There are some things in life I’m willing to say “no” to quite frequently, for the purpose of having a better quality of life. Things like highly-processed foods, alcohol, and sugary beverages are atop the list. However, coffee has been one of those things that I just can’t do without on a daily basis. The wonderful aroma, the mental edge, and the feelings of happiness and comfort that come along with it are difficult, for sure, to part with.
I conducted an unofficial study last year, the subject being myself (n=1 for you statistics nerds out there), on the physical and psychological effects of caffeine cessation. Coffee was the primary beverage, which contains caffeine that was eliminated. I decided to go 4 weeks without it or any other caffeine-containing products just to see what it was like. Well, the first few days were probably the most difficult for me. I normally drink 2-3 cups on average, but I find that it doesn’t take much for it do its work on me.
I didn’t ease off of it. I stopped cold turkey, so needless to say, I had some pretty bad brain fog, a constant headache, and irritability for the first few days. After that, the withdrawal symptoms finally started to cool off, and I started noticing some things a couple weeks after. My sleep was improving in quality and duration, I felt tired when I needed to be (at night before bed), I didn’t get as irritable throughout the day (although this has always been something I’ve been trying to improve upon), my energy levels were a bit more steady, and my mental clarity was just as good (if I got a workout in that morning).
I eased back into the coffee shortly after my experiment had ended, allowing myself no more than one 8 ounce cup a day, and go figure, eventually the stressful days and those few nights of insufficient sleep compounded and I felt the need for more. So, here I am again a year later averaging 2-3 cups per day, which equates to approximately 300-450mg of caffeine.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not bashing coffee. Coffee has absolutely been shown to have desirable effects on the body. However, that little drug known as caffeine that resides within coffee can have some undesirable effects if consumed in excess, and what “in excess” means is highly individual to each person. Generally, healthy adults can consume up to 400mg of caffeine without experiencing any of the negative effects. But some like me are more sensitive to it.
As of 2017, the average consumption among coffee drinkers in the United States was approximately 3.2 cups per day. Knowing this, I should still probably stick to the lower end of my range, considering the undesirable effects caffeine tends to give me rather quickly if I drink too much (i.e. irritability, jitteriness, anxiety, feeling tense).
Even though I’m back on the Joe, my little experiment did lead me to start researching some alternatives to regular coffee. One of those obvious alternatives happened to be decaf coffee! However, being the health nut that I am, I wanted to know how most decaffeinated coffee is actually decaffeinated. So, I did some research and here’s a brief summary on what I found.
There are four processes used to decaffeinate coffee. Two of them use synthetic chemical solvents to extract the caffeine from the beans (i.e. direct and indirect methods). The direct method may have brands label their coffee as “naturally decaffeinated” because the solvent that is used can be found in ripening fruits. However, the extraction and usage of this naturally-occurring solvent is often expensive and impractical, so often times a synthetic version will be used. One of the methods that does not use chemical solvents is the CO2 Method, although this process is costly, so it is used with large quantities of lower-grade coffee.
Finally, the grand finale. The Swiss Water Process (SWP). Hands down, I have not tasted a better cup of decaffeinated coffee than one that has used the SWP. I was first introduced to it at a coffee shop in Wicker Park, IL (i.e. Red Beard Coffee, which I recently found out had closed 🙁 I liked that place). I asked the barista for a cup of their decaf, and just for the hell of it I asked if she knew what the decaffeination process was like, because that’s what curiosity does to me. She told me it was the SWP, and so the research began. To sum it up, it uses water and osmosis to extract the caffeine from the coffee beans, while preserving much of the flavors. No chemical solvents are used, and many of the coffee brands that use this process are organic. One of the brands I really like and drink on occasion when I need a break from the caffeine is No Fun Jo Decaf. You can learn more about the SWP here.
So, there you have it. If you’ve been thinking about reducing your caffeine intake, and you’re not willing to give up your nice hot cup o’ joe, give a SWP decaf coffee brand a shot.
And here’s a little tip to finish this post…try mixing a batch of ground decaf coffee beans with your favorite regular ground coffee beans for ½ the caffeine. You might just be surprised.