Can espresso be decaf? The simple answer is that yes it can!
The answer lies in the beans themselves, rather than any particular way of brewing them.
It’s true that coffee beans intended for espresso drinks are typically roasted for longer.
Apart from that though, it’s perfectly possible to decaffeinate those beans and there are some great brands on the market doing exactly that.
Just as with any other coffee drink, it’s a question of buying the right kind of decaffeinated coffee beans for the job at hand.
That’s the short answer! In the rest of this article, I’m going to explore the topic in a little more detail.
(My guide to brewing coffee at home contains plenty more tutorials and buying tips!)
The Basics: What Is An Espresso Anyway?
We’re all familiar with the classic, rich, short shot of coffee that we call an espresso.
As I mentioned in the introduction though, it’s important to keep in mind that espresso brewing’s all about the method, rather than the bean.
It’s a common misconception that there’s something special about the beans that are used in espresso brewing.
There’s also a tendency to believe that espresso coffee is somehow stronger than other coffee drinks.
That’s only true in terms of flavor and intensity though. The average espresso coffee bean is no more caffeine-charged than any other!
It’s a method of brewing and consuming the same beans you’d use in any other coffee drink. It’s just a shorter drink that – by its nature – confers a more intense taste experience.
It’s also important that espresso beans are ground down to a very fine consistency before you use them.
Once added to the espresso machine’s puck, hot water is then forced through the grounds at extremely high pressure.
Compare this to French press brewing for example.
Here you need a very coarse grind, as the water needs lots of surface contact with the coffee for this steeped extraction.
The result of this is an undiluted, highly focused and intense coffee experience. But the beans themselves are the same as you’d use in any other coffee brewing method.
What Do We Mean When We Call Coffee Decaf?
Another misconception about decaffeinated coffee is that it is entirely free of caffeine.
Surprisingly, this isn’t the case.
There are a number of methods for producing decaf coffee, but the most common involves washing the bean in a special solvent that extracts most of the caffeine from the beans.
The solvent is then separated from the beans, before the beans are given a good wash to remove any traces of the agent.
It’s not a perfect process though, and there is some residual caffeine left in the bean.
What matters is that there’s not enough caffeine remaining for it to have an impact on your body.
Think of it like those alcohol free beers that are becoming increasingly popular.
They do still contain a small, trace amount of alcohol. It’s just that your body metabolizes it so quickly, the effects don’t have a chance to build up and create an impact.
The article’s a little old now, but WebMD highlighted an interesting study about the actual caffeine content of a typically decaf drink.
Here’s the most important quote in that article, provided by Bruce A Goldberger of the University of Florida:
“If someone drinks five to 10 cups of decaffeinated coffee, the dose of caffeine could easily reach the level present in a cup or two of caffeinated coffee.”
So, decaffeinated coffee – espresso or otherwise – isn’t a completely blank check for you to guzzle gallons of decaf without even having to think about the caffeine content.
Saying that of course, the average coffee drinker won’t come close to quaffing this much of the stuff!
What’s The Point Of Drinking Decaf Espresso?
Drinking decaffeinated espresso might seem like sacrilege if you’re a connoisseur of the traditional after-dinner drink.
There’s nothing better, after all, then finishing off the sticky sweetness of a dessert with the satisfyingly rich bitterness of an espresso.
There are a few good reasons why you might want to either switch to decaf espresso, or at least work a little more of it into your routine.
- Some people are – or become – intolerant of caffeine altogether. If that’s you, there’s no reason not to at least sample some of the higher quality decaf espresso brands that are readily available on the market.
- You’re struggling to sleep at night. I won’t add to the internet’s endless literature on the connection between caffeine and good sleep. Caffeine can keep working its energetic magic on you for up to eight hours after consuming it. If you don’t want your mid-afternoon espresso shot to be your last each day, it’s well worth trying out some decaf espresso in the evening.
- You’re getting the caffeine jitters just a little more often than you’d like. This happens to the best of us, and reducing your caffeine intake through decaf espresso might not be a bad idea.
- You have no choice but to cut down on your caffeine intake, because of your current health or a change in circumstances.
I Want To Read More!
Want to find out more about the world of espresso drinks?
I’ve picked out a handful of popular articles on Viva Flavor that I think you’ll enjoy reading.
Buying A Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine – These home brewing machines do a great job of making fantastic espresso – decaf or otherwise – with very little hands-on work required. I’ve put together a guide on how to buy the best one for your kitchen, and highlighted five recommendations.
How To Dispose Of Coffee Grounds – Save yourself an expensive plumbing job by ditching your coffee grounds the correct way. There are some surprising uses for this stuff around your home and garden!
Breville Infuser Review – The Infuser is one of the best espresso machines on the market, and provides a truly killer espresso shot. I took an in-depth look at this popular machine to find out if it really is worth the investment you’ll need to make.
Why Does Coffee Make You Tired? – It sounds counterintuitive, but a steady stream of caffeine can actually knock the wind out of your sails. Find out why in this guide to controlling the coffee slump that can easily catch you unawares.
Nespresso Essenza Mini Review – This clever little machine makes impressive decaf espresso using those clever coffee pods. The results are much better than you’ll get from a Keurig, and it really is worth considering this machine as an alternative for super convenient espresso brewing at home.