Vice Squad
Monday, October 29, 2007

The process that removes caffeine from coffee -- to produce some sort of strange concoction known as "decaffeinated coffee" -- is imperfect, and in practice, it seems, highly variable. This is more than just a nuisance, as some people really shouldn't consume caffeine for health reasons, but they might have a cup of decaf, only to find that they consumed a fair dose of the addictive, psychoactive drug. Consumer Reports recently bought and tested 36 small cups of coffee. The results:
More than half of our decafs had less than 5 mg of caffeine, but some had quite a bit more. One of the six cups from Dunkin' Donuts had 32 mg; one from Seattle's Best had 29 mg; and one from Starbucks had 21 mg. Levels of caffeine in the decaffeinated coffees we tested varied within chains, but in our sample, McDonald's decaf consistently had less than 5 mg.
While the caffeine levels in caffeinated coffee vary quite a bit too, I feel as if the distress suffered by those who order regular but receive decaffeinated coffee has been underappreciated.

A story on the Consumer Reports test in the New York Times has been causing a hullabaloo among crazed coffee drinkers and their deluded decaffeinated brethren. Incidentally, Consumer Reports has gone all ga-ga over McDonald's caffeinated coffee in the past. (OK, I am a bit bitter -- ha! -- because I think I am the only person who preferred McD's old coffee to their newish "Premium". Nor am I excited over this prospect.)

Thanks to Alcohol and Drugs History Society for pointers to some of the links; they also link to an article that explains how coffee won the Civil War, if I misread things correctly.

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