“Is decaf coffee any good?!” It certainly gets a bad rap, but it’s not always deserved. Whether you have caffeine sensitivities, or just want a cup of coffee that won’t ruin your beauty sleep, there are some good, satisfying decafs to be had. We went on a hunt for the best and put several to the test here. Of course, coffee preferences are highly subjective, so don’t be put off by any that have a lower rating. Your tastes may differ from those of our reviewer 🙂 Let us know if you have a favorite decaf we should check out.
In This Guide:
- Top recommendations
- Best if you like a bold flavor
- If you fancy a medium body
- For lovers of African coffees
Counter Culture Coffee – Slow Motion
Coffee Origin: Brazil
Roaster Location: Durham, North Carolina
Roast Level: Medium-Light
Slow Motion stands apart as a singular selection that’s offbeat and perhaps even a little crazy. The selection would blend in well among other light roasts with lively flavors if it were caffeinated. The decaf tends toward darker roasts with more tame sweet, nutty and rustic notes, though. In that generally dark-roast world, a lively medium-light roast that has multiple complex flavors stands out.
The primary flavors of Slow Motion can be likened to a freshly baked apple, topped with brown sugar and raisins. Bright acidity is enveloped in a sweetness that’s akin to brown sugar or molasses, and the entire cup has just the slightest hint of dried fruit. Further adding to the cup’s complexity is also a strong note of chocolate, making the concept of bright flavor wrapped in sweetness easily relatable for anyone who’s had a chocolate-dipped piece of fruit.
This selection won’t have the mass appeal that coffees with a more classic profile do, but its offbeat brightness and high quality will garner a loyal following. For those who love a bright cup, possibly even an African one, Slow Motion makes a highly enjoyable daily brew that doesn’t require cream or sugar. Alternatively, it’s also a unique selection for burgeoning coffee aficionados that want to try something new.
A coffee of this quality is good no matter how it’s brewed. Whatever your preferred brewing method is, though, do make sure you try this iced. The bright acidity, brown sugar sweetness and chocolate notes are even more delicious when the brew is chilled.
Aroma: Sweet, Fruity, Apple
Taste: Brown Sugar, Molasses, Apple, Cocoa, Slight grapefruit
Recommendation: One of the best decafs, a must-try for anyone who likes a bright or fruity coffee. Make sure to try iced.
Stumptown Coffee Roasters – Decaf Trapper Creek
Coffee Origin: Central and South America
Roaster Location: Portland, Oregon
Roast Level: Medium
Step into a forest after a recent rainstorm and take a deep breath. You’ll notice the smells of fresh-fallen wood, wet earth, moss, pine needles and moss. Take a deep whiff of Decaf Trapper Creek from Stumptown Coffee Roasters, and you’ll find many of the same aromas. Not quite every smell is present (the pine needles are missing), but the brew is such a complete rendition of a wet forest that you’ll swear the few missing aromas are there.
Likening a coffee to the smell of a wet forest after a rainfall might seem off-putting to some, but anyone who’s walked, hiked or camped in the outdoors following a storm knows how sweet the aroma of the woods can be. The analogy is meant only in a positive way, focusing on the beauty of a forest waking up after a storm. Rarely is a coffee so well-named as Decaf Trapper Creek is.
The actual notes of Decaf Trapper Creek consist of woody and nutty aromas that give way to hardwood and almond flavors in the final brew. These are complemented by caramel and vanilla sweetness that create one of the most complex decafs you’ll find, and a moderate acidity is just enough to recall a forest starting to wake up. The medium body is also like the perfect woods, as it’s not too heavy or too light. The coffee is simply all right.
A coffee this complex will taste slightly different depending on how it’s brewed. Try brewing via press, pour-over, drip and iced coffee to see which one is your favorite.
This is a coffee that virtually everyone will enjoy, for its mellow sweetness is richly complex yet doesn’t overwhelm. Drink it with cream and sugar, or black. The coffee is an excellent daily brew, no matter how you prepare it or where you’re enjoying your favorite decaf beverage.
Aroma: Woody, Nutty
Taste: Wet hardwood, Almond, Caramel, Vanilla
Recommendation: A truly enjoyable coffee that’s as versatile as it is complex. The sweetly mellow flavors will please everyone, and there are nuances for even the most developed tastes.
Best if you like a bold flavor
Peet’s Coffee – Major Dickason’s Blend Decaf
Coffee Origin: Multi-Regional Blend
Roaster Location: Berkeley, California
Roast Level: Dark
Major Dickason’s Blend Decaf is branded as “rich, complex and full-bodied,” and the coffee is certainly all of that if you’re an earthworm. While the dark roast from Peet’s Coffee is big and bold, distinguishing between the complex flavors is challenging without a detailed knowledge of soil color, acidity, texture and taste. The nuances of clay soil, silt, sandy foam and red soil simply get lost in the overwhelming earthy flavor.
While many will read the earthy comments as a negative, Major Dickason’s Blend Decaf has obvious appeal. This is a caffeine-removed replica of Peet’s Coffee’s most popular blend, after all.
In particular, sailors who are accustomed to Navy coffee — where you burned the pot twice before brewing — will have the strength, body and bitterness that they’ve come to tolerate. In this sense, this truly is a decaf blend that Major Dickason would be proud of.
For civilians who aren’t used to grow-hair-on-your-chest dark roasts, adding a small amount of salt will help mitigate the bitterness. Simply sprinkle a little salt on the grounds before brewing (you won’t taste it after brewing). This is actually the secret step in many Navy coffee brewing recipes.
Alternatively, Major Dickason’s Blend Decaf will make excellent cold-brew coffee. Cold brewing will smooth over much of the blend’s bitterness, and it’ll emphasize the coffee’s big, bold body. The technique loses some finer notes due to the water temperature that’s used for brewing, but this coffee doesn’t have many finer notes to start with. Thus, the technique emphasizes the coffee’s best traits while mitigating its detractors.
Aroma: Dark molasses, Earthy, Slight burnt charcoal
Taste: Dark molasses, Earthy, Rustic
Acidity: Very low
Body: Very heavy
Finish: Lingering rustic aftertaste
Recommendation: Worth trying if you like strong coffee made in an old-fashioned drip pot or percolator. Also, well-suited for cold brew.
La Colombe Coffee – Decaf Monte Carlo
Coffee Origin: Colombia
Roaster Location: Philadelphia, PA
Roast Level: Dark
Decaf Monte Carlo captures the essence of a campfire in a cup. It’s the type of coffee you make when all you bring along is some flint, a knife, and your pot and coffee beans. You’ll stone-grind them with freshly sourced rocks before brewing over the fire for maximum smoky flavor. Of course, make sure to brew at a full boil for several minutes in case anything impure is in the water you find.
The notes of Decaf Monte Carlo are full-on campfire, with a smoky and chocolaty aroma. Those traits only become more substantial and more complex in the cup, where heavy flavors of tobacco, grain and hazelnut add depth. All of this comes across with a very non-bright — although low acidity doesn’t mean dull — flavor that lingers long after you’ve finished the last sip.
A big-bodied dark roast isn’t everyone’s cup of coffee, but then not everyone butchcrafts into the wilderness. Glamping and car camping are far more popular, but they lose that truly wild feel. If a rustic campfire under the twinkling nighttime sky could describe your coffee, La Colombe Coffee does a dark roast decaf right.
If enjoying Decaf Monte Carlo while butchcrafting, make cowboy coffee by boiling the grounds in your lone pot. In a more civilized setting, this coffee is well-suited to cold brewing and French pressing. These brewing techniques will emphasize the dark coffee’s heavy body.
Aroma: Cocoa, Campfire
Taste: Cocoa, Campfire, Tobacco, Grain, Hazelnut
Acidity: Very low
Finish: Lingering rustic aftertaste
Recommendation: Not everyone likes heavy dark roasts, but those who do will appreciate Decaf Monte Carlo. It does exactly what it’s meant to do.
If you fancy a medium body
Copper Horse Coffee – Steady Hand Decaf
Coffee Origin: Brazil, Peru, Ethiopia, Indonesia & Papua New Guinea
Roaster Location: Ithaca, New York
Roast Level: Medium-Dark
Copper Horse Coffee’s Steady Hand Decaf evokes memories of Grandma’s kitchen around the holidays. Specifically, it’s reminiscent of her peanut butter kiss cookies after someone (certainly not you!) has plucked all of the chocolate kisses off. The coffee is sweet with some nutty notes, and it’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser just like those cookies always are.
The coffee isn’t quite as peanutty as Grandma’s peanut butter cookies are, for its nutty notes tend more toward cashews and almonds. Cashew or almond cookies would surely be popular if they were as good as this coffee is, though. Other notes include sweet brown sugar and molasses, either of which might also be the secret ingredient to Grandma’s recipe.
With a medium body, moderate acidity, and those sweet and nutty notes, Steady Hand Decaf could also be likened to diner coffee. There’s no mistaking this version of the classic diner coffee profile for what’s brewed alongside Route 66 or the Blue Ridge Parkway, though. This is a much more aromatic, lively and delicious version of the profile.
As a classic and crowd-pleasing coffee, Steady Hand Decaf is naturally suited to a wide range of brewing methods. Make it as a drip, pour-over or press coffee, or try it cold-brewed with cream if you like. In the summer, those nutty notes are especially refreshing when made as iced coffee. Cream will go well with the medium body and nutty notes regardless of brew method.
Aroma: Sweet, Nutty, Baked cookies
Taste: Brown sugar, Cashew, Almond, Baked cookies
Recommendation: A classic crowd-pleaser, Steady Hand Decaf is perfect for gifting or when entertaining. It’s also a great daily brew, especially if you use cream.
The Conservatory for Coffee, Tea & Cocoa – Organic Decaf Sumatra
Coffee Origin: Sumatra
Roaster Location: Culver City, California
Roast Level: Medium-Dark
A highly uncharacteristic selection for its country, Organic Decaf Sumatra from The Conservatory for Coffee, Tea & Cocoa shows that you should never make gross generalizations. Whereas Sumatra is known for earthy (read: dirt taste) coffees, this is a surprisingly clean selection that has no earthy or rustic notes.
Instead, Organic Decaf Sumatra is much more like something you’d expect to get from Brazil or elsewhere in South America. The coffee sports a medium body, with primary notes of vanilla and nut. The acidity isn’t as bright as what a South American coffee would likely have, but the finish is just as clean.
For someone who admittedly doesn’t like Sumatran coffees, a clean vanilla-nut decaf was a pleasant surprise. Anyone who enjoys nutty coffees and wants low acidity will find this to be an excellent daily (or nightly) brew. Everyone who has previously written off Sumatran coffees should try this at least once to remind themselves that there always are exceptions.
Other notes include butterscotch sweetness and a cocoa aroma, but the latter aroma is only present in the dry grounds and doesn’t show up much in the final cup.
For brewing, base your chosen method on what aspect of the coffee you’d like to highlight. A manual pour-over will highlight the vanilla and nutty notes, while a French press will bring out the medium body a bit more. The coffee is especially well- suited to cold brew, which will emphasize both the medium body and the surprisingly clean finish. Of course, a standard drip is always a standby as well.
Aroma: Cocoa, Sweet, Vanilla, Nut
Taste: Vanilla, Cashew, Peanut, Slight butterscotch
Recommendation: A surprisingly good selection that fans of Sumatran and South American coffees will like. Worth trying, even if you’ve previously written off Sumatran selections.
Blue Bottle Coffee – Night Light Decaf
Coffee Origin: Central America and Sumatra Roaster
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Roast Level: Medium-Light
The perfect endcap on a day, a steaming mug of Night Light Decaf calls forth remembrances of creme brulee. Good enough to serve in the finest restaurants that make the elegant dessert and yet simple enough to brew at home, this decaf is perfect for a regular weekday or a special celebration. Of course, it also makes a great breakfast brew too.
Creme brulee captures the most prominent aromas and flavors in the decaf coffee. Dark caramel sweetness melds beautifully with vanilla bean, and the medium body is pleasantly present yet doesn’t dominate.
Other lesser notes include hazelnuts and honeycrisp apple, although the latter is more a reflection of the light decaf’s acidity rather than an actual flavor. Even though the acidity isn’t overwhelming, it’s noticeable when compared to other decaffeinated coffees that tend toward the medium-dark, low-acidity end of the spectrum.
Like the dessert it mimics, Night Light Decaf is a true crowd-pleaser. Many will likely make it one of their favorite coffees, and even those who prefer other styles will still appreciate the complexity and quality. Get a bag as a gift, and pick up one for yourself as well. Try it with and without cream and sugar, as the condiments go well with the coffee’s flavors but the coffee also stands well on its own.
Night Light Decaf can be brewed many ways, but it’s especially well-suited to drip coffee makers and manual pour-overs. The coffee’s quality will carry it even in the hands of someone who has an ancient drip brewer and regularly gets stale grounds from a canister. In the hands of a third-wave aficionado, a skilled pour-over will really make the decaf’s complexities shine.
Aroma: Creme brulee, Caramel, Vanilla
Taste: Creme brulee, Dark caramel, Vanilla bean, Hazelnut, Slight honeycrisp apple
Recommendation: A coffee everyone will like, and a great gift for anyone. Try it as a daily brew, or get a bag for a special occasion.
For lovers of African coffees
Volcanica Coffee Company – Decaf Ethiopian Yirgacheffe
Coffee Origin: Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia Roaster
Location: Suwanee, Georgia
Roast Level: Medium
Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia is a rugged region, where the mountains exceed 6,000 feet and the coffee is harvested from wild trees. The land is known for producing exotic lots, but some of the region’s wildness is lost in this specific selection from Volcanica Coffee Company. While the selection is singular among decafs for its bright fruit notes, the decaffeination process ultimately prevents Yirgacheffe’s best traits from getting into the cup.
Brewing Decaf Ethiopia Yirgacheffe evidences how good these coffee beans originally were. Fruit and berry aromas from the grounds unfold into strawberry and raspberry notes once brewed, and these are nicely complemented by cocoa tobacco. A rustic aftertaste lingers, but that’s to be expected from wild coffee cherries that are naturally processed. What’s sacrificed in clean and uniform taste is made up for through the unusual fruit flavors that Yirgacheffe is so well known for.
To fully appreciate this particular coffee, one must know a little about how the beans are processed. The natural processing method leaves the fruit of the coffee cherry on the coffee bean (which is the cherry’s pit), and this infuses the coffee beans with strong and notable flavors. Decaffeination requires extracting caffeine from the coffee, however, and some of the compounds that give rise to those strong flavors are inevitably lost in the process.
The result of the natural processing and decaffeination procedures is a coffee that was clearly excellent to start with but has certainly lost a little before brewing. Like an older musician who’s long past their stardom years, the coffee is worth drinking but only a shadow of what it would be if caffeinated.
If you must drink decaf and appreciate African coffees, Decaf Ethiopia Yirgacheffe is good given the decaffeination constraints. If you drink decaf by choice and can have caffeine, you’ll find that other Ethiopia Yirgacheffes will take you on more of a coffee adventure.
Should you decide to brew this coffee, a French press will extract as many of those exotic fruity flavors as possible. Other hot brewing methods are also suitable, but stay away from cold-brewing as room-temperature water won’t capture the finer flavor notes that the decaf does have.
Aroma: Fruit, Berry
Taste: Strawberry, Raspberry, Cacao, Tobacco
Finish: Lingering aftertaste
Recommendation: Non-decaffeinated Ethiopian Yirgacheffes can offer more because of what’s lost in the decaffeinating process. If you can’t have caffeine, though, this is a solid choice.
Scott M. Brodie covers coffee, theology and boring subjects that pay the bills. When not writing, he can usually be found roasting a new African single origin or composing a fictional work. To see one of Scott’s personal projects, check out seminariesandbiblecolleges.com.