a coffee went through a process that removed most of the caffeine. It doesn’t indicate that the coffee is free from all caffeine.
To learn more about coffee, follow us on Twitter. We regularly share new posts on just what goes into a cup of coffee.