Make It a Decaf: The Good, Better, Best Solutions for Getting off Caffeine

I remember the first time I drank coffee.

I was a junior in high school, and my school was hosting a “nerd bowl” tournament (yes, I was that girl). In the morning, the team was treated to bagels and coffee from the best bagel shop in our town. I prepped my everything bagel with cream cheese, took a bite and washed it down with a coffee that my cousin helped prepare with the perfect combination of cream and sugar.

Does coffee stir up any specific memories for you? It is an emotionally charged food. People hold it very close to their chest and would willingly give up gluten, meat, dairy, sugar and alcohol, all before denying themselves coffee. I know this because I have led about a dozen cleanses where we eliminate all six of those food items and the most popular objection I hear is “I can’t do this because I need my coffee.”

Yes, it’s an addiction.

Chances are, you are part of the 83% of adults who drink coffee daily. You probably roll out of bed, mindlessly brush your teeth, throw on an outfit and start the coffee pot or head out to the local Starbucks to stand in line (they don’t call it the rat race for nothing). Your morning does not officially start until you’ve finished your coffee/latte/espresso. If you can’t have your  brand of choice, you’ll settle for a lesser tasting variety – as long as you can get your hit. It isn’t until the caffeine courses through your veins, that you get to a “normal” level of functioning. Sounds kinda like an addiction, doesn’t it?

I don’t care that 3 to 5 cups a day may help prevent heart attacks. Or that it can boost your metabolism. So does exercising, but you’re probably not doing that everyday. If your body has developed a dependence on a food or substance, it serves you best to take a break from it once in a while, if not eliminate it all together. And I don’t discriminate – I’d say the same exact thing if you were addicted to kale.

Sometimes you don’t have a choice to kick the coffee habit. If you are pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, you may not be comfortable exposing your growing baby to caffeine. While there are no studies confirming any ill effects of caffeine on a growing fetus, there are studies indicating coffee makes it harder for your body to absorb iron, a nutrient you and your baby need during pregnancy and one that many women are deficient in already.

Like pregnant women, nursing moms don’t necessarily have to stay away from caffeine either. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, a great book published by La Leche League International states that most mothers and babies should not have a problem with “the amount of caffeine in five or fewer five-ounce cups of coffee.” That’s a little over 2 tall cups of coffee from Starbucks, which seems a bit much to me. Before becoming a mom, I chose to drink decaf because my already-overstimulated-self did not need the caffeine. Now, as a nursing mom, I treat myself to a cup of decaf once a week or so because neither I nor my overactive daughter needs any trace amounts of caffeine that may remain in my system after a regular cup of coffee. You may be in a similar position.

As many reasons as there are to go caffeine free, there are just as many ways to do it. You could go cold turkey, but that usually means 2-3 days of hellish headaches and feeling overall terrible/cranky/angry. For some, the all-or-nothing approach may work best. For others, a more gradual, less intense strategy may be preferred. First, commit to going caffeine free and then wean yourself off of it slowly by mixing some decaf coffee with regular coffee and increasing the ratio of decaf to regular over a week or so.

But keep in mind, not all decaf coffee is created equal.

You read that correctly. Decaf is not just coffee minus caffeine. Many times, you trade caffeine for chemicals used in the decaffeination process – namely methylene chloride and ethyl acetate.

Methylene chloride is a solvent used in a number of industrial processes including paint stripping, pharmaceutical manufacturing, metal cleaning and degreasing, and polyurethane foam production. It is considered to be a potential occupational carcinogen where short and long term exposure are linked to decreased function of the nervous system.

Ethyl acetate is a flammable solvent commonly used in glues and nail polish removers. It is considered a volatile organic chemical (VOC) and can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat with short term exposure. Over a longer period, it can cause dryness and cracking of the skin and may even cause liver and kidney damage. Decaffeination using ethyl acetate can also be referred to as “natural decaffeination.” But don’t be fooled with the word “natural.” While ethyl acetate does naturally occur in nature, a synthetic version is most likely used in the decaffeination process.

Thankfully, there are good, better and best ways to upgrade your decaf choice so you don’t have to trade caffeine for chemicals!

 

a GOOD upgrade: Swiss Water® Processed

A good alternative to regular decaf is Swiss Water® processed decaf, a patented method where the caffeine is extracted with water and is 100% chemical free. This usually yields a higher price tag than standard decaf coffee since there is only one facility in the world that uses this proprietary method.

While a coffee has to be 97% caffeine free to be labeled decaf, the Swiss Process® removes 99.9% of the caffeine from the beans. If you are a coffee aficionado, you may turn your nose to this process because it supposedly alters the flavor of the coffee more than the standard process. Though an aficionado I am not, I have not noticed the difference in taste and happily choose Swiss Water® processed decaf.

The popularity of this type of decaf is growing. If you go to a local neighborhood cafe that prides themselves in their brews, they can usually tell you if it is Swiss Water® processed. If they don’t know, I usually ask for the brand and look it up online. All of Whole Foods’ decaf is Swiss Water® processed, and Starbucks’ decaf Sumatra blend is as well but it’s a Clover specific blend so only select locations have it.

To find Swiss Water® processed packaged coffee at the store, look for the Swiss Water® seal, or the trademarked term “Swiss Water® processed.” Packages that simply say “water processed” may actually use chemicals in them. Learn even more about it on their site.

a BETTER upgrade: Organic decaf

If you want to take it to the next level, a better choice would be organic decaf coffee. All organic decaf coffee undergoes water processing that does not use chemicals. That means there are no chemicals from the decaffeination process in addition to no pesticides or herbicides.

A bonus, many organic coffees are also fair trade. While it does not make a difference in flavor or decaffeination, it does make me feel better when I’m drinking coffee grown by farmers who are getting adequately compensated and treated fairly.

In general, it’s best to drink organic coffee. Conventionally grown coffee is grown with the heavy use of pesticides as well as synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides. Additionally, these chemicals may also be used during storage and transportation. This is something I never thought about before, but definitely something to be considered!

Organic coffee is becoming more popular, but you won’t find it at your local Starbucks or Dunkin’. Some chains that carry organic coffee include McDonald’s (while I’m not advocating going there, it is a fact that they offer organic coffee), Pret a Manger (European chain with locations in NYC, Boston, Washington D.C., and Chicago), and Whole Foods’ cafes. This list is by no means all inclusive. If you are looking for organic coffee, you can always call your local shop and ask.

the BEST upgrade: Herbal alternatives

For the vast majority of people, coffee is an integral part of their morning ritual. Their day doesn’t actually start until they take that first sip of coffee. I completely respect consistency and routine in the morning but I’d argue the drink doesn’t have to be coffee. Your morning routine may also include reading a book but you don’t read the same book every day.

The best decaf choices are actually not coffee at all! They are chicory root or dandelion based herbal teas. These teas produce a bitter drink that tastes similar to coffee. You can add sugar and cream/milk/milk alternative to them just as you would regular coffee. I usually choose to drink my favorite chocolate flavored Teeccino (link) with a splash of unsweetened almond milk.

Dandelion and chicory boast a slew of benefits. Both are great detoxifiers, supporting our liver and kidneys, and aid in digestion, neither of which coffee does. Plus, they offer antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation is a natural immune response but too much inflammation, caused by our poor diets and lifestyles, is the source of many diseases including allergies, autoimmune diseases, and even cancer.

Another reason to drink these teas is because they have an alkalizing effect on the body, unlike coffee (regular or decaf), which has an acidic effect. This gets into a whole other line of food philosophy, the Acid Alkaline Diet (to be explained in a future post), which essentially argues that consuming too many acidic foods is detrimental to the body. You want to keep your body at an alkaline level and these teas definitely help do that.

Flavor-wise, they do not taste exactly like coffee but they do offer bitter, dark, roasted notes, and when paired with a milk alternative, a cup passes as a nice latte. If coffee is a ritual for you, this is an adequate – if not great – alternative to sipping the Joe. For those looking for an immune boosting, deep flavored drink, give these teas a shot.

Dandelion tea and chicory root can be found in your local health food store. Teeccino, my preferred brand, is a great coffee alternative because it comes in a grind so you can brew part coffee and part Teeccino as you wean yourself off regular coffee. It also comes in tea bags which are convenient for me because I don’t have a coffee maker at home. Bonus: many of the ingredients are organic.

So tell me, were you aware that decaf was not that simple? Have you tried going caffeine free? What worked and did not work for you?

 

Featured Products

Here are highly rated products that will help you cut the caffeine – choose the right solution for you!

Environmentally friendly coffee with notes of cocoa and walnut. Mexican Swiss Processed Decaf Organic Coffee has a mild body with a medium roast.

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Grown in the mountains, Findlays Finest coffee is made from Arabica beans with notes of cherry and plum and hints of cinnamon and graham cracker.

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With a base of organic barley, chicory root, and rye, Ayurvedic Roast boosts your immunity with traditional Ayurvedic immunity-enhancing herbs.

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Dandy Blend uses dandelion greens, contains 50+ trace minerals, and does not require brewing. Plus, they claim you won’t get headaches when switching from coffee.

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Teeccino is my preferred coffee alternative, and this hazelnut blend is my favorite flavor. In tea bags, it is easy to have on the go or bring to work.

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Disclaimer

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The information and products on this website are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Please consult your physician if you have any questions or concerns.

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About the author

Lisa

I am a working mom on a mission to take the overwhelm out of trying to be healthy. When I learned about approaching health holistically (mind, body and soul) and naturally, my life changed. Realizing that being healthy shouldn't be hard, I founded The Healthy Aisle so that you can become confident in the decisions you make for you and your family's well-being. Consider me as part of your village as I look to simply share what I know and continue to learn in health, motherhood and balancing being crunchy with the real world. Thank you for including me in your journey.

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