Decaffeinated coffee offers a special set of challenges to coffee drinkers. Because removing the caffeine involves heating the beans, by the time they’re roasted, the flavor almost always takes a hit. Finding something that tastes like caffeinated coffee is a challenge, and that’s especially the case when it comes to finding a K-cup version of it.
Fear not. That’s why we wrote reviews of some of the decaf coffee K-cups that you’re likely to find while shopping. We also included a buyers’ guide to help you make the right purchase decision, and give some insights into the different decaffeinating processes.
We wish you luck in finding a decaf coffee you really like and hope that we played a role in helping out.
|Green Mountain Coffee Roasters ‘Breakfast Blend Decaf’|
|San Francisco Bay OneCup, DECAF French Roast K-Cups||4.6/5|
|The Original Donut Shop Keurig Single-Serve K-Cup Pods||4.5/5|
|Peet's Coffee Decaf House Blend K-Cup Coffee Pods||4.3/5|
|Dunkin' Donuts Original Decaf Blend Coffee K-Cup Pods||4.2/5|
When it comes to great K-cup coffee, Green Mountain is a reliable brand. Its Breakfast Blend Decaf carries that forward, setting a high bar to measure other decaf K-cups by. You might be able to find something else that does everything it does right, but we don’t like your odds.
The two things it gets the most right are the flavor and its value. Those are also the two very basic things it needs to get right. Making a good decaf coffee is hard enough, but making a decaf K-cup that consistently offers great flavor, doesn’t have an acidic, bitter aftertaste, and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg means getting everything right.
One word of caution is that this coffee tends to clog coffee makers more quickly than you’d like. Keep an eye on it, and most importantly, take care to clean your coffee maker. Stay on top of it and clogs shouldn’t be much of a problem.
If getting decaf coffee right is an imposing challenge for making K-cups, getting a dark roast decaf that doesn’t come with a bitter aftertaste is especially challenging. San Francisco Bay OneCup not only does that, it makes dark roast decaf K-cups its own.
We also really like the value these K-cups bring. It’d be one thing if they got dark roast decaf right and charged a small fortune, but the per-cup cost of the decaf French roast is affordable even by what lesser brands charge.
One thing to watch is that the pods have a reputation for coming apart in the coffee maker and creating a big, old mess.
Not to be confused with the competing better-known Dunkin’ Donuts coffee line, The Original Donut Shop has a great-tasting decaf K-cup. In a strange twist, in fact, it might be the perfect accompaniment to a post-dinner dessert and not something to dunk a morning donut in.
There are two things that dropped it to the number three ranking. The first is that compared to the top two picks, it’s pretty expensive on a per-cup basis. K-cups, in general, are much more expensive than coffee you scoop from canisters, so an expensive K-cup brew is going to be a mighty expensive cup of joe.
If it were the perfect cup of coffee, that might be understandable, but this one has some consistent bitterness to it. It’s not much, but it’s enough that the overall value is diminished.
If you’re a coffee aficionado, Peet’s Decaf House Blend pods might be the coffee you’re looking for. It’s just simply a great cup of coffee, one that’s so well done that you might have to remind yourself it’s decaf. It’s a full-bodied brew with great flavor. We assume the secret is using heated water as a solvent rather than as a chemical.
Two things drop it down to fourth place. The first is that the pods aren’t always fully sealed, so you might have to pitch one or two from every box. That’s like buying a carton of a dozen eggs and consistently finding some with broken shells.
It also pushes up an already really high per-cup price. These are much more expensive than most of the competitors, and while it’s a great coffee, it’s not superior enough to make it worth it.
For Dunkin’ Donuts, coffee has always been a product expansion based on cutting out the middleman in its shops. The company remains first and foremost a donut chain that happens to sell coffee.
The company’s K-cups reflect that reality. They do better with flavored coffees like French vanilla and pumpkin spice, which is a generous way of saying they don’t make very good coffee. It sets them up for failure when it comes to making decaf K-cups, a difficult thing to get right. The flavor is not terrible, and it’s pretty consistent. It’s just not great. It’s also pretty expensive for what you get, which makes it a poor value.
Normally the Newman’s Own line of food products is pretty good, and they are intended to soothe any health and social concerns you have. The foods are marketed as made from the freshest, best organics, and made in a way that has a reduced environmental footprint.
The Newman’s Own decaf K-cups qualify for that. You can drink them all the livelong day without worrying about the simple farmer who grew the beans. They also have a pretty decent flavor. You won’t spit it all over your laptop screen in disgust.
There is better, however, much better. These K-cups hit notes of quality inconsistently. One other drawback is that they are consistently a little more bitter and acidic than other brews.
The best thing you can say about Folgers coffee when it comes to traditional drip makers is that the flavor is consistent, albeit consistently mediocre. That translates to making decaf K-cups. The Folgers Medium-Dark Roast K Cup Pods have a recognizable flavor. It’s just not the sort of flavor that would cause a lot of people to jump up and down about how great it is.
This is a good option if you’re stocking an office coffee service, especially if some of the people stubbornly refuse to chip in money. Buy it by the truckload and have it on hand, and if someone wants better, they can shell out their own money for it.
McDonald’s might be a good go-to if you want a burger in a hurry, but pulling off a decaf coffee pod requires skill and precision that the restaurant chain just doesn’t have. We’ll give it credit for trying, and for bringing it in at a price that, for Keurig coffee, is pretty affordable. The result, however, is pretty much the same as comparing a burger off the company’s value menu to a brewpub burger.
We’ll acknowledge the price because that’s the biggest thing these pods have going for them. If you just want something hot to drink that’s not going to keep you up all night, this is definitely an option. That’s especially the case if you don’t have a lot of money to spend, and if maybe your taste buds don’t work.
When it comes to quality, however, it just falls well short. If you’re looking to spend less money, get dunkable decaf bags.
Knowing how to shop for decaffeinated K-cups starts with knowing a little about decaffeinated coffee. To start this buyers’ guide, we’ll go through a quick intro to how decaf coffee is made.
RELATED GUIDES: Which Keurigs performed best in our comparisons?
There are four basic processes by which caffeine is leached from unroasted coffee beans:
1. Most beans in commercially available basic coffee are decaffeinated by a process that removes caffeine using carbon dioxide as a solvent. Beans are soaked in hot water and then moved to a stainless steel tank, which is filled with pressurized carbon dioxide. The pressurized carbon dioxide attaches itself to the caffeine, leaving behind the flavor agents. It’s pumped out of the chamber and into another one where it is depressurized, at which time it separates itself from the caffeine.
2. Another method involves soaking beans for a long time in hot water, where the things that give the coffee its flavor are removed. The beans are moved to a different tank and soaked in a chemical solvent that removes the caffeine. Then the beans are returned to the first tank, where they reabsorb the flavors and oils. This is called the indirect-solvent technique, and it’s popular in Germany.
3. A third method, the direct-solvent technique, involves steaming the beans for half an hour, which opens pores. They’re then soaked in chemical solvent repeatedly for about half a day. They’re steamed again to remove any residual solvent.
4. Most organic decaffeinated coffee is made using the Swiss method. One batch of beans soaks in very hot water, which removes not just the caffeine but also the flavor agents. The flavorless, decaffeinated beans are discarded. The water is passed through a charcoal filter, which removes the caffeine. That flavored water is then used to leach caffeine from a fresh batch of beans. Because the water molecules are already fully bonded to the flavor agents from the first beans, they can only bond with the caffeine. That leaves the beans both decaffeinated and with minimal flavor loss. It’s also the most environmentally sustainable way to decaffeinate coffee.
All this takes place before the beans are roasted. Since all four basic methods rely on heating the beans, turning them into drinkable coffee means reheating them. One challenge in finding consistently good decaffeinated coffee is that in reheating the beans to roast them, a lot of the things that give coffee its flavor are destroyed.
The longer you roast coffee beans, the darker they become. The darker they become, the deeper and more robust the flavor. However, roasting a long time for dark roast is like taking something pre-cooked and cooking it as long as it takes to cook the same thing from raw. Light roasts, which tend to taste a little more complex, retain more of their natural flavors because they aren’t roasted as long.
Keep this in mind when shopping for decaf K-cups. It’s hard to find consistently good decaffeinated coffee, and it’s really hard to find consistently good dark roast coffee. A handy tip might be to move down one step on the scale when going from caffeinated to decaf. If you drink dark roast caffeinated, try a medium decaf. If you drink medium caffeinated, try a light roast decaf. The flavor isn’t going to transfer. Medium decaf won’t taste like regular dark, but it’ll have more flavor and at least come close.
Knowing how to buy decaffeinated coffee really begins and ends in knowing a little about the different methods of removing caffeine and what it does to the overall flavor. Once you have that information, you can figure out what you’re looking for.
Beyond that, the two biggest criteria you’ll probably use are price and brand. Brand is useful as a starting point in buying decaffeinated coffee. You can start with the decaffeinated version of the coffee you already love and branch out from there. Price, of course, is always helpful. Because K-cups are pretty expensive, anyway, and because decaffeinated coffee is notoriously poorly flavored, there’s good incentive to go low-priced. That is unless you find a K-cup line you love, in which case we say buy all you want and don’t worry about price.
Of the decaf coffee K-cups we looked at in our reviews, Green Mountain’s Breakfast Blend Decaf was our favorite. It consistently delivers excellent flavor at a pretty good price. Just keep your coffee machine clean. San Francisco Bay OneCup gets a difficult task – making a decaf dark roast that isn’t bitter – really right, but maybe not so much in the construction of its DECAF French Roast pods. If you’re looking for a coffee to go with an after-dinner dessert, we’d suggest The Original Donut Shop’s decaf K-cups. It’s a great-tasting coffee. Just have a little milk and sugar on hand to cut out the whiff of bitterness. Peet’s Coffee Decaf House Blend is possibly the best coffee in the field that we looked at. It’s just lots more expensive, and is more so due to a manufacturing defect that ruins a pod or two per box.
Dunkin’ Donuts Original Decaf Blend has okay flavor, but the company’s strength has always been in its flavored coffees. As an expensive choice, it’s also a pretty poor value. Newman’s Own Organics Special Decaf is a good choice if you have social and environmental concerns about how your coffee is made, but it’s also inconsistent and bitter. Folger’s Decaf Medium-Dark Roast is pretty affordable, but it’s also not very good. McCafe’s Decaf Premium Roast is gas station-quality decaf in a world of baristas.
Did you know that reusable Keurig cups are a thing? See our top 8 picks here.
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