Q: I get too nervous when I drink coffee and want to switch to decaf. How can I tell which brands of decaf coffee are truly caffeine-free?
– Ann in Burlington
A: Short of calling each coffee manufacturer and requesting detailed information on the caffeine content of their decaffeinated brands, you can’t. But, it’s really not an issue, since most major brands of coffee live up to their claims, which are that decaffeinated coffee is very low in, but not free from, caffeine. Most cups of decaffeinated coffee contain only about 2 to 9 milligrams of caffeine. Starbucks decaf ranks higher at about 33 milligrams per cup, but their decaf espresso supplies only 8 milligrams. That’s quite a drop from the 200 to 272 milligrams in a cup of regular coffee and a lot less than you’d get from coffee-flavored ice cream (about 40 milligrams of caffeine in a cup), a 12-ounce cola (about 45 milligrams), or a cup of tea (50 milligrams). You’d ingest that much caffeine in a little piece of chocolate or a cup of hot cocoa, and a lot more in many over-the-counter drugs, such as Excedrin, Anacin, and, of course, No-Doz, which range from 32 to 100 milligrams per tablet. Some coffee brands, such as Hillsboro, offer 50% decaffeinated coffees. So make sure to read labels and purchase the unleaded stuff. Of course, if you’re ordering decaf at a restaurant or coffee bar, you could fall victim to the old bait-and-switch routine. A waiter pouring coffee can mistakenly fill your cup with the cranked-up version or the counter help at the coffee bar can accidentally label a regular latte as decaf. I’ve found that asking waiters for their home numbers in case I’m still up at 3am after drinking the wrong brew helps prevent these problems. Watch out for less obvious sources of caffeine. For example, many soda pops, from Sunkist Orange Soda to Mountain Dew, contain up to 55 milligrams of coffee, the caffeine equivalent of almost 28 cups of Sanka. Dark chocolate has up to three times the caffeine of milk chocolate. And, there are a host of caffeine-charged beverages on the market, from the soda pops Jolt, Surge, and Josta to bottled waters, such as Aqua Java, Java Johnny, and Water Joe. It is very unlikely that a cup or two of decaf would have much effect on anxiety levels, while your enjoyment of a cup of decaf brew is one of life’s little pleasures you might not want to give up. – Elizabeth Somer