A Household Divided—Regular vs. Decaf

Ever since 1905, when a German coffee merchant named Ludwig Roselius turned his attention to extracting caffeine from coffee beans by using a hydrocarbon known as benzene, the world has been split into “caffeinated people” and “decaffeinated people.” Usually, the two sides maintain a modicum of respect for each other, but even when respect rules, incomprehension reigns. Writer Matt Buchanan states, “I don’t understand drinking decaf coffee. It’s like non-alcoholic beer. Both are neutered versions of the original.” This perspective makes sense from the caffeinated side of the line; for fans of regular, coffee is all about the caffeine, while for their decaf counterparts, flavor is king.

So what happens when domestic partners find themselves on opposite sides of the caffeinated line?

Bean Respect

There’s never cause for flavor snobbery in the caffeine question; as this New York Times article attests, coffee companies have been creating high quality decaf roasts that rival regular beans since the late 1980s. Decaffeination got a huge boost in 1979, when the Swiss Water Process, originally developed in 1933, began to be used commercially. Since the process removes caffeine naturally, using pure water and no chemicals, the beans tend to retain the original concentrations of other chemicals—sucrose, cellulose, proteins, citric acid and the like—that contribute to the thousand or so flavor compounds in coffee. For this reason, decaf coffee tastes just as good as regular.

On the other hand, decaf drinkers can downshift their anxiety regarding any residual caffeine left in the grinder or the coffeemaker from a previous user’s regular coffee beans—the caffeine content of a coffee bean varies (depending on the bean) between one and three percent. Given that you’ll only have a few regular beans’ worth of grounds mixing with yours, the caffeine content will be infinitesimal. It also may be helpful to remember that even your cup of decaf isn’t totally caffeine-free. Federal law mandates that decaf coffee be at least 97.5% free of caffeine, which means that a 6-ounce cup may still contain three to six milligrams.

Espresso: The Great Equalizer

In these divided households, domestic partners may choose simply to tolerate each other’s taste in coffee and use the grinder twice as often. But for those looking for a middle way, those forefathers of all things coffee, the Italians, may have the answer: espresso. Though we associate a shot of espresso with a morning jolt, it actually contains less caffeine than brewed coffee, due to its deep roast and rapid brewing time. It actually takes three shots of espresso to equal the 195-milligram dose you ingest from a 12-ounce cup of coffee, making it the perfect “middle ground” for those enamored with caffeine and those who eschew it.

And what a perfect way to let coffee work for your relationship, instead of against it! The world of espresso drinks is fun, fascinating and creative, from espresso ice cream to a morning caffe breve. Making exotic coffee drinks together is a delicious way to spend time—and the caffeine content may just be right for everyone.