Trend Watch: Caffeine-free coffee grows in popularity

04 December 2023, 07:00 AM
  • Two in five coffee drinkers avoid the stimulant after lunch. Sally-Jayne Wright selects brews that won’t give them the jitters
Trend Watch: Caffeine-free coffee grows in popularity

Some 39% of coffee drinkers want to reduce their caffeine consumption. They are primarily driven by concerns over this ingredient’s impact on health, sleep and emotional wellbeing (Mintel).

The sales figures bear this out. In the last four years, for example, the UK’s oldest coffee roaster, John Farrer and Co of Kendal, Cumbria, has seen sales of decaffeinated coffee increase by 60%.

What’s behind the decaf coffee trend? 

• Concerns over mood and sleeplessness
• Better-tasting decaf
• Healthier processes for extracting caffeine
• Wellness

How popular is decaf among coffee drinkers?

One in five regularly ask for it (Mintel). Caffeine sensitivity varies from person to person, but it’s advisable not to exceed 400mg a day (British Heart Foundation). That’s about four 200ml mugs of brewed coffee or seven same-sized mugs of instant. 

How has decaf coffee improved?

The older chemical extraction process involved soaking beans in solvents, methylene chloride (as used in paint stripper) or ethyl acetate (as used in nail varnish remover). The beans absorbed some of the flavour and, though it passed safety regulations, the process didn’t do consumers or the environment much good. 

There is an efficient, so-called supercritical method of decaffeination using carbon dioxide, but it is too expensive for smaller speciality roasters.

Which method do you recommend?

“Look for organic beans decaffeinated using the Swiss Water Process,” advises Brian Williams, sales manager at Farrer’s, which makes its own Mountain Water Decaf. “The secret is also in the roast. Choose a light to medium roast to ensure your decaf is as full of beneficial antioxidants as possible.”

Whose decaf coffees do you recommend?

Judges in this year’s Great Taste Awards gave Rounton Sparkling Water Decaf Peruvian coffee beans two stars, and this coffee is also among coffee expert Celeste Wong’s favourites. The key flavour notes are dark chocolate, cherry and brown sugar, the roast is medium, and the beans are organic.

A taste test panel at The Independent (Feb 2023) put Rave Coffee Swiss Water decaf no. 11 top of their list. 

What would surprise us about the British coffee market?

It’s not all baristas and flat whites, since 80% of UK households buy instant coffee for in-home consumption, particularly those over 65. (British Coffee Association). 

Is there such a thing as zero-caffeine coffee?

No. A 240ml cup of decaf still contains between two and three milligrams of caffeine. 

Is there any place for caramel, coconut and pumpkin spice in coffee?

Yes, if your customers are younger.

“According to a 2022 Attest Survey, 50% of Millennials and Gen-Zs regularly indulge in flavoured coffee out of home,” said Alex Godfrey, PR for Little’s of Devon. “We’ve seen a 76% rise in Millennial and Gen Z shopper spend since Little’s rebranded in November 2022.”

Little’s colourfully-packaged, flavoured, decaf instants are sugar and sweetener-free and stocked by several Devon farm shops including Greendale, Strawberry Fields, Fordmore and Darts. The latter held a successful tasting day earlier this year. French Vanilla is Little’s bestselling decaf instant, with Double Chocolate also moving well.

Can’t caffeine reducers simply switch to tea? It has less than half the caffeine of coffee.

They can, especially as tea’s caffeine works differently in the body, the presence of L-Theanine in tea slowing down its absorption. 

Or they can buy decaf tea, sales of which are on the rise as Liz Griffin, Yorkshire Tea’s brand manager told Speciality Food’s Café Buyer. Fans of a bracing cup of builder’s will like Thompsons Punjana decaf tea which won two Great Taste Award stars in 2017 and attracted rave reviews on Ocado’s website. 

Many coffee drinkers enjoy the brewing ritual. What exciting new drinks can we offer them?

We were amazed to learn about a caffeine-free redbush tea from Novus which can be brewed just like espresso to make a caffeine-free rooibos latte.

In September, Clearspring launched the UK’s first organic Japanese Kuwa Matcha. Kuwa is Japanese for mulberry leaves and matcha means powdered tea. It’s billed as the perfect zero-caffeine alternative for consumers who enjoy the taste of matcha. 

How do we make the most of the no and low-caffeine trend?

• Decaf’s poor-tasting reputation lingers so look for suppliers who will offer in-store sampling
• Don’t be snobbish about instant or flavoured coffee
• Choose freeze-dried instant coffees made from 100% Arabica beans; good blends are likely to include African coffee
• Customers care about sustainability

What’s the future of the lower caffeine trend?

We expect to see more coffee alternatives such as chicory root coffee and brewable drinks such as matcha, cacao tea and Figgee made from dried figs.

Continued focus on wellness will drive the market, so we’ll see products where coffee is combined with Lion’s Mane mushrooms and other adaptogens - plant-based substances that help the body adapt to stress.

To quote Mintel’s 2022 Coffee Report: ‘Given the strong demand for more choices of decaf coffee products, the heightened wellness trend, and the increased sustainability focus, now is the time to invest in the decaf segment of the market.’

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