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3 Things To Check The Label For When Buying Decaf Coffee Beans

Coffee on a solid background
Image by Juan Moyano / Stocksy
April 3, 2021

Here on team mindbodygreen, we love integrating our favorite morning beverages into our well-being routine—and for me, that always means coffee. Well-armed with hacks to get the most out of a morning cuppa joe, I know I'm not alone in my love for this seemingly universal beverage. On the days when I don't need the caffeine—but still want that java experience—I'm all for a flavorful decaf option.

However, when it comes to shopping for coffee beans (decaf, especially) the info on the packaging can be daunting. Is any of it noteworthy, or just noise? Whether you're looking to upgrade your home-brewing routine or planning to try local roasts from your favorite small business, there are a few primary things to keep in mind while shopping for decaf coffee beans:

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1. Take note of the roast style (and the origin).

Obviously, the first priority when buying coffee beans is the taste, and the flavor profiles are largely influenced by two factors: the roast style and the origin. The darker the roast, the more the cocoa and caramel flavors, while lighter roasting allows the fruitier characteristics to shine, John Nicolini, the director of roasting operations at Peet's Coffee, tells mindbodygreen.

But sometimes we lose sight of how the origin of our coffee—where it's grown—affects the taste. Like with wine, different regions of the world will often have similar tasting notes in their coffee product, Nicolini explains. Coffees from South and Central America tend to have notes of chocolate or red fruits, while coffees grown in Africa will often be more herbaceous or have citrus notes overall.

2. Check for a roast date.

No matter what type of coffee you're buying, checking for a "roast date" is a practice you should pick up. "The time between coffee roasting and brewing is critical to the taste of the final pour," says Nicolini. "Yet most people buy beans with no information about when the beans were roasted."

The truth is, not every brand includes the roast date on their packaging—so keep an eye out for those that do. Once you've got that super-fresh product roasted in the last month (which means more nuances and flavor in your cup), the other key component is storing it correctly. That means opting for an airtight container—and ideally keeping your beans whole, to grind fresh when you need them.

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3. See if it mentions the decaffeination style.

While the previous components hold true for any coffee shopping, when buying decaf coffee, it's worth seeking out what decaffeination process was used. That's right, there are actually a few ways to remove the caffeine from coffee beans. (It's worth noting coffee is never truly caffeine-free—there's usually a trace amount.)

"One could decaffeinate coffee purely with hot water, but this would also completely de-flavor it," says explains Doug Welsh, Peet's VP coffee and roastmaster. "Water, after all, is what we use to dissolve all the yummy stuff into our cup."

While some processes use solvents, there are two non-solvent-based options: the Swiss water process and the carbon dioxide process. These essentially involve stripping the coffee of the caffeine chemicals while strategically leaving behind or reintroducing the compounds that give coffee its flavor. While there's nothing inherently wrong with solvent-based processes, I personally prioritize a water process since it's free of any extra chemicals.

Above all, the best thing you can do when shopping for coffee, according to Welsh, is taste it—decaf coffee shouldn't taste any less delicious than a full-caffeine variety. This is a lot easier to do when buying your beans direct from a local coffee shop, where they might be brewing the beans to order every day.

Whether or not you can sample it, using these strategic tips can help you find a bag worthy of your own coffee ritual. Then the only question that remains is: How will you brew your beautiful beans? (If you're asking me, it's all about the cold brew.)

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