Getting over the stigma of decaf

11 September 2014

Back when I when first figured out that I had endometriosis, I found an unfortunate side effect. Caffeine caused immense pain. Like, curl into a little ball and cry like a baby over just one soda pain. Not even joking. Too much caffeine will knock me out and only something at least as strong as vicodin will help.

Now, I had known since early in college that caffeine sometimes effected me negatively. Mainly, it caused my cramps to worsen. So, basically, I stopped drinking coffee once a month… until the endo really came into affect. Then it was, with only a very few exceptions (chocolate), bye bye caffeine.

For the most part, I haven’t missed it too much. I can still tolerate low levels, so I swapped out lattes for hot chocolate. And rooibos. I love me some rooibos. But well… every so often, I find myself missing coffee. That bitter flavor, there’s just something about it.

However, for the longest time, I just couldn’t bring myself to want to even go near decaf.

Like many coffee fiends, I bought into all that nonsense that decaf wasn’t really coffee, that it was gross, that it had no point. It would never taste as good as my beloved coffee. Decaf bad, normal coffee good. Also, you know, decaf doesn’t actually mean no caffeine. So why try?

Thankfully I’ve gotten over that.

Dunkin Donuts iced decaf coffee

Iced decaf coffee. With double cream. And vanilla.

Yes, it does still have caffeine in it. And the acidity of the coffee doesn’t always settle well with me… But, well… This is why I don’t just chug these things. That cup in the picture? 3 days. (Granted, part of the reason it’s gone so slowly is because I got a bad case of heart burn and some kidney pain on the first day… and I couldn’t be sure it was decaf or not… But I think it’s safe to say it is.)

Anyway. Iced coffees generally have way less caffeine — even if they’re brewed stronger than normal coffee. And then they’re watered down with cream and ice. So a medium coffee that normally has 178mg of caffeine becomes an iced coffee with only 91mg of caffeine.* Logically, we can deduce the same thing happens with decaf — where a medium decaf coffee only starts with 13mg of coffee. All these caffeine levels I’m stating are just for Dunkin Donuts. You can get caffeine level information at

Honestly, this whole myth that decaf is terrible is just that — a myth. Yeah, maybe just black decaf coffee might taste gross to most. But normal black coffee might also taste gross to a lot too. When balanced with milk or sugar or flavors… well, honestly I quite like it.

So for all you coffee snobs out there who want to diss on decaf or make fun of people for it… Stop. Regardless of whether it’s a personal choice or a health matter, there is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing decaf.

Some other facts you should probably know about caffeine:

» Women metabolize caffeine faster than men.

» Women on birth control actually metabolize caffeine at about 1/3 the rate than women not on the pill.

» Lighter roasts actually have more caffeine than darker — the roasting process burns some of it off.

» Not all coffees are equal. Caffeine levels can vary quite a bit. It’s why sites like Caffeine Informer are really handy if you’ve got a caffeine sensitivity. Which is also true that not all decaf is equal.

» Following up on that last one, to be considered decaf, the FDA says you have to remove 97% of the original caffeine level. So depending on the original levels, you might still be getting a decent amount of caffeine.

» Most people know caffeine is found in chocolate, but it’s also found in many other places too. And it’s not always labeled as caffeine. Guarana has a high level of caffeine, and can even be found in flavored water. (No joke.) Also, check your medications. Some pain killers have caffeine in them.

» Caffeine is what gives Barg’s root beer it’s bite. It helps produce the bitter flavor, as well as any “bite” of energy from the caffeine. So root beer isn’t always the best option for caffeine free sodas. (Same with grape and orange. It just depends on the brand.)

*Ok, so I don’t actually know how many ounces of coffee concentrate go into an iced coffee, but regardless, the caffeine levels are reduced.

  • B.

    This was pretty interesting to read. I’m not a coffee drinker but if I had to give up caffeine, I’m not sure how well that would go! I enjoy my soda too much 🙁 Which is another issue!

    • Erini

      I was a bigger coffee drinker back in high school and college, but slowly backed off it until I got sick. For sodas, I’m not sure if I miss pepsi/coke or if I’m just curious about how it tastes. I really like root beer, Sierra Mist, and cream sodas… so I don’t miss out much by choosing caffeine free options. 🙂 AND there’s a lot of great smaller soda companies that are completely caffeine free, so those open up new options too.

  • This was a really great read. I had no idea lighter roasts contain more caffeine than dark roasts. I drink coffee more for the flavor than the caffeine, though.

    Absolutely nothing wrong with decaf! Glad you found a coffee your body can tolerate better.

    • Erini

      I didn’t know about the lighter roasts either. It’s strange since you think of people getting those strong, dark roasts being the ones who are all YEAHCAFFEINE, but it’s mostly just the flavor that’s stronger.

      I still have like half of that coffee left. Weird to think this one drink might last me a whole week. Though, granted, if I hadn’t had the heart burn/racing the first night, it’d probably be gone by now.

  • I’ve never been a fan of the effect caffeine has on my body. It always makes me feel shaky and out of control. I really enjoyed reading about it from another’s perspective, and learning all those facts you shared!

    • Erini

      It’s fascinating how caffeine effects everyone differently… I just hope someday the FDA requires it to be included in food labels.

  • Erin

    I discovered in the last year or so, that caffeine also had an extreme effect on whether or not my periods cramps were mild or severe. For instances this month I will probably be in immense pain due to drinking at least two Dr. Peppers a day. I’m trying to go ahead and combat that by upping my water intake but I think sometimes my body holds on to the caffeine just to make sure I remember not to treat it so badly.

    • Erin

      Just writing about this is making my body start to sympathy cramp. Good lord. No! Stop it! 🙂

    • Erini

      I had a friend in high school who tried to explain the link between cramps and caffeine… but I was all like “but I’m fine! lemme chug this latte and follow it with 3 mountain dews!”…ugh. Then I started working in a coffee shop in college and really noticed a pattern.

      And sorry you’re feeling badly!! Fingers crossed it won’t be too bad or last too long!!

Previous post:

Next post: