Will Decaf Coffee Keep You Awake? Exploring the Surprising Effects of Decaffeinated Coffee on Caffeine Withdrawal


For many avid coffee drinkers, the thought of going without their beloved caffeine fix can be daunting. Caffeine withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, and irritability are all too familiar to those who rely on their daily dose of java. However, a recent study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology suggests that relief from caffeine withdrawal may come from an unexpected source: decaffeinated coffee. This study sheds light on the surprising effects of decaf coffee on alleviating withdrawal symptoms, even when participants are fully aware that they are consuming a caffeine-free beverage.

The Study

Led by Llewellyn Mills from the University of Sydney, researchers recruited 61 heavy coffee drinkers for their study. Participants, defined as consuming at least three cups of coffee per day, were subjected to a 24-hour caffeine abstinence period before being brought into the lab. They were then asked to rate their current experience of caffeine withdrawal symptoms before consuming various beverages, including coffee, decaf coffee, and water.

Participants were divided into two groups, with both groups consuming decaf coffee. However, one group was falsely informed that they were drinking caffeinated coffee, while the other group was aware that they were drinking decaf. A third group consumed water as a control. After 45 minutes, participants were again asked to rate their withdrawal symptoms.

Surprising Results

As expected, participants in the water group experienced consistent levels of withdrawal symptoms before and after consumption. Those who believed they were drinking caffeinated coffee reported a significant reduction in withdrawal symptoms at the second assessment, demonstrating the placebo effect. Interestingly, even participants who knew they were drinking decaf coffee experienced a notable decrease in withdrawal symptoms.

Potential Explanations

The study suggests that conditioning plays a significant role in the observed effects of decaf coffee on caffeine withdrawal. Over time, the sensory cues associated with drinking coffee, such as the aroma and warmth of the cup, become linked with the physiological effects of caffeine ingestion. As a result, these sensory cues alone may trigger a reduction in withdrawal symptoms, even in the absence of caffeine.


While the study focused specifically on caffeine withdrawal, its findings have broader implications for addiction treatment. The use of open-label placebos, where patients are aware they are receiving inert medication, may hold promise in alleviating withdrawal symptoms during addiction recovery. By integrating conditioning procedures into clinical interventions, healthcare professionals may offer novel approaches to improving treatment outcomes.

What we think

The study highlights the unexpected benefits of decaf coffee in reducing caffeine withdrawal symptoms. Whether through conditioned responses or placebo effects, decaf coffee appears to offer relief from withdrawal, even when individuals are aware of its caffeine-free nature. While further research is needed to explore its efficacy in other forms of addiction, these findings open new avenues for enhancing addiction treatment interventions.

This study underscores the potential of leveraging conditioning mechanisms to address withdrawal symptoms and improve treatment outcomes, providing hope for individuals striving to overcome addiction.

Does Decaf Coffee Give You Energy? Exploring the Impact of Decaffeinated Coffee on Vitality


Coffee, a beloved beverage enjoyed worldwide, has long been associated with providing a boost of energy and alertness, primarily attributed to its caffeine content. However, with the increasing popularity of decaffeinated coffee, questions arise about whether decaf can offer the same energising effects. This article delves into the effects of decaffeinated coffee consumption on energy levels, drawing insights from a systematic review and meta-analysis of data from randomised controlled trials (RCTs) examining the impact of both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee on metabolic syndrome parameters. Read the full study here

Background and Objectives

Metabolic syndrome (MeTS) presents a constellation of metabolic abnormalities, including abdominal obesity, dyslipidaemia, hypertension, and insulin resistance. Coffee, enriched with bioactive compounds like chlorogenic acid (CGA) and caffeine, has garnered attention for its potential health benefits, including mitigating the risk of metabolic disorders. While caffeinated coffee’s effects on energy levels are well-documented, the influence of decaffeinated coffee remains less explored.

Key Findings

The systematic review and meta-analysis revealed intriguing insights into the effects of decaffeinated coffee consumption on metabolic syndrome parameters. While green coffee extract (GCE) supplementation exhibited significant improvements in various MeTS outcomes, decaffeinated coffee notably reduced fasting blood glucose levels. These findings underscore the potential health benefits of decaffeinated coffee in managing metabolic health, but do they translate into enhanced energy levels?

Exploring the Energy Boost from Decaf

While the review primarily focused on metabolic parameters, it indirectly sheds light on the energising effects of decaf coffee. Previous studies have demonstrated that caffeine, the primary stimulant in coffee, is responsible for increasing energy expenditure and promoting alertness. However, despite the absence of caffeine, decaffeinated coffee has been shown to offer similar benefits in certain metabolic aspects, suggesting that other compounds in coffee may contribute to its physiological effects.

Implications and Future Directions

The findings from this review prompt further exploration into the mechanisms underlying the potential energy-boosting effects of decaffeinated coffee. Understanding how decaf influences energy levels can provide valuable insights for individuals seeking alternatives to caffeinated beverages, particularly those sensitive to caffeine or looking to limit their intake. Future research should delve deeper into the specific bioactive compounds in decaf coffee responsible for its physiological effects and elucidate their mechanisms of action.


The meta-analysis included fourteen high-quality RCTs, with observation periods ranging from 60 minutes to 24 weeks. The findings suggested that supplementation with GCE containing 180 to 376 mg of CGA effectively reduced MeTS parameters over extended periods. Similarly, decaffeinated coffee containing 510.6 mg of CGA showed promising reductions in MeTS parameters. However, the effects varied based on dosage, and further studies with well-planned designs are necessary to confirm these outcomes, accounting for dietary intake, physical activity, and other health factors.

While the debate over whether decaf coffee provides an energy boost may continue, its potential health benefits, particularly in managing metabolic syndrome parameters, make it a noteworthy addition to one’s daily routine. Whether for its purported physiological effects or simply for its comforting aroma and taste, decaf coffee holds promise as a beverage that not only delights the senses but also supports overall well-being.

Decaf Coffee’s Effect on the Kidneys: Yes, It Can Help

Is Coffee Bad for the Kidneys?

Numerous studies have concluded that coffee is unlikely to harm the kidneys or cause chronic kidney disease (CKD). In fact, research suggests several benefits to consuming a moderate amount of coffee, including improved energy levels and metabolism due to caffeine, as well as the antioxidant properties of polyphenols in coffee. However, moderation is key, especially for individuals with high blood pressure or kidney stones.

Studies on Coffee and Kidney Disease

Population-based epidemiological studies have indicated a potential protective effect of coffee consumption on kidney function. For instance, a 2022 study found a lower risk of kidney injury among daily coffee drinkers, with higher consumption associated with greater risk reduction. However, excessive caffeine intake, particularly from caffeinated coffee, may lead to a decline in kidney function, especially in certain populations.

Coffee and Genetic Kidney Disease

Contrary to past concerns, current clinical studies have not found coffee consumption to be a risk factor for the progression of autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (PKD).

Does Coffee Increase the Risk of Kidney Stones?

Regular coffee consumption has been associated with oxalate stone formation, particularly among individuals prone to calcium oxalate stones. Therefore, patients with kidney stones, especially calcium oxalate stones, should consider coffee intake as a potential risk factor.

Does Coffee Increase the Risk of Kidney Cancer?

The relationship between coffee consumption and kidney cancer is mixed. While studies suggest a reduced risk of renal cell carcinoma with caffeinated coffee, decaffeinated coffee may increase the risk of clear cell renal cell carcinoma. Further research is needed to understand this association better.

The Relationship Between Coffee, Hypertension, and Kidney Disease

While caffeinated coffee may cause a short-term increase in blood pressure, particularly in older individuals and non-regular coffee drinkers, moderate consumption (up to 3 to 4 cups daily) does not seem to increase the risk of kidney disease in healthy individuals. However, those with high blood pressure should consult with healthcare providers regarding caffeine intake.

Decaf and Hypertension

Even decaffeinated coffee has been associated with increased nervous system activity and blood pressure, suggesting that factors other than caffeine may contribute to this effect.

How to Safely Enjoy Coffee With Kidney Disease: DRINK DECAF COFFEE

For individuals with kidney disease, limiting coffee intake, opting for black coffee to avoid phosphorus and potassium in creamers and milk, counting coffee in fluid allowances, and considering alternative beverages like decaf coffee or teas can help manage kidney health effectively.


Current research suggests that coffee is generally safe for kidney health, with potential benefits attributed to its caffeine and antioxidant content. However, individuals with specific conditions such as high blood pressure or kidney stones should moderate their coffee intake. Consulting healthcare providers for personalized recommendations is advised.


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Decaf Deconstructed – Different Methods of Decaffeination

There are five ways to decaffeinate, which one works for you?

There is a problem with tea and coffee packaging. It is stricken with an unsightly rash of trademarks and logos erupting from every available surface like zits on a pizza-faced teenager. The blemishes speak of a virtuous product; Organic, Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, sustainable, green. Separate info boxes impart details such as strength, bean, roast, blend, grind, carbon footprint and, possibly, USB compatibility. It has made shopping for hot drinks as complex and nuanced as a conference on geopolitical ethics.

We call these little reassuring information panels LoV – Logos of Virtue. They make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

This is one detail you should pay attention to, because how your tea or coffee is decaffeinated is arguably more important

There’s still room on the label – just – so why not add one more detail, the method of decaffeination? This is one detail you should pay attention to, because how your tea or coffee is decaffeinated is arguably more important than many of the other LoVs. For example, with the amount of decaf the world is consuming, how that caffeine is removed has measurable consequences for the environment. Differences in decaffeination can also affect taste and aroma. And the big one; effectiveness of decaffeination varies with each process and if you are buying decaf, it makes sense that you will want it to be as caffeine-free as possible.

The truth is that decaffeinated tea and coffee comes in a bewildering variety of forms but not all are created equal. With a decaf tea or coffee, a lot hinges on the method of its decaffeination. Which one should you choose and why does it matter?

Here comes the science bit

There are five known methods of decaffeination. The original method, which used salt water and benzene is no longer legal because of, well, benzene. In 1906, a chance discovery by German coffee merchant Ludwig Roselius resulted in the world’s first mass produced decaffeinated coffee. Although his coffee later turned out to be carcinogenic, Roselius made up for it all by his involvement in a 1943 plot to blow up Hitler. You win some, you lose some.

Which leaves us four ways of taking caffeine out of tea and coffee. 

1. Methylene Chloride Decaffeination 

Methylene chloride is bonded to caffeine molecule by molecule by soaking the tea leaves or green coffee beans. There are two methods of achieving this, directly on the beans or leaves in hot water and indirectly, where the beans or leaves are soaked in hot water to remove the caffeine and the solvent is added to the water after the beans are removed. Although ‘solvent’ and the names of most solvents sound quite scary, only the tiniest trace residue will remain on the decaf product and even that will evaporate completely over 38°C/100°F.

2. Ethyl Acetate Decaffeination 

Although ethyl acetate hardly sounds much better than the previous method, decaf produced using ethyl acetate as a solvent is sometimes touted as ‘naturally decaffeinated’ because ethyl acetate is a chemical found naturally not only in tea, but also in many fruits. The process is otherwise identical to the direct and indirect methods that use methylene chloride as a solvent. Sometimes, according to learned decafficionados, ethyl acetate decaf leaves a slight chemical taste

3. Swiss Water Decaffeination 

This non-solvent alternative decaf process extracts caffeine by a long soak in hot water, followed by filtering though activated carbon to remove the caffeine. The now-decaf water is added back to the drained beans or leaves so that they can reabsorb the oils and flavours. There are a few teas that use the Swiss Water decaf method, but it is most often used for coffee.

4. Carbon Dioxide (co2) Decaffeination 

This is the space age version of decaf. This was probably invented when boffins meant to be working on something very clever were momentarily appalled by the state of their decaf and filled whiteboards with obscure formulae and Greek symbols to come up with a solution to the second most important problem before them. We probably won’t have interstellar space travel because of this, but who cares when the decaf tastes this good?

Having said all that, it’s not that complicated. Beans or leaves are pressure cooked with carbon dioxide. In such pressure and temperature environments, carbon dioxide (co2) goes supercritical and becomes a solvent that attracts the small caffeine molecules, leaving the larger flavour molecules intact.

5. Mountain Water Method

Similar in many respects to the Swiss Water decaffeination method and widely regarded as a cut above all other decafs, the Mountain Water Process (MWP) is also sometimes called the Mexican Water Process as it uses water from that country’s highest mountain – Pico de Orizaba.

The process starts with steaming the green coffee beans which are then soaked in a water solution, which removes the caffeine along with the flavour compounds. The water is removed from the seeds and run through a carbon filter that captures caffeine molecules to strain them from the solution. The green coffee is then soaked in all the flavour compounds and reabsorb them without the caffeine.

What Kind of Coffee Grind Do I Need?

Ground decaf coffee comes in such a broad range of different forms, the labels display a hot barrow-load of information from decaf method to body, roast and origin. You’re willing to believe the coffee ‘does exactly what it says on the packet’, if only you could work out exactly what it does say on the packet. As well as body and roast, one of the most important bits of information is how fine or coarse the grind is. 

How does grind affect my coffee?

Grind is a measurement of how ground the coffee is. That wasn’t a surprise, was it? What might be new information is how much grind affects the taste of the coffee you drink. As well as the coffee you absolutely refuse to drink because it came out with notes of battery acid, warning claxons and flashing lights. If you’ve had one of those cups of decaf recently, you’ve either just come out of Costabucks, or you have got your brew all wrong and that may have something to do with putting the wrong grind in your coffee-making equipment.

Different coffee-making machines and makers make coffee in different ways and at different speeds. To work its magic, your chosen weapon of decaffeination needs a specific size and grade of ground coffee. 

Espresso fine grind

Espresso machines, for example, extract all of that yummy super quick – in usually less than 30 seconds. The same goes for pods and capsules. The hot water is in contact with the coffee for such a short time, it needs to extract flavour quickly. A fine grind presents more surface area than a coarse grind and the high-pressure water squeezes more of the flavour out. Using a coarse ground in an espresso machine will lead to a sour cup of under-extracted decaf.

French press coarse grind

French press, by comparison has minutes to work its magic as you steep the grounds for much longer. Brewing fine grounds in a cafetière for minutes on end will over-extract flavour and lead to a bitter brew.

Between the two extremes, you’ll find that medium ground works best with auto-drip filter machines or pour-over coffee makers, like those that come with a jug or carafe.

Match your machine with grind

It is very important to match the decaf grind you buy with the coffee-making gear you already have. If you suffer from disappointing cups of home-brewed decaf, it could be something as simple as buying the right coffee for your machine.

We try to make this as straightforward as possible at I Love Decaf. Our coffees come in different grinds for different methods of coffee-making. Rather than tell you on the bag the grind is medium-fine, we state what kind of machine the grind is suitable for. Sometimes, to save label space, we use a letter instead.

B Beans (not ground at all)

These are unground beans – perfect if you own a bean-to-cup coffee machine or you grind your own beans separately (perhaps you have a Moka pot and a French press and want to control the grind for optimum results in each piece of equipment). 

C Cafetiere/French Press

A cafetiere or French press is a tall jug with a plunger that holds back the grounds from your brewed coffee. You fill it with very hot (not boiling) water and let it steep. When the brew is done you push the plunger slowly down to compress all the grounds out of suspension behind a metal screen.

E Espresso

Espresso machines in the barista-style have become more popular over time, but espresso was originally brewed in Moka pots – stove-top percolators in which you boil water under pressure forcing steam and water through coffee grinds. When the grinds are saturated, the pressure forces brewed coffee up a funnel through a filter to the top chamber. When you hear the characteristic gurgling your coffee is ready. Whatever kind of espresso making equipment you have, this grind is the optimum for brewing your coffee.

P Pods/Capsules

Some modern coffee machines use a sealed pod system to make your coffee. The idea is you throw away each pod after you have used it once and the environmental cost gets picked up in a third world country steadily filling up with aluminium and plastic capsules. Not good enough. Fortunately, you can get refillable pods and systems for most of the proprietary coffee makers. We sell one of these on ilovedecaf, but others are available elsewhere.

F Filter/Aeropress

The simplest method of making coffee is to drip feed or pour very hot water over ground coffee which sits in a cone of filter paper held over a large jug. There are many variations of this technique from pour-over to the new Aeropress machine which can even make espresso-like coffee on the go.