What is Starbucks decaf coffee? Many people ask this question or harbor various assumptions about it, but the answer is simpler than you may realize.
Starbucks Decaffeinated coffee is the same as its regular coffee, but with a much lower caffeine content of about 3%. I have a reasonable liking for coffee but realized that I also struggle with insomnia and a sensitive stomach. Despite this, decaf coffee is always there to boost my energy slightly without the annoying side effects of caffeine consumption. My motivation to write this article is to give you a comprehensive decaf coffee guide based on my experiences with Starbucks.
Table of Contents
What is decaf coffee?
Decaf coffee and regular coffee are the same product, but decaf coffee undergoes additional processes to reduce its caffeine content.
A shortened name for decaffeinated coffee, its coffee beans has at least 97% of their caffeine removed, leaving them with a caffeine content of between 1 and 3% (you cannot remove caffeine entirely). This is equivalent to about 3 to 7mg of caffeine in a 180ml (6 ounces) cup of decaf coffee, while the same amount of regular coffee contains about 70 to 140mg of caffeine.
What is the extraction process of decaf coffee beans?
The process of caffeine extraction is imperfect and difficult, as the aim is to separate the coffee bean from its caffeine while retaining its other chemical components such as amino acids, sugars, proteins, and cellulose. These other chemicals give the bean its distinct coffee flavor, so altering their composition alters the coffee’s taste.
Before talking about any decaf processes, there are some facts to keep in mind:
- In its green state (unroasted), coffee is always decaffeinated.
- The challenge of decaffeination is separating the caffeine from the beans and still retaining the original composition of the other chemical components.
- Water will always feature in all decaffeination processes because caffeine is water-soluble.
- Although water is a consistent feature in the process, it is not a foolproof decaffeination solution. It can also remove the other chemicals in the coffee bean and alter its taste, so there will be other decaffeinating agents used to increase the speed and accuracy of the process such as CO2 and methylene chloride.
The Roselius process was the earliest attempt at creating decaf coffee. Named after the coffee merchant who developed it in 1903, Ludwig Roselius, he came up with it due to his belief that his father died due to excessive coffee drinking.
It involved creating a brine solution (concentrated solution of salt and water) and using it to steam coffee beans, then using benzene as a caffeine-extraction solvent. However, later scientific research found benzene to be a human carcinogen, so the process was discontinued.
Today, there are two decaffeination methods in use. These are:
These use chemical solvents like ethyl acetate and methylene chloride to extract the caffeine. The processes are further divided into “Direct” and “Indirect” methods.
The direct method uses a solvent to extract the caffeine from coffee beans when you apply the solvent to the beans directly. On the other hand, the indirect method involves transferring the caffeine water to a tank and adding a solvent to treat it without touching the beans. This involves opening the pores of the beans by steaming them for about 30 minutes, and this makes them receptive to solvents. You then rinse them repeatedly for about 10 hours using ethyl acetate or methylene chloride to remove the caffeine. You then drain the caffeine-solvent mixture and steam the beans to eliminate residual solvent.
The solvents in use today are ethyl acetate and methylene chloride, as they do not pose health risks to you during coffee consumption.
Ethyl acetate occurs naturally in very small quantities in ripening fruits like blackberries, and is seen as a ‘natural’ chemical, resulting in ‘natural decaffeinated beans’. The chemical is quite difficult to obtain, so it is mainly synthetic and made from petroleum derivatives, natural ingredients, acetic acid, or ethyl alcohol.
Methylene chloride is volatile and vaporizes when exposed to heat at 104OF. Since coffee goes through roasting at temperatures of 400OF for a minimum of 15 minutes, while the brewing process happens at 200OF, it is unlikely that you will consume it in your coffee.
Indirect-solvent based processes
These processes involve soaking the beans in near-boiling water for several hours, and the result is the extraction of the caffeine, oils, and other flavor elements from the beans. You then transfer the water to a separate tank and wash the beans for approximately 10 hours using ethyl acetate or methylene chloride. This binds the molecules of the solvent with the caffeine, then you heat the mixture to evaporate them.
After this, you will reintroduce the coffee beans to the liquid and allow them to reabsorb the flavor elements and most of the coffee oils. Indirect-solvent-based processes are popular in Europe.
SWP (Swiss Water Process) – It is a very intensive procedure that is only done by a company named Swiss Water, and the water that is used originates from a mountainous region of British Columbia. It mainly relies on filtration, with the filter design allows the flavor and smaller oil molecules to pass through and capture larger caffeine molecules. The result is one tank containing caffeine-free “flavor charged” water and the other containing decaf beans. The “flavor charged” water will then be reused to remove caffeine from fresh coffee bean batches while the flavorless beans are discarded, and you retain the flavor while losing the caffeine.
CO2 process – This is a recent decaffeination method developed by Kurt Zosel. It involves placing water-soaked coffee beans in a stainless steel extraction vessel, sealing it, and forcing liquid CO2 into the coffee at a pressure of 1,000 pounds per square inch to force the caffeine out. The CO2 will act as a solvent to dissolve caffeine, then it is transferred to an absorption chamber to release the pressure, evaporate the CO2 into its gaseous form, and leave the caffeine behind. The caffeine-free CO2 will then be pressurized back and reused.
How much caffeine is in Starbucks decaffeinated coffee?
Note that the caffeinated drink’s caffeine content is dependent on the brewing process and the type of drink, so it will vary between beverages.
|Starbucks coffee size
|Decaf (in mg)
|Caffeinated (in mg)
|Short (8 oz.)
|Tall (12 oz.)
|Grande (16 oz.)
|Venti (20 oz.)
Amount of caffeine in Starbucks coffee (on average)
Who can drink decaf coffee?
There are plenty of individualized factors when judging the caffeine tolerance of a person; some can handle a few cups while others can only handle one cup. Medical advice will give the guideline of a maximum daily intake of 400mg of caffeine, which is approximately four cups of coffee.
You should consider taking decaf coffee over regular coffee if:
- You have a high sensitivity to caffeine. You can also change to tea instead of decaf coffee.
- You have a medical condition that requires you to restrict caffeine intake, or if you are taking prescription medication that interacts with caffeine
- You are a breastfeeding or pregnant woman
- You are an adult or teenager dealing with anxiety, insomnia, or sleep-related disorders
How does Starbucks decaffeinate its coffee?
If you are thinking of getting a decaf coffee from Starbucks, you should note that the company has different methods of producing decaf versions depending on the coffee variety you want. This allows it to offer several types of decaf coffee.
Does Starbucks use chemicals in making decaffeinated coffee?
In most instances, Starbucks uses methylene chloride to create their decaf coffees, except in a few cases of Komodo and Sumatra decaf coffees, where they use indirect decaffeination methods. The reliance on methylene chloride is likely why many coffee enthusiasts avoid its decaffeinated varieties.
When it comes to decaf, it will have some chemical residue unless it is decaffeinated through the Swiss Water processing method. The only way you can tell a Swiss Water coffee is if the labeling indicates it, but Starbucks stopped including this label on their decaf coffees some years back.
Since Starbucks does not make it clear what type of decaffeination it uses, you should assume it involves methylene chloride.
What is methylene chloride, and why is it used?
Methylene chloride is among the methods used when creating decaf coffee. It is a solvent, but it has drawn negative attention because of its status as a hazardous and strong chemical. Starbucks decaf coffee might also contain traces of it in the final product, although it is unclear whether this claim is true.
The use of methylene chloride is highly convenient – alongside ethyl alcohol, it is the cheapest and fastest method to decaffeinate large amounts of coffee beans at once.
It is also popular due to its high volatility and low vaporization point, as it evaporates at 40 degrees, while coffee beans undergo roasting and brewing at much higher temperatures (between 200 and 440 degrees). This ensures that insignificant residues of the chemical remain in the beans, and the FDA also clarifies that decaf coffee from this method is safe for human consumption.
What is the Swiss water process for decaffeination?
The Swiss water method is a chemical-free caffeine extraction process and is also eco-friendly. Developed in 1933 and commercialized in 1980, it is a method that relies on osmosis and solubility to extract caffeine. It starts by dissolving caffeine in beans by soaking them in very hot water, then drawing the water and passing it through an activated charcoal filter.
Any coffee that goes through this process will have a Swiss Water logo to distinguish it from other decaf coffee varieties. The Swiss Water company will use water at a specific temperature for a certain number of hours to extract the caffeine without compromising the other flavors, and decaf enthusiasts will always state this decaf coffee tastes better than others.
How do you order Starbucks decaf?
Espresso lovers are in luck when ordering decaf coffee because you can use decaf espresso beans to make any espresso. The Decaf Espresso Roast beans are what you want, as they are a dark roast containing caramelized sugar and molasses notes. It is also available on the Starbucks app, which allows you to select whether you want it as a full decaf drink or mixed alongside a regular roast espresso.
Americano is among the simplest coffee drinks to make, as it only consists of filtered water and espresso shots. The decaf option is widely available, and you can get it in both iced and hot options.
This incorporates espresso, classic syrup, and milk, without the ice. It offers you the freedom to change to decaf espresso options.
Iced shaken espresso
Also known as the Doubleshot on Ice, it is a mixture of milk, classic syrup, ice, and espresso. You are free to request decaf espresso shots, as well as the other ingredients like asking for coconut milk instead of dairy.
Clover brewed coffee
This is only available in select locations due to the cost involved – a Clover is similar to what you would think of when you turn a French press upside down. It is very expensive, as it uses a metal filter to allow the coffee to get more flavorful oils.
If you are fortunate enough to get a Clover machine at your local Starbucks, you can get three decaf roasts: Sumatra, Espresso Roast, and Pike Place.
Pour-Over coffee may sound strange – but it is simply a method of manually brewing a single coffee cup. The barista will put coffee grounds in a filter, pour hot water over them in a circular pattern, and the coffee drips into a cup below the filter. You can choose any coffee roast you want, including a decaf roast option.
Starbucks brewed coffee is abundant, including the Decaf Pike Place Roast which is its decaf brewed coffee of choice. The roast is a medium type with toasted nuts and chocolate notes, although you should note that it may not always be available in all Starbucks locations and at all times – its availability is dependent on demand.
There are two frappuccino types in the Starbucks decaf options: crème frappuccino, and coffee frappuccino. The crème frappuccino uses crème frappuccino syrup as the base, while coffee frappuccinos use coffee frappuccino syrup as its base.
You can always order a decaf frappuccino if you want to avoid the caffeinated version of the crème and coffee frappuccinos.
Does Starbucks sell decaffeinated coffee packets?
Yes, they sell these coffee packets. It is in a 12 oz. bag, with these medium roast beans originating from Latin America, and having chocolate notes.
Also a medium roast coffee from Latin America, Starbucks offers the decaf House Blend coffee option in a 12-ounce bag. It has toffee and cocoa notes and is the company’s second-most popular blend.
Originating from the Asia Pacific region, this coffee type is a dark roast that is available in both caffeinated and decaf versions. You can get it in 12 oz. sizes as well, and it contains notes of caramelized sugar and dark cocoa.
Not everyone can take coffee, despite the benefits it offers. In this case, decaf coffee may be a better choice that allows you to enjoy coffee benefits without dealing with caffeine effects.
Why do people like decaffeinated coffee?
Most people who enjoy it are caffeine-sensitive, enjoy drinking it later in the day, or want to reduce their caffeine intake while enjoying the classic coffee taste.
Can espresso be decaffeinated?
Yes, it can – and you can get it from Starbucks as well as other coffee houses.
Is Starbucks decaf coffee safe?
Yes, it is safe for consumption. Similar to caffeinated coffee, Starbucks decaf offers the benefits of drinking coffee without the aftereffects of caffeine consumption.
Is Starbucks decaf coffee healthy?
Yes, it is – and it can be a part of your healthy diet consumption.
Is Starbucks decaf coffee caffeine-free?
No, it is not caffeine-free. You cannot do a total elimination of caffeine from coffee beans, but you can reduce it, which is what decaf coffee has. Starbucks decaf has an approximate caffeine range of 3% on average.
Does decaf coffee raise blood pressure?
Yes, it can, due to caffeine metabolism in the body. However, this rate varies among individuals, although decaf coffee has a much smaller effect on raising blood pressure compared to regular coffee.
Are there any benefits to drinking decaf coffee?
Yes, scientific research has shown the benefits. Decaf coffee contains antioxidants, which help neutralize the effects of free radicals in the body, and also contains magnesium which helps fight against diabetes.
Is decaf coffee an inflammatory?
Not in most cases. It still has caffeine content that can cause inflammation, but the caffeine is much lower than regular coffee, so the inflammation chances are less.
Is decaf coffee hard on your stomach?
It could be, although research on this is inconclusive. Decaf coffee will still contain some coffee acids as well as the possible presence of additives that may result in stomach discomfort.
Kai Jordan worked as a Certified Nutrition Specialist and now a food critic whose main objective is to provide consumers with as much information as they need to make the right choices concerning foods and drinks. Jordan is passionate about helping the public reach their health-related goals but also keen on reviewing foods and drinks offered by some of the famous restaurants the likes of Starbucks.
Kai has therefore created well-researched and comprehensive excerpts regarding the services and products offered by the giant restaurant chain. And which can be retrieved from Starbmag.com, apart from talking writing, and dealing with food Kai loves also to Kayak. You can read more about me on the about us page.