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Does Decaf Coffee/Tea Have Bad Chemicals in It?


“Help clear up an ongoing debate in our office... does decaff coffee/tea have bad chemicals in from the 'decaffinating' process? hence, is it better for pregnant mommas to drink full caff?”


First off - it's important to note that decaf coffee and tea still have caffeine in them, so if you're drinking in excess you could be consuming as much as a moderate caffeine drinker (Eight ounces of regular coffee has around 95-200 milligrams of caffeine and decaf has about 2-12 milligrams. The same amount of regular black tea has 40-120 milligrams and decaf has 2-10).

Now, to the essence of the question: does decaf coffee/tea have bad chemicals in it from the decaffeinating process?

Quick Answer: Potentially.

Currently, there are three main processes used for decaffeination:

  1. Direct Solvent Method
  2. CO2
  3. Water Processing

1 - Direct solvent method: - a technique that uses methylene chloride (which the FDA banned in hairsprays and cosmetics due to inhalation risks), coffee oil, or ethyl acetate (a low-toxicity solvent naturally present in wines) to dissolve the caffeine and extract it from the coffee.

Clearly, the process using methylene chloride is the one that has stirred public panic about decaf coffee. Still, according to Methylene chloride decaffeination: bad process: or bad press? by Shea Sturdivant in the Tea & Coffee Trade Journal, only minute traces of the chemical are left after the process is complete. "Methylene chloride evaporates at 100 to 200 [degrees] F; beans are usually roasted at temperature of 350 to 425 [degrees] F, and coffee is brewed at 190 to 212 [degrees] F. Any amounts of methylene chloride left in brewed coffee would be less than one part per million."

Also, "According to a report published on August 9, 1985, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, studies of rats fed regular and decaffeinated coffee (at doses equivalent to 70 or 80 cups of coffee per day) or fed methylene chloride in their drinking water (at doses equivalent to 125,000 to 6,250,000 cups of decaffeinated coffee per day) showed no evidence of carcinogenicity. . . . Hence, scientific evidence suggests that methylene chloride is safe for use as a solvent in decaffeinating coffee."

But, as proponents of being safe rather than sorry - especially during pregnancy - you may want to avoid beverages that have been decaffeinated using this method. And, thinking big picture - the workers in charge of this method are at a much higher risk - so you should consider avoiding it to support worker health.

2 - CO2: (technically known as supercritical fluid extraction) uses a pressurized method with a water or charcoal filtration to remove the caffeine.

3 - Water processing (also known as the Swiss Water Process) simply uses water and a carbon filtration system to remove the caffeine.

CO2 and water processing are safer options since they do not utilize hazardous solvents, but the direct solvent method is preferred by manufacturers because it's the most affordable and has the capacity to remove the highest percentage of caffeine.

This answer was provided by our fabulous Chief Communications Officer, Janelle. See all of our questions and answers at Get Answers. Do you have a question? Let us know!

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