Does decaf coffee taste different from regular coffee?

3 Mar 2022

Coffee

Want to keep your caffeine intake down but can’t get enough of that irresistible coffee flavour? Decaf coffee could be the answer…

Whether you’re sensitive to caffeine, want to limit your intake or just want to try something a little different, you might be intrigued by the concept of decaf coffee. How do producers remove the caffeine, and what does this kind of coffee taste like? 

Woman drinking from a white mug

What is decaf coffee?

Decaffeinated, or ‘decaf’, coffee is simply coffee without the caffeine. You can get coffee alternatives made from ingredients such as chicory. Such alternatives are free from caffeine but don’t necessarily have the rich, decadent taste that coffee beans have.

If you’re anything like us, you’ll have explored all the nuanced flavours that great quality coffee beans have to offer. However, coffee beans naturally contain caffeine, and you may be looking to reduce or cut out your caffeine intake. Some people may find they are sensitive to caffeine and get headaches if they drink too much. Or perhaps you’re expecting a baby and want to switch to decaf for the duration of your pregnancy. 

Whatever the reason, we believe that decaf coffee options should still have the flavour complexity and satisfying aroma that the real deal has. That’s why we developed The One Decaf — a decaffeinated version of our signature blend that retains the full-bodied depth of the caffeinated version. Why compromise on taste?

Woman brewing filter coffee

Does decaf coffee have any caffeine in it?

The decaffeination process removes between 97% and 99.9% of the caffeine in coffee beans. As such, it is not completely caffeine-free but has low enough levels that you can still enjoy your favourite indulgent drinks — whether that’s a creamy latte, foamy cappuccino or a heavenly mocha — without experiencing noticeable effects of caffeine. (It’s worth noting, of course, that chocolate does still contain caffeine, so be aware if mochas are your go-to).

If you want to cut out caffeine completely for health reasons, always speak to a medical professional for guidance.

How is coffee decaffeinated?

So, if coffee beans naturally contain caffeine, how can you remove it? Well, there are three main decaffeination methods in the UK. You may find that you prefer the taste of coffee that uses a particular method.

The decaffeination process always takes place before the coffee beans are roasted. At this stage, the beans are still green. The idea is to take away the caffeine without removing any of the other chemicals that give coffee its complex flavour.

Solvent method (or natural method)

Soaking coffee beans in a safe solvent like ethyl acetate (which occurs in apples and pears)can draw out the caffeine. There are technically two forms of solvent decaffeination: direct and in-direct. The difference lies in how long the beans soak for and how they are rinsed.

Because the solvent process normally uses an ingredient produced by fruit, it’s also referred to as the ‘natural method.’ It’s probably the most common decaffeination process for coffee.

CO2 method

Another popular way of removing caffeine is to use carbon dioxide to selectively act upon the caffeine. This process involves soaking coffee beans then placing them in a large, sealed stainless steel container. Experts will then force liquid CO2 into the coffee at high pressure to extract the caffeine but leave the larger flavour molecules behind. After extracting the caffeine, the CO2 is transferred to another container and becomes a gas again.

This process is most common with very large batches of decaf coffee.

Swiss Water method

The Swiss Water method, which originated in the 1930s, is a way of decaffeinating coffee without using chemicals. It sounds complicated but has excellent results. Essentially, soaking unroasted, green coffee beans in extremely hot water dissolves the caffeine. However, it also dissolves sugars and other compounds that give coffee its distinctive flavour.

Next, the water from those beans passes through a charcoal filter which traps large caffeine molecules ad lets the rest of the oils and compounds through. Now, you have a flavoursome, liquid green coffee extract that will go on to soak a new batch of green coffee beans. This time, the hot water dissolves the caffeine but already has all the flavours and aromas and imparts those on the new beans.

Green, unroasted coffee beans in a silver bowl

Does decaf coffee taste different from regular coffee?

There are lots of factors that contribute to how any coffee tastes — from growing location and soil acidity to the processing method. That’s why there are so many options and tasting notes. Our five Rabot Estate blends exemplify how much variety there can be in the coffee world. Perhaps some days you’re in the mood for something smooth and mellow, whereas other times you might fancy something with a fruity tartness. We’re sure you’ll find the perfect Rabot blend to hit the spot.

As you can see, the decaffeination process does risk damaging or removing some of the flavour compounds, so creating great-tasting decaf coffee poses more of a challenge than producing caffeinated. Because decaffeination happens while the beans are still green, it can cause them to get darker — this can make judging roast level tricky and decaf coffee can become over-roasted. Poorer quality beans that are decaffeinated on a very large scale can end up having a bitter flavour or distinctive ‘burnt’ aftertaste.

At Hotel Chocolat, we worked really hard to strike the right balance with our decaf coffee. By only using high-quality beans and carrying out a decaffeination process with meticulous care, we’ve made sure The One Decaf retains the deep notes of milk chocolate, caramel, and warm fruit of its caffeinated counterpart. Customer reviews have confirmed that this decaf blend has the smoothness and robust flavour of any ‘normal’ coffee.

Delicious decaf coffee from Hotel Chocolat

Do you enjoy your coffee as a short and strong espresso? Or a luxurious latte? (Hot milk prepared in the Velvetiser is sure to take your home barista game to the next level!). Either way, our decaf offering is the ideal alternative to caffeinated coffee if you’re looking to cut down a little.

Available in whole bean or coffee pods, there’s a The One Decaf to treat your taste buds.