Be Aware: Decaf Coffee Still Contains Caffeine

I thought I could drink decaf coffee with no chance of caffeine addiction. That would be wrong.

Earlier this year, I weaned myself off of regular coffee over the course of about three months. I did this by reducing the amount of ground coffee I used to make my daily cup(s) by about a half teaspoon every three days. It left my with a slight headache on the second day of each three-day cycle, but not the incapacitating pain of going cold turkey.

Now I allow myself a little regular coffee every week, no more than two cups, often just one, but unlimited decaf coffee. After all, it’s decaf. It has some caffeine left in it, they say, but I figured it must be pretty small if it’s labeled ‘decaffeinated’. I also assumed that it must not be addictive and I wouldn’t have any negative effects from drinking it.

That assumption, I discovered yesterday, was absolutely wrong.

The headache started around noon, just like a caffeine headache. It was really intense and made me sick to my stomach, just like a caffeine headache. All I wanted to do was lie down in a dark room with a cold washcloth over my eyes, just like a caffeine headache. Taking a pain pill didn’t touch it, just like a caffeine headache.

But it couldn’t be a caffeine headache, because I wasn’t drinking caffeinated coffee. Wasn’t I?

I didn’t put it together until about three o’clock (also just like a caffeine headache). Too late to go grab a cup of coffee if I expected to sleep at night.

Finally, I remembered the little caveat about decaf still containing caffeine, and that I hadn’t had any coffee, regular or decaf, all day. It must be a caffeine headache, as incredible as that sounded to me.

Sure enough, once I got home I made myself a cup of (decaf) coffee, and the headache lightened up considerably.

There is plenty on the internet about the caffeine content of various drinks, but the articles all seem to have the same source: a chart posted on the Mayo Clinic website.

The Mayo Clinic website states that the caffeine content of coffee, both regular and decaf, is affected by where the beans come from, how they are processed, and how the coffee itself is prepared. The range for an 8 oz cup is as follows:

regular coffee 95-200 mg
decaf coffee 2-12 mg

They also list more beverages:

black tea 24-48 mg
cola 24-46 mg

I know that tea and pop are both addictive to me and affect my sleep, so it seems reasonable that decaf, which could have as much as half the caffeine of either of those, might have similar effects on me.

So here I am; after spending all that time, just a few months ago, weaning myself off of regular coffee, I’ve accidentally addicted myself to decaf coffee. Presumably dealing with this new addiction will be easier than the original one, but I’m annoyed that I have to do it at all.

And a bit annoyed with myself that I made assumptions about what I’m consuming again: wishfully pretending that, since I enjoy it, it will be just fine for me with no negative consequences.