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Opportunities grow for lower-caffeine coffee

Many consumers want the mental focus of caffeine without the jitters, prompting a wave of product development such as “half caffeine” ground coffee or ready-to-drink (RTD) cold brew blended with relaxing botanicals.

According to a consumer survey by market research company Mintel, 66% of Italian coffee drinkers agree drinking a lot of coffee is bad for them. Heavy coffee consumption has long been regarded as a vice by many people due to the caffeine content and ‘jittery’ feeling it can provoke but this is not necessarily the case.

One meta-analysis looked at the association between drinking coffee and mortality found an 18% reduction in risk of death among US and European men who drank two or three cups a day – but it’s certain that a growing number of people are looking for lower caffeine coffee, notes Mintel – and this is creating opportunities for product innovation.

Sustained energy without the caffeine crash

“Moderate caffeine levels can help consumers prolong their productivity,” it says in its top food and drink trend predictions for 2023. “Consumers value coffee’s mental energy boost but can express concerns about its health impact. Lower-caffeine coffee can communicate ‘sustained energy’ without over-caffeination.”

The market research company recommends brands expand lower-caffeine coffee products, using strategies such as blended ingredients and naturally low-caffeine coffee beans.

UK company Café Libre makes “half-caff” and “quarter-caff” coffee that is decaffeinated using the chemical-free Swiss Water method. According to the company, because the process uses only water, it is able to extract the caffeine while retaining the flavour.

Brands could also explore new sources of moderate caffeine. Laurina coffee, for instance, is a variety of Arabica that contains around half the amount of caffeine as other Arabicas.

Originating from Réunion Island, it has a fruity flavour, according to Maison du Laurina, which grows the low-caffeine variety on the island. According to Mintel, Laurina coffee beans “have future potential” and Berlin roaster The Barn has launched a ‘naturally low-caffeine Laurina varietal’.

Reducing the caffeine content of coffee or using lower caffeine varieties may not reduce its health benefits. According to the same meta-analysis cited previously, the reduced mortality association was present regardless of the caffeine content, prompting the researchers to conclude the health benefit may be linked to other healthy compounds, such as flavonoids and polyphenols.

Coffee blended with soothing botanicals

Some brands blend conventional coffee with botanical ingredients to soften the effect of caffeine. Four Sigmatic is a US-Finnish brand that adds the adaptogenic mushroom, chaga, to ground coffee.

“Our Finnish grandparents brewed mushrooms when they couldn’t get coffee. Turns out those mushrooms — chaga — are a powerful, immune-supporting […] food,” it says on its website.

According to the company, chaga balances out the nervous, ‘jittery’ feeling that caffeine can cause as well as providing immune health benefits, without overpowering the flavour of the coffee.

US brand Quokka Brew markets its ready-to-drink coffee as “the caffeinated jitter-less coffee” that “contains more caffeine than a cup and a half of coffee with no jitters or crash”.

The company says it has a patent-pending blend of calming ingredients found in green tea that, when blended with the energy-boosting caffeine of cold brew coffee, results in an “elevated state of focus and energy”. It uses botanicals such as L-theanine, ginseng, and green tea leaf extract.


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