The Seven Best Instant Decaf Coffees – Fourth Estate
Decaffeinated coffee has always had an unfair reputation. Because not all decaf is bad. What's funny, is the same is true of instant coffee.
So decaf instant coffee must be really bad! Right? The answer is NO.
It is true that some of the flavor and aroma you find in that perfect cup of traditional roast coffee is lost during the decaffeination process. It's also true that the process of crystallizing coffee (to make it "instant" also diminishes the flavor profile.
Throw the two together and you’ve got a potentially underwhelming experience…
Unless, of course, you want coffee that’s ready in a matter of seconds, requires nothing but some off-the-boil water and also won’t disturb your sleep pattern like the leaded alternative.
At A Glance: Our Top 5 Picks for Instant Decaf Coffees
So with those disclaimers out of the way, we can also say, there are still some pretty good options for decaf coffee in instant form. It's amazing how many people have messaged us asking for this review--to rate the best decafs on the market that we decided to oblige.
Today, then, we’ll walk you through 7 of the most effective blends up for grabs if you want a low caffeine drink. After that, we’ll highlight how decaf is produced before doubling down on our overall pick for best tasting instant of the bunch.
Without further ado, we’ll get down to those reviews…
7 Best Instant Decaf Coffees
1) Maxwell House
First up in our review is a Swiss Mocha from Maxwell House that’s stripped of both caffeine and sugar.
You can drink it as it comes with some hot water or use it as a novel way to cream your coffee. This second method adds an extra burst of flavor with a naturally sweet edge.
If this version doesn’t float your boat, you can also opt for French or Viennese-style giving you plenty of choice with nothing added but a wealth of aroma and flavor.
The inbuilt advantage of this lip-smacking decaf is that you’ll be able to drink it directly before bedtime--we might not drink a lot of instant coffee but we drink a lot more of it than hot chocolate!
Read More: Best Instant Coffee
2) Starbucks Italian Roast
If you’re looking for a vibrant pure Arabica from an industry legend, this Starbucks will surprise you in only one way – it’s got no caffeine in it! When you taste this decaf, you’ll probably reconsider what you previously thought about low-caffeine coffee since it really is almost as good as the real thing.
The only thing we’d complain about is the fact it’s packaged in 50 individual sachets which might be convenient but does little for the environment and is pretty unnecessary.
If you fancy a deep, rich decaf in seconds flat, though, you probably won’t be griping about that extra bit of plastic.
Read More: Best Decaf Coffee: Whole Bean & Ground
3) Café Bustelo
One of the most frequent issues coffee fiends have with decaf is that it just doesn’t taste right. Café Bustelo proves that doesn’t need to the case with this potent decaffeinated espresso.
As with the Starbucks offering above, you’ll get single serve sachets so it’s great to take with you if you want a decent decaf at work even if it’s not exactly eco-friendly.
The aroma is astonishingly fragrant for a low-caffeine coffee and, while you won’t get the jolt a regular espresso provides, you will be able to safely sup this instant down all throughout the day.
4) Hills Bros French Vanilla
If you fancy a taste sensation cappuccino without the sleeplessness caffeinated drinks can bring about, this French vanilla from Hills Bros will hit that sweet spot perfectly.
You’ll get all the froth and creaminess you’d associate with a regular, leaded cappuccino but none of the jaggedness from drinking too much at the wrong time of day. The undertones of vanilla are subtle but unmistakable.
With a full 17 servings in each 16oz container, you’ll also find this instant decaf represents outstanding value for money. For anyone reluctant to try decaf for the fear it will be weak and tasteless, give this Hills Bros instant a shot and let us know if you change your mind.
5) Nescafe Taster’s Choice
We’ve got to be honest, we’re normally not the biggest Nescafe fans but this Taster’s Choice decaf is a notch up from their usual run-of-the-mill instant.
The light-medium roast strikes that balance between robust flavor and balance but this is not the smartest choice if you like your coffee strong even if it’s caffeine-free.
We went for the House Blend but you’ve got 5 other flavors at your disposal including hazelnut and vanilla if you hanker for something a little more decadent without needing to revert to leaded coffee. If, like us, you tend to give Nescafe a swerve, why not make an exception and see if you agree with our verdict?
6) Mount Hagen Instant Organic Decaf Coffee
As we edge to the end of our instant decaf coffee reviews, up steps Mount Hagen with this delicate organic instant.
You’ll once again get single serving sticks so make sure that sits OK with you before committing to purchase. You’ll get 25 sachets in each pack at a price you’ll love while 4-packs are available at an even keener relative price.
Made from pure Arabica beans, this is the world’s first freeze-dried coffee that’s certified organic. The caffeine is removed using liquid carbon dioxide. This is a completely safe method that removes 99.9% of all caffeine leaving you free to chug it down just before bedtime with no concerns about a restless night.
7) Folgers Instant Decaf Coffee Crystals
Rounding out our decaf coffee reviews, the highly reputable Folgers has a pocket-friendly instant perfect for consumption all throughout the day.
You won’t need to compromise on taste either since the absence of caffeine does nothing to weaken it here.
The crystals dissolve in an instant even if the water isn’t piping hot. And let’s face it, there’s nothing worse than getting a half-dissolved chunk of coffee on your tongue even if you absolutely love the stuff.
While the decaf is a strong performer, the regular red from Folgers is even tastier although it falls outside the scope of our reviews today.
With our brief decaf coffee reviews put to bed – and with no problem sleeping either! – it’s time for a quick glimpse at how decaf instant is actually produced.
How Is Decaf Instant Coffee Produced?
The concept of decaf coffee first cropped up way back in 1903 when Ludwig Roselius discovered how to extract the caffeine from coffee beans. The benzene he used for the purpose is no longer since it’s a known carcinogen.
Instead, today 4 main methods are used to decaffeinate coffee.
2 methods of extraction use chemical solvents. Green coffee beans are soaked in either methylene chloride or ethyl acetate. The water is used to soften them up while the chemical solvent acts to draw out the caffeine. When the solution is drained, this is re-used to perpetuate the cycle until the caffeine content is at the required level. This should be no more than 0.1% but often you find decaffeinated coffee which actually contains a little more than that amount.
Although a range of studies have indicated these solvents are safe, that’s not enough for many people who wanted a non-chemical approach so they could enjoy decaf without worrying about potential harm from chemical solvents.
To this end, 2 non-chemical approaches to decaffeinating coffee beans sprang into being.
Arguably the most well-known and most popular is the Swiss Water Process. This is named for the country of origin rather than for the source of the water. Firstly, green coffee beans are soaked in water to dissolve the caffeine. Since some of the flavor seeps out, artificial flavor is added to compensate. Filtering gets rid of 99.9% of the caffeine and then the process is repeated for the next batch.
The liquid CO2 method follows pretty much the same procedure except the gas used in sparkling water comes into play.
Despite the differences in these methods, they have a few common elements:
- Without exception, coffee is decaffeinated when in its unroasted, green state
- Water is used across the board for the reason that caffeine is water-soluble
- Due to the way water used alone can strip away sugars and proteins along with the caffeine, another decaffeinating agent is used so the taste remains more robust while the process is quicker
You might also see reference to direct processes and indirect processes but what does this mean in plain English?
It’s quite simple really. With a direct method, the caffeine is removed after the beans are soaked directly in a solvent. It’s applied directly to the beans. Indirect methods see the caffeine-infused water shifted to a separate tank where it’s treated with a solvent. That solvent never touches the beans itself.
Overall, perhaps 10% of coffee drinkers actually prefer their beverage caffeine-free – or as close to that as possible – so while it’s a small sub-section of the market, it’s still sizeable enough for all major manufacturers to provide a decaffeinated option. If not, they’d simply be leaving money on the table.
The guidelines for decaffeinated coffee vary depending on where you are in the world. According to the USDA, a coffee with 3% caffeine can still legitimately be termed decaffeinated so, if you have any reason to cut out caffeine completely, it pays to be aware that decaffeinated certainly doesn’t always means caffeine-free. For anyone not absolutely required to go caffeine-free, you’ll only end up with 5 or 6 mg of caffeine in a 12oz pack rather than the 180mg you’d find in a pack of leaded coffee.
Before we round out for today, we thought we’d cut through the options listed out above and give you our thoughts on our choice for the best tasting instant decaf coffee
What is The Best Tasting Instant Decaf Coffee
It was actually a surprisingly tough decision to whittle down the 7 decaf instants we tasted in order to pick just one overall winner.
After a pretty lengthy discussion, we opted for the mighty Starbucks and their VIA ready brew Italian roast. We considered a number of elements including price, value, taste, aroma, and convenience before settling on this 12oz pack containing 50 single sachets.
As we mentioned earlier, this excessive use of plastic is not the greenest solution but in exchange you’ll get handy bite-sized coffees you can slip in your bag and take to work without needing to carry around a whole jar. If you decide to settle on instant coffee, this convenience factor is one of the leading reasons to compromise a little on taste and smell.
The Italian dark roast we went for is made from pure Arabica beans that are completely ethically-sourced so you can offset the concerns about plastic with the knowledge you won’t also be destroying or exploiting communities.
While it’s practically impossible to replicate a caffeinated dark roast, Starbucks have brought all their expertise to bear and done the next best thing with this signature blend. You might miss the kick that caffeine delivers but you’re highly unlikely to be moaning about the intense taste or the enticing aroma.
If you’re not the biggest fan of dark roasts, you can opt for the House Blend or a regular and lighter Italian roast instead.
Size-wise you can choose from a pack containing 48, 50, 60 or 72 sachets according to how much decaf you plough through. Whichever one you opt for, you’ll be getting remarkably good value and it’s so much cheaper than heading to the store each day without the queues or the inconvenience.
So, if you’re hunting down the best decaf coffee 2018, we’ve save you the job! That said, any of the other half-dozen decafs we review today are also well worth popping on your shortlist.
Now you’ve gained a little insight into the way in which instant decaf is produced and you’ve seen a few of the better options within your grasp, perhaps you’ve got a slightly different opinion on this low-caffeine alternative to the real deal.
After a series of taste tests, we certainly have! So remember to check out that Starbucks dark roast if you want a decaffeinated drink that’s as close as possible to regular coffee without any of the potentially undesirable effects of coffee.
It’s worth keeping in mind too that in order to get the very best from decaf, it’s worth angling for a blend since that helps to balance out some of the loss that occurs during decaffeination. Single origins are a solid option with regular coffee but not so great when you’re dealing with decaf.
If you’re still on the fence regarding decaf, it’s worth focusing on a few of the downsides of caffeine:
- Heightened level of acidity with increased risk of heartburn
- Heart rate increases if you drink too much caffeine
- Tendency to cause bowel movements
- Crash and burn effect with a kind of false energy given by caffeine
- Can create issues with sleep
You know us, we’re not knocking caffeine since pretty everything is OK in moderation. We’re just pointing out a few of the drawbacks if you go over the top and illustrating that the decaf coffee of 2018 is a far cry indeed from the bland and insipid blends you might have in mind.
So why not give some a try and let us know what you think. For a winning combo of convenience and low caffeine, you can’t beat instant decaf.
Come back soon for more regular coffee guidance. We’re just finishing up with testing some more K Cups so be sure to pop back next week.