Decaf Anyone?
January 21, 2014 7:47 AM   Subscribe

Need to switch to decaf coffee. Looking for some information.

Due to some recent health issues, my Dr. recommended cutting out caffeine. So I have switched to diet soda's for now (until I can get off soda's completely) and decaf coffee. I have had many cups of decaf over the years, so I don't think this will be a big issue.

Anyway, I was at Starbucks the other night. I enjoy their coffee and asked for a decaf coffee (the regular drip coffee is the ONLY thing I have ever had). The server asked if I wanted a decaf Cafe Americano instead, of which I agreed. I had no idea what it was and I loved it.

I also never had an espresso before and assume that these can be made decaf (much like the Cafe Americano???). I would like to try a decaf espresso if possible.

I did some quick Google searches and now I am even more confused. I thought that espresso was adding hot water to coffee beans. And it appears that Cafe Americano is adding hot water to espresso??

Can someone help clarify in plain English for a total non-coffee connoisseur? I am just looking for decaf suggestions.

posted by dbirchum to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Hi.

so an Americano is basically an espresso shot watered down to the level/taste/consistency of american coffee.

Espresso is made by grinding coffee beans then having water go through the grinds at a high temperature and pressure.

Espresso is adding hot water to coffee grinds, just like regular coffee is adding hot water to coffee grinds, just the pressure is different.

Espresso=concetrated, so think of an Americano as like orange juice, from concentrate.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:53 AM on January 21, 2014

Best answer: An Americano is putting more water through espresso beans, so it is weaker and larger than a normal espresso and more like the level of a drip coffee. You can make any coffee beans decaf, and then brew them in a drip machine or an espresso machine.

The main difference between espresso and drip is brewing time (drip is longer) and grind (drip is coarser), so an espresso comes out thicker and stronger.
posted by jeather at 7:54 AM on January 21, 2014

Best answer: Espresso are made with espresso machines. The beans are usually ground finer than for drip coffee, and then packed more compactly in a metal basket with holes. The hot water (or steam, if you use a cooktop espresso machine) are pushed through the beans with pressure. I think most machines use 17 bars or so, but it can be adjusted.

Espresso tastes different because it's made differently (i.e. finer beans, water with pressure). To me, it tastes much more richly of coffee and therefore better.

And then yes, Americano is espresso with hot water.

And yes, you can drink decaf espresso. (I also only drink decaf.)
posted by ethidda at 7:55 AM on January 21, 2014

The Americano has the advantage of having been made right when you order it, whereas the regular decaf drip may have been sitting in the carafe for a while (depending on time of day and how often they actually dump and refill - some places may not dump the decaf as often as they ought, and it may not be used up as quickly as the caffeinated coffee).
posted by caution live frogs at 7:56 AM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Normally decaf tastes like day old dregs, but unicorns do exist and decaf americanos from Starbucks (and decaf lattes) do actually taste that good.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:56 AM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Where do you live? I would recommend if you have any good local cafes that really pride themselves on quality coffee, buy your beans from them. They will almost always have some decaf options available, and I would expect one of them to be an option that makes good espresso (and espresso drinks). Lacking that, check out or George Howell's coffees, both outstanding.

Side note/off topic: Diet sodas have the same amount of caffeine as regular sodas, unless you've switched to caffeine free ones only. Diet just refers to the sweetener (sugar vs. artificial ones).
posted by spindrifter at 7:59 AM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you get to the point where you need to really seriously watch the caffeine intake, know that decaf still has caffeine. Recently, a coworker was told to severely decrease his caffeine intake for health reasons. He switched from coffees and espressos to rooibos tea. (He actually put rooibos tea leaves into the espresso machine at work to make it like that, to recreate the experience as much as possible.) The swap worked for him.

Maybe it was just a typo and you meant caffeine free, but diet soda has as much caffeine as regular soda. Heck, Diet Coke has MORE caffeine than regular Coke.
posted by phunniemee at 8:03 AM on January 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

An Americano is putting more water through espresso beans, so it is weaker and larger than a normal espresso and more like the level of a drip coffee.

At both of the places I've worked at (a Starbucks and a real coffee shop), the espresso was pulled normally, onto an appropriately-filled cup of hot water.
posted by threeants at 8:06 AM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure if you're fully aware of this from the question, so just to put it out there in plain English, decaf coffee is made from decaffeinated coffee beans. So anything that is made from coffee beans (any coffee drink) can be made decaffeinated, as long as the decaf beans are available. Some coffee shops won't make certain drinks decaf because it's a hassle for them (e.g. a lot of places won't offer decaf drip because they would have to make a full batch of decaf coffee and might run the risk of not actually selling the whole thing, but they will make decaf Americanos because they are single serving), but pretty much anything is technically possible.
posted by telegraph at 8:07 AM on January 21, 2014

You're likely to be offered a decaf Americano whenever you order a decaf coffee after noon -- Starbucks and many other places that serve coffee only brew decaf coffee in the mornings, so when they don't have it fresh they'll use the espresso machine to make you a cup. Takes a bit longer and is usually a bit more expensive than drip.

If you like the Americano better, be sure to order it specifically during times they actually do have decaf drip ready.
posted by asperity at 8:07 AM on January 21, 2014

When I worked in a coffee shop, we did not even brew decaf drip, because so few customers ordered it. We always offered decaf Americanos instead, which most of our customers appreciated. An Americano is just hot water added to a shot of espresso. It's not, as was stated above "more water through espresso beans," because the water is added after the standard shot is pulled. I'm being pedantic only in case you ever try to make one yourself, because putting that much water at that much pressure through espresso beans would produce something pretty bitter and gross.

Another thing you could ask for is a decaf pour-over, which is a brewing method that's very popular right now. It's a way of making American-style coffee, rather than espresso, but it's also a method that will ensure you a fresh cup, since a single cup is brewed at a time, in a cone right over the cup.
posted by dizziest at 8:08 AM on January 21, 2014

Response by poster: Wow -

VERY interesting! I think I am now getting to understand it more.

Quick question - what does a "shot" of espresso mean?

And, are espressos those tiny tiny small cups I usually see in some coffee shops? If I went into Starbucks and ordered a "tall" decaf espresso, will it come in a Tall cup (like my drip coffee) or a smaller cup. Now I am showing my ignorance, I know.

And yes, my fault - I switched to Caffeine free diet sodas for now (I know the Aspartame risks are probably worse), but I need to ween myself off soda's first.
posted by dbirchum at 8:25 AM on January 21, 2014

Best answer: As a followup to dizziest's comment, there are lots of ways to make decaf coffee, since as it's been pointed out any decaf coffee beans will make coffee however you choose. As someone who drinks decaf in the Pacific Northwest, where coffee is very much a part of the lifestyle, I use a single cup sized French press at work (this one), and a single-cup coffee maker at home (this one), so I can use my decaf beans and everyone else can get their caffeine fix. In a coffee shop I would just order decaf drip if they have it, and a decaf Americano if they don't. (You can also get fancier decaf drinks, like decaf mochas and decaf lattes.)
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:29 AM on January 21, 2014

I can only have very little caffeine, not for medical reasons but because it makes me incredibly high. (A table spoon of regular coffee gives me a good 10 hours of energy but a cup makes me literally euphoric)! Here are some work arounds I use when I want a little caffeine.

1. Hot chocolate (cocoa with milk and sugar, or just pure cocoa) is my number one go-to. Google tells me that Starbucks hot chocolate has 5%-10% caffeine in regular Starbucks coffee.

2. Mocha (coffee with milk and chocolate). Google tells me it's about 25% caffeine compared to regular coffee.

3. Matcha tea. It's actually quite caffeinated but still about 50% of regular coffee, and you typically drink much less. Note that it's rare to find pure matcha tea, mostly it's green tea mixed with matcha, so that cuts caffeine even further.

4. Arabica coffee naturally contains about half the caffeine of Robusta coffee. You can ask for it by name, it's not rare at all.

5. Chai latte. Its complex flavor and richness hit the same spot as coffee, for me.

As far as decaf, I try to stay away, personally. One, most places don't have the stuff that's been decaffeinated by the cleaner but much more expensive processes such as steaming and instead serve you coffee that's been decaffeinated by using harsh solvents. Two, there are tons of studies that show that restaurants frequently serve regular coffee when you ask for decaf, just because they are busy, out of decaf, etc. (but I would expect coffee houses to be much better in this regard).
posted by rada at 8:39 AM on January 21, 2014

Starbucks and many other places that serve coffee only brew decaf coffee in the mornings

Actually a lot of high-volume Starbuckses (like the one I work at) brew drip decaf all day. My store continually rebrews it fresh until we close at 9.
posted by threeants at 8:56 AM on January 21, 2014

OP, you've got it right, by the way - a shot of espresso is the standard unit for espresso, and you can drink it on its own in a teeny weeny cup.

Most of the other drinks you see at a coffee shop which are not drip coffee (decaf or reg) are made with 1 or more shots of espresso (which can be decaf or reg) *plus* other ingredients. So your Americano is espresso + water, a latte is espresso + hot milk, etc.

Here's a pretty good overview of some different basic espresso drinks - with the caveat that the exact numbers of shots and ratio of (for instance) milk to coffee is probably Starbucks specific.
posted by heyforfour at 9:11 AM on January 21, 2014

2. Mocha (coffee with milk and chocolate). Google tells me it's about 25% caffeine compared to regular coffee.

Careful. If you order Cafe Mocha ("a mocha") at a typical American coffee shop, you're likely to get 1 or 2 shots of espresso, some chocolate syrup, and some steamed milk. So, all the caffeine of your single (one shot) or double (two shots) espresso/Americano, plus sugar.
posted by leahwrenn at 9:16 AM on January 21, 2014

Seconding that decaf still has caffeine in it.
posted by Specklet at 9:18 AM on January 21, 2014

In response to your last comment:

You can think of a shot of espresso like a shot of alcohol, if drip coffee is like beer then a shot of espresso is like a shot of liquor. The espresso machine outputs 1 or 2 shots at a time and they're mixed with other ingredients to get the equivalent of cocktails: your americanos, lattes, cappuccinos and mochas.

You can order just a shot espresso if you like, decaf or not, and it'll be an ounce or two of really strong thick coffee and come in those tiny tiny lil mugs.

Also, it's worth noting that a lot of non-starbucks coffee shops have machiattos that are just a shot of espresso and a similar amount of milk, so it'll still come in the tiny cup but will be a little less harsh than just espresso. If you order a machiatto at starbucks though, it's a big drink with lots of flavors added.
posted by cirrostratus at 9:29 AM on January 21, 2014

Response by poster: Ok. But what if you order a Tall Decaf Espresso at Starbucks?

Is this possible?

And if it is, will it come in a tiny mug?

OR, will it come in a Tall cup and then have hot water added to it? But that would be a Cafe Americano, right?

Now I am confusing myself!
posted by dbirchum at 9:35 AM on January 21, 2014

you don't order espresso by cup size. you would order a "single" (one shot) or "double" (two shots). if you asked for a tall, the cashier/barista would probably ask you to clarify what you wanted.
posted by misskaz at 9:38 AM on January 21, 2014

You can't really order a "Tall Decaf Espresso" - as noted above, espresso comes in shots. You can order a Tall espresso-based drink, like an Americano, latte or mocha.
posted by barnoley at 9:39 AM on January 21, 2014

This isn't an answer to your question, but be aware that diet soda is not the same as caffeine free soda.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 9:47 AM on January 21, 2014

Response by poster: Ok. NOW its starting to make sense about the espressos.

I was at a business meeting a couple of weeks back. I was in a large group and someone down the table ordered a double espresso and it came in one of those small mugs. How much caffeine is packed into a double espresso!!??
posted by dbirchum at 10:02 AM on January 21, 2014

Best answer: Starbucks can get weird with their own brand of terminology, thats why this can be confusing. The following will at least get you to where you need to go;

A shot of espresso: high pressure heated water sent through coffee grounds to yeild a small 1-2oz 'shot' of very strong coffee. This comes in a little, 1-2oz sized cup called a demitasse.

An Americano: hot water (any size) with a shot of espresso floated on top (yeilds a cup of coffee similar in appearance, but not exactly taste as a regular cup of brewed coffee). This can come in any size you order, the larger the cup size you get, the more diluted and less strong the coffee will taste.

The reason for the confusion here is that sometimes cafes do not have decaf coffee for brewed service; ie- you can't order a straight cup of decaf coffee. They will alternatively offer decaf americanos in place of this as they can make them to order, instead of brewing up an entire batch.

There are many types of decaffeination process, and wikipedia does a good job at overviewing them.

Caffeine content varies from coffee to coffee, and from roast to roast; and this is a very googlable topic, but here's a good breakdown. But espresso shots actually have far less caffeine in them than people think...especially if you're just getting a single or double shot in a 12oz milk drink or americano.
posted by furnace.heart at 10:07 AM on January 21, 2014

How much caffeine is packed into a double espresso!!??

Roughly 200mg. Incidentally, although an espresso has more caffeine per volume of liquid, because it is served in such small portions it actually has less caffeine than a typical coffee. For example, "Caffeine Informer" tells me that a standard 12-oz. tall coffee at Starbucks has 260mg of caffeine. (Caffeine Informer also puts the amount of caffeine in a Starbucks espresso at 75mg instead of 100mg.)
posted by stopgap at 10:47 AM on January 21, 2014

Another reason the espresso and Americano taste so good is that they're a darker roast. If you don't want to mess with an espresso machine, you may want to look for dark roast decafs. After living for years on Brazilian coffee, I have trouble even drinking a medium roast. Dark roast decafs are hard to find, but they're out there.
posted by wallaby at 4:49 AM on January 22, 2014

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