How Much Caffeine Is In Your Decaffeinated Coffee?

How decaffeinated is your decaf exactly? That’s what Consumer Reports aimed to uncover when they sent their shoppers to sample 36 cups of decaffeinated coffee from 6 locations of Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s, Seattle’s Best Coffee, 7-Eleven and Starbuck’s near their headquarters in Yonkers, NY. See the results, inside…

CR says that an average cup of coffee has about 100mg of caffeine. While all decaf will have some caffeine, there are no laws that dictate how much caffeine is allowed in decaffeinated coffee.

Their results,

More than half of our decafs had less than 5 mg of caffeine, but some had quite a bit more. One of the six cups from Dunkin’ Donuts had 32 mg; one from Seattle’s Best had 29 mg; and one from Starbucks had 21 mg. Levels of caffeine in the decaffeinated coffees we tested varied within chains, but in our sample, McDonald’s decaf consistently had less than 5 mg.

Our shoppers bought caffeinated coffee at the same chains, and we found a surprise there, too. Caffeine per cup ranged from 58 mg to 281 mg, providing less or more of a java jolt than you might expect.

We suppose it would be more correct to call the stuff “partially decaffeinated” coffee. If you are someone who is trying to avoid caffeine, you might want to limit yourself to one cup of decaf per day and not drink any before bed. Of course, most of our readers would probably prefer a caffeine IV if such a thing existed.

Is it really decaf? [Consumer Reports]


Edit Your Comment

  1. TechnoDestructo says:

    Anyone remember that National Geographic article on caffeine and they showed all the caffeine that had been removed from decaffeinated coffee and it looked like a giant lump of dryer lint?

  2. coren says:

    Well, coffee in general is caffeinated, even if it’s decaffeinated. That’s just one of those terms that we’ve taken to mean something that it doesn’t quite mean.

  3. Mike_Hawk says:

    Some of the variability has to do with the temperature the coffee is brewed at. High temps tend to cause some of the caffeine to break down, thus lowering the total.

  4. CharlesjP says:

    But if there were a Caffiene IV drip, somehow the grocery shrink ray would get to it as well…

  5. Are they sure they got the coffee from the orange spouted decanter?

  6. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    Where’s the web link for the caffiene IV?
    Here’s one for how much caffiene in soda:

  7. chiieddy says:

    My doctor got on me about caffeine. I limit myself to 1 cup a day, no coffee.

  8. Syd says:



    Page three has the “dryer lint.”

  9. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    Decaff coffee? Why bother?

  10. ian937262 says:

    That was a great quick watch! It made me want coffee, that’s for sure.

  11. ian937262 says:

    2 things
    1) Is your name from Earthbound?
    2) I have a can of decaf I use for when I want a cup of coffee but have work early in the morning or something and can’t afford to be up till 5.

  12. azntg says:

    Coffee naturally has a certain amount of caffeine. However, no chemical process is perfect and can remove caffeine 100%.

    So, some caffeine left in a decaffinated coffee is somewhat expected. Though, yes, I admit I’m surprised by the amount of caffeine left in some decaffeinated coffee. Sloppy work there!

  13. Angryrider says:

    I saw an Extra TV report like this years ago when I as a boy had a crush on the host that wasn’t that Gibbon. I think it was when McDonald’s wasn’t famous for their coffee, and Starbucks pwned them all. Heh, McD’s got some skills.

  14. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    Yes, and I haven’t decided if your warping of time by cheating caffeine buzz infuriates or intrigues me.

  15. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    When I was in college, one of my money-for-school jobs was at an IHOP. We had two waitresses who could not be talked out of serving customers whatever coffee was handy, regardless of whether it was “leaded” or “unleaded” or both mixed in the same pitcher. Took too much time to brew a fresh pot all the time, they said.

  16. Raignn says:

    I’m allergic to caffeine. There is a reason I don’t drink any coffee (decaf or not) or any soda. You just never know!

  17. Bladefist says:

    Wonder how much alcohol is in non-alcoholic beer. really.

  18. Skipweasel says:

    I’m hardly surprised by the McDeadthings result – their coffee has so little coffee in it the chances of it having any caffeine would be slim.

    As for why bother with decaff – some people can’t take caffeine. I accidentally made my wife a cup of “proper” coffee a while ago – she had trouble standing up for some hours she was vibrating so much.

  19. Bladefist says:

    @Applekid: a lot of people at where I work drink decaffe due to health. Other then that, I have no idea why you would bother. Older people seem to react to the caffeine as well.

  20. ARP says:

    @Bladefist: I think it’s around 0.5% (compared to around 3-4% for a crap american beer).

    BTW- to those who try to get drunk via NA beer, you risk killing yourself because you’ll flush all the salts and minerals out of your body. It’s like when those marathon runners die from too much water.

  21. Shaneniganz says:

    Personally as a mom of 4 kids, three of whom are teens; and being a full time college student, I need all the caffeine I can get. But for those who do not want the caffeine or are allergic to it, the label “decaf” does imply no caffeine even though it isn’t. Maybe they should call it “light” caff?

  22. Skankingmike says:

    why drink coffee at all then? I personally hardly drink caffeine, and for many years i refused to drink anything with it. Now I’m more lax and will sometimes have a cup of coffee or tea (I’d rather a good black tea and honey).

    It’s a drug that is as bad as many of the ones we arrest people for, and very very addictive. having a decaf is like a person having decoke.

  23. Ein2015 says:

    I want a caffeine IV!

  24. says:

    i’ve worked many restaurants, and practically all decaf is stamped with “95% caffeine free”. So, if you’re out late and want a tiny pick me up for the clubs, decaf is the way to go. I’m sure that most of us react more to the taste of coffee than the caffeine amount anyway.

  25. says:

    @speedwell: yup! this happens at many restaurants. I like to think that I work up to the standard, like brewing a fresh pot, or making a new drink if there is a fruit fly in it, or washing my hands every half hr…but most waitresses would rather take the short cut, then wonder why they get lousy tips bc people can see through that b.s.

  26. says:

    @ARP: there is salt/sugar in those things to keep the flavor.

  27. Phreggs says:


    Yes because people overdose on caffeine all the time, amiright?

    Its a drug, but so are many of the other things we intake. If you’re a moron and chug down coffee and energy drinks like theres no tomorrow, then yeah its bad. If you’re using it to wake up in the morning, or to pull through a long night, then its helpful. Not harmful.

    Anywho, thought it was a given that decaf had caffeine in it.

  28. NotATool says:

    Believe it or not, coffee is actually the #1 source of antioxidants in the typical american diet. That’s a reason to drink decaf (although I would assume regular has more antioxidants because it hasn’t been processed as much)…

  29. Heyref says:

    Old joke:
    My doctor told me to quit drinking coffee. It’s been really tough, but I’ve learned to drink my Jamesons straight every morning.

  30. Balisong says:

    @Phreggs: If you’re a moron and chug down coffee and energy drinks like theres no tomorrow, then yeah its bad.

    Dude, I went to Safeway yesterday and saw energy Pepsi. Energy drinks are so common in the US now that they’re putting extra caffeine in caffeinated drinks. Companies talk about creating caffeinated food. How many people do you know drink Red Bull everyday after their morning coffee or frickin’ morning soda? This is becoming way too common.

    I wonder if the 58 mg cup of caf coffee they got was the product of the shop running out of caf and substituting decaf (“decaf”?). Coffee shop I used to work at did that a couple of times (though with the espresso rather than the plain coffee).

  31. Balisong says:

    @speedwell: I had to work with a girl like that! Didn’t care what kind of milk people ordered with their espresso drink, either. Just dumped in whatever she had already heated up from the last drink she made. Christ I hated her.

  32. Balisong says:

    @NotATool: Believe it or not, coffee is actually the #1 source of antioxidants in the typical american diet.

    Irrelevant. Tea has antioxidants too. If you like the taste of coffee, fine, have at it. But don’t anyone try to tell me you’re drinking cofffee for the antioxidants.

  33. kublaconsumer says:

    I like coffee, so I’ll have regular in the morning and decaf in the afternoon. I think I’m in the minority with the decaf because I get the “why bother” all the time. The jolt of caffeine from the AM should last all afternoon anyway. Given this info I might try some caffeinated teas I’ve been avoiding in the afternoon. They may have less caffeine than a decaf coffee.

  34. SacraBos says:

    I love the picture for this article. Is there a larger size available?
    Coffee smells so good, but I can’t stand the taste. Just bring me a pitcher of Coke every 5 minutes until I can’t sit down. Then bring one every 10.

  35. satoru says:

    As Alton Brown said, decaffinating coffee is like doing surgery with a hand grenade. So it’s not a perfect process by any means. They are trying to make GM beans that don’t have caffine in them, but I think those are pretty far off.

  36. satoru says:

    It’s not too surprising that some of the higher end coffee chains had higher levels of caffine. Since the process of decaffination is extremely destructive to the bean, sacrificing taste usually, they probably try to draw a compromise between decaf and actually still tasting like coffee. I’m sorta surprised Dunkin was up there though? Their regular coffee tastes like pig swill to begin with.

  37. satoru says:

    @NotATool: The entire anti-oxidant thing has been really blown out of proportion. Though initially promising, most recent studies have pretty much shown that ingesting anti-oxidants isn’t going to help you much.

  38. MaliBoo Radley says:

    I stopped drinking regular coffee when I started having panic attacks. Now, I only drink decaf and only in the morning. For me, the smell and taste are a cue to be more awake. I suppose you can convince yourself of anything. Whatever. I do love the taste of coffee, cream and sugar please.

  39. whatdoyoucare says:

    @Syd: Thanks for the link. It was uncomfortable to see the caffine reduced to white powder resembling cocaine.

  40. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot says:

    @radleyas: I’m in the same boat as you. When I cut salt and caffeine out of my diet, my panic attacks went away. The tiny bit in decaf coffee doesn’t seem to affect me (a single can of Pepsi or caffeinated coffee will trigger one though.) I drink it because I LOVE the taste. After quitting smoking, and giving up all alcohol, at least I don’t have to sacrifice the taste of my morning coffee.

  41. thatgirlinnewyork says:

    indeed, why bother (except that people are likely overcaffeinated) with decaf? consider that decaffeination is a chemical process that imparts a lot of undesirable residue, people.

  42. karmaghost says:

    Just the other day, someone I’ve worked with for years told me she absolutely had to get her daily cup of coffee a little early because she was so tired that morning. Knowing by experience that she seemed to function better with coffee, I told her to go ahead and she came back, saying she already felt much better. About 15 minutes later, after she had finished, I asked her what flavor she had gotten. She told me “Decaf Hazelnut.” When I remarked that, if she was so tired, why did she get decaf? She told me that she always gets decaf.

  43. HeyBeav says:

    My grandmother drank coffee as her #1 beverage, breakfast, lunch and dinner with a cup before bed. Usually Maxwell House as her tastes were never very upscale and she never seemed to suffer about things like some of these posters do.

    She doesn’t drink coffee anymore though, poor thing passed away at 104.

    Damned caffeine.

  44. Meathamper says:

    Starbucks has 21mg of caffeine and they call it decaf?

    BTW, Consumer Reports is based in Yonkers? Haha. Move, fellas.

  45. 00447447 says:

    1. There are two methods of “decaffeinating” coffee. The Swiss Water Process, or natural process, and the Direct Contact Process. Neither one can fully eliminate all of the caffeine, but the Direct Contact is more precise. Both methods significantly change the flavor and intensity of the bean.
    2. It concerns me that the MacDonalds coffee was so consistent. Coffee, like wine, should differ from batch to batch. I don’t like that.
    3. Starbucks isn’t as good as it once was, but they still use a higher caliber bean than any of those other places mentioned. I’m not surprised that their coffees had such a range of measurements. They offer, last time I checked, no less than 10 decaf coffees. Each one will measure differently.
    4. Something that may be of help to those of you looking for less caffeine. Darker roasts have significantly LESS caffeine than lighter roasts. Fresh beans have a lot MORE caffeine than older beans.

    I’d like to see a study done out here in the west where we are a little more coffee savvy. No offense to you east coasters, but come one! MacDonalds, Burger King and 7-11?!?! Is that where you actually buy your morning coffee?

    For what it’s worth, I spent most of my college life working in the coffee business, and now I roast my own beans at home. I recommend this for anyone who really wants to enjoy their morning coffee the proper way.

  46. ian937262 says:

    Life happens after the coffee buzz starts