What to know about water decaffeination


At Caribou Coffee®, we believe that every cup of coffee brewed and served should be flavorful and transportive — and this applies to our decaffeinated coffees too! Whether you prefer to stick to decaf or occasionally enjoy a cup in the evening with dessert, you know how important a good cup of decaf is to your coffee-drinking routine. Decaf coffee should be as delicious and memorable as its caffeinated counterpart; less caffeine shouldn’t mean skimping on flavor and fun. 

Caribou has been using a water decaffeination process instead of the traditional chemical-based method for over 15 years, making us a leader of the pack. (Per usual!) What’s water decaffeination, you ask, and why should you care?  

One of the main reasons we opted to move to water decaffeination is that the water-based process soaks away caffeine, not flavor. Water decaffeination is another way to ensure you’re getting the ultimate in coffee quality, whether you choose to enjoy it via home-brewed beans, a convenient decaf K-Cup® Pod or a trip through the drive-thru. We’re passionate about this gentle, water-based process and want to share why it’s the best option for a great cup of decaf, every time.

If you’re looking for a decaf option that doesn’t skimp on flavor, you’ll love water-decaffeinated coffee — and you can always find it right here at the ‘Bou. Cheers to that!  

The basics of decaffeinated coffee 

Decaffeinated coffee is coffee from beans that have had most of their caffeine removed — typically about 97%, but that percentage can vary depending on the method. Decaf generally isn’t totally free of caffeine, but if you’re sensitive to caffeine, you’ll find it a much friendlier way to get that coffee taste you love without the buzz. 

Decaf is becoming more popular. Some coffee drinkers prefer to skip the caffeine because it makes them feel jittery or for health reasons. Others may be trying to cut down on their caffeine consumption, or maybe they enjoy having coffee options to drink throughout the day without worrying they’ll be up all night.  

While decaf previously had a bad reputation as a pale imitation of coffee, more people are realizing that decaf can be just as crave-worthy as a caffeinated cup — and this interest has sparked change and innovation about the potential sustainability and environmental impact of traditional decaffeination processes.  

Water decaffeination: What makes it special and unique 

Coffee of all facets and flavors is our passion, and that includes decaf! Caribou Coffee is one of the only companies 100% committed to natural decaf. We source the coffee to be decaffeinated, not post-process, which is a huge differentiator and one reason we think our decaf is leagues above the competition.  

Many coffee companies use a chemical called methylene chloride (used in paint thinner) to strip caffeine from coffee beans. Though this process is believed to be safe, it robs the beans of some of their natural flavors. In a side-by-side taste test, the flavors are remarkably different. We only use a water decaffeination process that preserves the coffee’s original nuance and flavor and is 100% chemical-free.  

The main differentiator of water decaffeination versus the traditional method is that it’s super gentle and uses water instead of chemical solvents to remove caffeine from coffee beans. 

It also may have a positive impact on the planet. If you’re concerned about the environmental footprint of your coffee consumption, water decaffeination could be just the thing for you. For example, solvents like methylene chloride or ethyl acetate, which are often used in other decaffeination processes, can negatively impact the taste of your coffee. A water decaffeination process keeps those chemical solvents out of the coffee and out of the supply chain. While it’s not perfect, it’s a big step towards a circular system of use and reuse, not to mention flavorful coffee. 

bag of caribou coffee's decaf caribou blend
Enjoy the taste of your Caribou Coffee® coffees, without the caffeine. 

How water decaffeination works 

Because quality is a cornerstone of everything we do, Caribou Coffee often uses the proprietary Swiss Water® Process to decaffeinate coffee. It’s one of the most popular and reliable methods and works by using hot water and naturally occurring soluble solids — no chemical solvents allowed. 

At the beginning of the decaffeination process, green coffee is soaked in water, drawing out both caffeine and coffee-flavor solids (natural components that create coffee’s taste). Those beans are discarded, and the water is sent through a carbon filter to remove the caffeine, leaving behind “flavor-charged” water.  

Next, caffeinated beans are immersed in this “flavor-charged” water. The caffeine diffuses into the water, but since the water is already “full” of flavor, the flavor solids have nowhere to go and remain in the beans. The beans are dried, cleaned and shipped off to their new home: the Caribou Coffee roastery!