Regular vs decaf coffee FAQs

Many of us love that steaming hot cup of coffee. Whether it's a foamy latte, a creamy cappuccino or the caffeine kick of a macchiato, our options these days can go on and on. But the real decision to be made when coming face to face with our local barista is if we prefer regular, or decaf.

While there may be some hard-core, long black, double espresso lovers out there quick to label decaf coffee as not "real coffee", we're here to take a closer look at what we're putting in our reusable coffee cups before we make any serious decisions for our next coffee fix.

How did coffee drinking start?

Thanks to the International Coffee Organisation (ICO) we have a view on the history of this popular beverage dating back hundreds of years. Coffee plants were originally grown in Africa, where eating the coffee fruit was a common practice. This practice travelled to Yemen and Arabia and was adopted by the Arabs, who soon began to grow their own trees.

Coffee drinking become the thing to do, and the first kaveh kanes (coffeehouses) appeared in Mecca, where people could meet and socialise over a cup. The Arabs became so protective of their produce that they even banned the export of any fertile beans internationally, although their scheme was foiled by the Dutch in 1616 who sneaked plants into the Netherlands and started to grow their own.

The Dutch went on to become the largest suppliers of coffee to Europe, with plantations in India and Indonesia (then Java), eventually spreading to Central and South America, which grew to become a veritable golden goose for Europe. Coffee remains hugely important to the global economy, and is amongst the most valuable primary products.

So what is the deal with caffeine?

According to the ICO, the amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee can vary, but for an small to medium size 150ml cup, on average you could expect anything from 65mg for instant coffee to 115mg for drip method. For coffee to be considered as decaffeinated, it must have only 0.1 per cent caffeine content, which means about 3mg per 150ml cup.

Everyone handles caffeine differently, but it is known to stimulate our nervous system to make us feel more alert and awake. However, by regulating our caffeine intake to wake us up, for example, we can develop a sort of dependency on it. We also know that it has the possibility to impact the duration and quality of our sleep if we consume any sort of caffeine before bed – including that chocolate biscuit with your tea.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also cautioned that those consuming caffeine on a regular basis may develop a tolerance, meaning that they need to consume more in order to feel the effects. According to the FDA's report, 200mg of caffeine a day likely isn't harmful, but serial coffee drinkers who consume around 600mg may be crossing the line.

How does decaf work?

For those who wish to get in on the coffee action without the stimulating side effects, decaf offers a solution. In order to extract the caffeine, the beans undergo a chemical process whereby the the beans are soaked in water and stripped of their caffeine and any residue before they are carefully dried out.

Just because coffee is decaffeinated, doesn't meant that it's going to impact the taste. The ICO assures us that the quality of a cup of decaf is on par with its full-bodied caffeinated equivalent, and that the original characteristics and flavours aren't necessarily lost in the decaffeination process.

However, as with regular coffee, moderation is recommended. Many decaf drinkers don't take their coffee plain, but with foam, cream or other flavourings, meaning their harmless cuppa can become high in sugar and fat content according to Livestrong. In addition, a study funded by the National Institutes of Health and US Department of Agriculture also produced findings linking decaf coffee with increased levels of cholesterol.

So how do you choose? Whether you prefer regular or decaf, the verdict appears the same. Stay on top of your coffee habit, and you can safely enjoy your morning cup.