Special Report: Decaf Deception
You carefully read the label to keep away from caffeine.
"It keeps me awake all the time," another coffee drinker said.
Decaf drinkers just want coffee without the side effects.
"I think the consumer assumes that when they buy a cup of decaffeinated coffee it is not gonna have caffeine," Dr. John Goodson of Massachusetts General Hospital said.
But our lab tests found your cup may pack an unexpected punch.
We bought decaf at a coffee shop, a bakery, a downtown Boston bistro, more at corner deliís and a couple of pricey restaurants.
We also brewed a pot ourselves.
Then we took all ten samples in plain cups to an independent commercial lab for testing.
How much caffeine should be in decaf? There's no government regulation, but FDA guidelines suggest that five ounces of coffee should contain about three milligrams of caffeine.
Doctors know if thereís much more caffeine, those sensitive to caffeine could get headaches, heart palpitations, insomnia and shakiness.
"For those people even a little bit of caffeine can trigger some of their symptoms," Dr. Goodson said.
The lab results are a wake up call for decaf devotees.
Some of the decaf samples contain much more caffeine than it should.
"In several cases they are getting significantly more," Dana Krueger of Krueger Food Laboratories said.
Out of ten samples, only half met government guidelines!
Others ranged from 6.8 milligrams - twice the standard - up to 15.7 - five times too much.
And remember, thatís only for five ounces - even a coffee shop "small" is often much more.
How could that happen? All kinds of coffee beans contain caffeine - and decaffeination processes - known as "Swiss water" and "chemical" - can't remove it all.
Then, the bigger the scoop the bigger the punch. Our home brew made with exactly the amount on the label did meet the guidelines, but it tasted weak.
"If someone wants stronger coffee, they're going to have more caffeine," nutrition scientist Dr. Fergus Clydesdale said.
Problem is there's no law about caffeine in decaf. There won't be any decaf police monitoring coffee shops and restaurants, so every cup you buy could be different.
"It's important that restaurants train their employees not only in the proper preparation of the product but in the proper serving of the product," Robert Nelson of the National Coffee Association said.
Bottom line: experts say if you're depending on your decaf, what you're actually drinking could be a cupful of trouble.
"This kind of unpredictability could be very difficult to live with," Dr. Goodson said.
The key: since every cup could be different, the only way to avoid caffeine is to remember that decaf does not mean caffeine free.
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