Starbucks vs Tim Hortons: Decaffeination Strategy.

I had a decaf, non-fat, no whip mocha from Starbucks this morning.

It did nothing for me. I didn’t expect it to. It’s the only way I can enjoy the taste of coffee without inducing a headache.

So, I did a quick Google search to determine the caffeine content in a ‘decaf’ coffee. No, it’s not 0 mg. US FDA standards state that 97% of the caffeine in a coffee bean must be removed to be denoted as ‘decaf’. That amounts to 15 mg or more in some Starbucks drinks. That’s far from being caffeine-free.

Shortly thereafter, it occurred to me that I should check to see how safe the decaffeination method used by major coffee vendors is. I asked myself, “Is decaffeinated coffee safe to consume?” I set out to find the answer by doing a couple of quick Google searches.

I discovered the following:

Starbucks uses two methods of decaffeination: the direct contact method and the Swiss water process. With direct contact, a solvent (methylene chloride) is introduced to the green coffee beans as they soak. The solvent bonds with the caffeine in the beans and removes it. The solvent is then taken away from the beans and the coffee is roasted at over 400*F. Since the solvent has a much lower boiling point (114*F) the coffee bean that come from this process produce a cup of coffee that has no detectable trace of methylene chloride.

The Swiss water process involves using hot water and steam to remove caffeine from the coffee. Then the solution is run through charcoal filters (similar to a giant water filter) to remove the caffeine. Currently our retail stores offer one coffee that is processed using the Swiss water method. It is called the Decaffeinated Komodo Dragon Blend.

The thought of using chemicals to remove caffeine from coffee beans disgusts me. You’d think a premium coffee vendor would use the safer ‘Swiss Water’ method for all of their blends. I mean, we already pay a premium relative to other brands, don’t we?

Let’s look at Tim Hortons:

Swiss Water?* Decaffeinated Coffee … . This patented Swiss Water method of 100% chemical-free coffee decaffeination provides a natural way to deliver that same great Tim Hortons quality without the caffeine.

A cup of decaf coffee from Tim Hortons uses the chemical-free, Swiss Water method to extract caffeine from coffee beans.

That says a lot. At a fraction of the cost of Starbucks, Tim Hortons decaf coffee is safer to consume. Starbucks, are you listening?

Sources: (a little difficult to find otherwise) and

Update (11/19/2008):

I discovered that Tim Horton’s decaffeinated coffees contain SOME caffeine. Check out this hyperlink. A small decaf coffee contains about 5 mg of caffeine and an extra large coffee contains about 12 mg of caffeine.