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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Why Does Decaf Coffee Taste Bad?

Why Does Decaf Coffee Taste Bad?

Decaf Coffee- It Doesn't Taste As Good As Regular Coffee!
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

I guess saying that decaf coffee tastes bad is a bit of an overstatement.  I would say decaf coffee is drinkable, but it is not as good as regular coffee.

If you believe the decaf coffee advertising material, you would think decaf should taste like regular coffee.  But it doesn't.  The green coffee beans must be processed to remove most of the caffeine.  This is a very invasive process and changes the flavor- and not for the better.

What Does Decaffeinated Coffee Taste Like?

I drink one 16 oz cup of regular coffee brewed from fresh ground coffee beans every morning, and then switch to decaf.  I drink several cups of decaf every day.  Usually a couple of Keurig k-cups of decaf varieties such as Dark Magic, Tully's, Newman's Own or Donut Shop.  It is not fair to compare coffee brewed from fresh ground beans with Keurig coffee- fresh ground beans make better coffee.  It is also not fair to compare regular coffee to decaf coffee- regular coffee tastes better.

Keurig k-cup decaf coffee
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

I also buy ground decaf coffee or whole bean decaf coffee to brew at home.  This makes for a fairer comparison between regular and decaf coffee.  Regular coffee tastes better, even comparing similar roasts and coffee preparation methods.  Regular coffee has a richer, fuller flavor.  Decaf has more of a burned flavor and is missing some of the complex flavor of regular coffee.  It's sort of like the difference between listening to music in stereo, and then listening to the same song in mono.  Both sound similar, but the one in stereo is much more satisfying.  Why does regular coffee taste better since you can't taste caffeine?

Why Does Decaf Coffee Have Less Flavor?

The process of removing caffeine also impacts the flavor of coffee.  When coffee is decaffeinated, green coffee beans are processed to extract most of the caffeine.  In the old days, chemical solvents were used.  Some of these solvents were toxic and these are not commonly used anymore.  The two common methods of coffee decaffeination today are:

  • Water Extraction: Hot water is used to extract caffeine, but also extracts flavor compounds.  Water containing flavor compounds is used to try to replace the flavor in the "Swiss Water Process".
  • Supercritical Fluid CO2 Extraction: Carbon Dioxide is used at controlled temperature and pressure to penetrate the green coffee beans and dissolve the caffeine so that it can be extracted.
I think the flavor of decaf coffee is negatively impacted by the processing needed to remove most of the caffeine.  There is potential for a variety of coffee trees to be grown that produce decaf coffee beans with no processing required to remove caffeine.  This could be accomplished through finding coffee plants with a natural mutation, or through genetically modified coffee plants that have the chemical pathway to produce caffeine disrupted.

Wouldn't It Be Great If You Could Grow Decaf Coffee?
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

How to Get the Best Decaf Coffee Possible

Given the shortcomings of decaf coffee due to the processing required to remove most of the caffeine, what can you do to get the best possible cup of decaf?  Follow the same principles that are used to make a great cup of regular coffee:

Copyright © 2014 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved. Coffee Maker Journal


  1. Probably because decaf coffee is missing one of the main ingredients!!

  2. You need to justify your recommendations to make a good cup of decalf. For example, you do not explain how an insulated(thermal) carafe will help. In addition the Huffington Post did a survey which suggests that all decalf beans are not (unsurprisingly,) alike.

    1. Jeff, thank you for your comment. I have tried a lot of decaf coffee beans, but have never found any really good ones. I agree that quality of decaf whole beans does vary, but I think something about the decaffeination kills the flavor. Using an insulated carafe will help to avoid scorching the coffee and further degrading the flavor.