Caffeine-free coffee: does it exist?

Caffeine-free coffee does not exist in nature. Regardless of the commercial species of coffee, all coffee beans have caffeine.

It is true that, depending on the species, coffee can have more or less caffeine. Thus, an arabica coffee will have half as much caffeine as a robusta coffee, but it will still have caffeine.

What is caffeine?

Caffeine is a bitter substance found naturally in more than 60 plants, including:

  • Coffee beans.
  • Tea leaves.
  • Kola nuts, which are used to flavour cola drinks.
  • Cocoa pods are used to make chocolate products.

That’s right; you get caffeine from all of these, not just coffee.

Is it possible to drink coffee without caffeine?

If I said no, you would be surprised. It may surprise you, but today it is an absolute truth. No coffee, not even decaffeinated coffee, is 100% caffeine-free; there is always a residual percentage, regardless of the means used to remove the caffeine from the coffee.

What is a decaffeinated coffee, not a coffee without caffeine?

No, it is not, or at least it is not 100 per cent caffeine-free. Decaffeinated coffee has indeed removed a huge percentage of caffeine. But they still have caffeine.

Decaffeinated coffees have less caffeine than normal coffees but still contain some caffeine. In Europe, to be so called, it can never exceed 0.1% of the whole bean if it is a green bean or 0.3% if it is a coffee extract.

Let it be clear that the initial answer on decaffeinated coffee remains the same, no system extracts caffeine from coffee completely, at least to this day.

For example, decaffeinated coffee typically contains less than 3 mg in a 25-centilitre cup. To give you an idea, a cola can have 40 mg, and a fully caffeinated cup of espresso is around 70 mg. So it will work in all those cases where you want to reduce caffeine intake greatly.

A single normal coffee is more caffeine than a hundred decaffeinated coffees. Still, if you have a severe caffeine intolerance, it will not work, as it always contains caffeine, no matter how small a percentage of caffeine you drink.

It is clear then that decaffeinated coffee is not exactly a caffeine-free coffee, however much it may resemble it.

How do you get decaffeinated coffee?

To make decaffeinated coffee, the beans must be green, and there are different methods for obtaining them. These are the three basic ways to decaffeinate:

Water process

The green coffee beans are moistened with water until the caffeine is dissolved and then pumped through an active carbon filter to remove the caffeine.

Carbon dioxide process

Inside specific drums, the beans are rotated with carbon dioxide, which penetrates the beans and dissolves the caffeine.

Methylene chloride process

Once the green beans are moistened with water, they are soaked in methylene chloride until the caffeine is dissolved. The liquid is then removed by evaporation.

➡️ We explained it in depth in this other article.

Caffeine is not found in coffee alone.

Most of the caffeine people consume comes from beverages. The main caffeine source is coffee, which is probably the first product you associate caffeine with.

Caffeine is found in cocoa, in supplements sold for weight loss and sports performance enhancement, tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, and in ice cream, cakes and a variety of sweets. It can also be found in some medicines and certain cosmetics.

Determining the exact amount of mg of caffeine contained in a product is difficult because it varies depending on the company making the product and the type of food, how it is prepared, etc.

For example, the caffeine in tea made directly from tea leaves differs from the caffeine in a cup made from one of the sachets in supermarkets.

Here is EFSA’s reference for mg of caffeinated foods:

  • 200 ml cup of brewed coffee —————————————–90 mg
  • 250 ml can of energy drink ——————————————- 80 mg
  • 60 ml cup of black coffee (espresso) ——————————– 80 mg
  • 220 ml cup of black tea ———————————————–50 mg
  • 355 ml can of soft drink ————————————————50 mg
  • 50 g milk chocolate bar ———————————————–10 mg
  • One decaffeinated coffee ——————————————— 3 mg

Recommendations for caffeine consumption

But do you know the maximum amount of caffeine the body can tolerate without harming health? According to EFSA, this dose varies according to certain population groups:

Healthy adults

The total amount that a person’s body can process without risk to the body is 400 mg daily. This is equivalent to 5.7 mg per kg for adults weighing approximately 70 kg. This includes caffeine from any food containing caffeine.

Pregnant women

During pregnancy, the maximum intake should not exceed 200 mg. According to research carried out by EFSA, if this reference is used, there is no risk that the foetus will not develop properly, and its size and weight will not correspond to the expected average.

Breastfeeding women

In these cases, the recommendation is the same in quantity: a maximum daily intake of 200 mg. This being the case, the amount of caffeine that would pass to the baby through breast milk would not exceed 0.3 mg per kg, which is considered safe based on the studies carried out to date.

Children and adolescents

The available data on the effects of caffeine in this population group is limited, making it difficult to make an accurate estimate, according to the EFSA report. Most caffeine consumption in children comes from chocolate. However, the experts conclude that the body’s ability to process caffeine in those under 18 is similar to that of adults.

For this reason, they suggest that daily consumption, in this case, should not exceed 3 mg per kg. This would avoid the risks of anxiety or behavioural changes in children or adolescents.

However, it should be borne in mind that, as could happen to an adult, caffeine intake in doses of 1.4 mg per kilogram can cause insomnia and reduce the number of hours of sleep. This is particularly true if taken shortly before going to bed.