Food How To Liquids

How To: Make the switch to decaf coffee

A tasty decaf americano at Transcend Garneau, liquid proof that a decaf coffee can still taste spectacular.

You have your reasons for taking the plunge into decaf territory. Either it’s a New Year’s resolution or something you’ve been planning to do for a long time. Regardless, before you make the switch, here are some helpful tips.

First off, a rough comparison of the four main decaf ordering options at cafés:

The Americano/Canadese: The best option available to decaf drinkers, but it puts you in the lengthy rush-hour queue at the espresso bar with everyone else waiting for a double-no-foam-extra-hot-caramel-mocha. The big benefit here is that they’re using freshly ground beans to make you an individual cup of coffee. If strong coffee is your thing, you can pay for extra shots. Make sure the barista isn’t grabbing pre-ground coffee from a container to brew your drink.

The pour-over: Starbucks is big into pour-overs these days. They gave up on having decaf coffee available on tap during a large chunk of the day, and have switched to offering customers the option of making one fresh cup at a time. The downside? It’s usually always the same blend (mediocre Pike Place decaf), and the coffee is scooped pre-ground from a tub. The upside? If the bar is busy, you may be able to queue jump by having the cashier make your coffee instead of having to add your decaf Americano to the back of the espresso-bar line.

French press: Better than a pour-over, because you can pick the type of beans, and they’re often ground fresh to order. Less great is that it takes a while to brew and can be more expensive than drip.

The dusty coffee pot that’s been sitting there for a very long time: As a last resort. A lot of coffee shops don’t go through enough volume to make it worth their while to have a fresh pot of decaf ready for a customer at a moment’s notice. Unless the cafe is a hive of activity, expect stale coffee.

That’s it. Those are your café ordering alternatives. And now, time for some tips:

  • Always be prepared for the barista or server to screw up and give you caffeinated coffee. You’ll only know once you’re halfway through the cup and your hands are starting to jitter. Every extra step in the preparation adds another chance for error. Someone can use the wrong beans to brew your coffee (first step), or someone can accidentally pour your cup from the wrong carafe or tap (last step). This happens to me regularly. Keep a close eye on your server, and make sure there’s no communication breakdown.
  • Feather it in or out. If possible, don’t cut out caffeine all at once. Maybe start working down through half-caf coffee, or go from three cups a day down to two. You’re going to have a throbbing headache to contend with if you go from five cups a day to zero without weaning yourself off the stuff.
  • Don’t settle for crappy decaf. If dark roasts are your thing, Starbucks makes some decent decafs on the darker side of things. For more nuance, Intelligentsia offers a small range of decafs, including a decaffeinated version of their famous Black Cat Espresso blend (available in Edmonton at Credo). Edmonton roaster Transcend Coffee has a good decaf from Peru, and 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters makes a decaf version of their Epic Espresso (available in Edmonton at Elm Café). If you have any other favourites you’d like to share with the class, leave them in the comments.
  • Switching to decaf isn’t an all-or-nothing thing for a lot of people. Even though you may start the day with a big mug of caffeinated coffee, it’s nice to be able to have a cup of decaf coffee later at night without worrying about the effect on your sleep.


Cost: About the same or marginally more than you’d spend on the same coffee with caffeine in it.

Value for cash money: You’re getting added value in the removing of caffeine from the beans, so of course it costs more. What you pay per pound depends on what your coffee quality standards are.

Availability: Good decafs can be hard to find, but most cafes have at least one or two token decafs available.

Nutrition?: Less caffeine, which can be a positive thing for a lot of jittery, over-stimulated people.

The verdict: I still love the range of options available with caffeinated coffee, but I drink a fair bit of decaf these days, especially in the late afternoon and evening. Sacrificing a bit of taste and variety is worth getting a good night’s sleep.


  1. Great Entry! I’ve been working decaf into my coffee rotation here and there for the past few months in an effort to cut back on my caffeine intake. I noticed you didn’t mention the different types of decaffeination used to get decaf coffee beans. I was just curious if you are partial to a specific process or indifferent to the method used on the beans?

    • Thanks! I’m not sure what I think of the differences between decaffeination processes. On a strictly scientific level, I don’t think I’m qualified to judge between the methods (ie. which one is better for humans, better for the environment, etc.). That said, on an emotional/gut level, I prefer the Swiss Water Process, but I don’t have any real concrete facts to back that up. Of all the methods I’ve read about, it _sounds_ like it’s the most natural.