The phrase “half caf” is short for “half caffeinated,” and is typically used in reference to coffee made with a 50/50 mix of decaf and regular beans. Many people choose this sort of drink because it reduces how much caffeine they ingest while still giving them something of a boost. Caffeine is a stimulant that can cause negative reactions if a lot is consumed at once, but coffee has a taste that many people like and want to enjoy throughout the day. Half caf versions can be a good compromise because they allow people to drink essentially double the volume without many of the side effects of full-strength brew.
Finding a Middle Ground
Coffee beans naturally contain caffeine, a stimulant that excites and activates the human central nervous system. Different varieties tend to carry slightly different concentrations, but unless beans are specifically marked “decaf,” they usually contain relatively high percentages of the compound — at least when compared to other alternatives, like teas and sodas. People often choose to drink coffee as a way to stay awake and alert, and it is commonly brewed in office buildings for employees to enjoy during the day. It is also popular in restaurants either with or after meals, or from stand-alone shops as a sort of afternoon pick-me-up. People all over the world enjoy the beverage in various forms, but there are frequently times when they wish it didn’t contain quite so much caffeine. Half caf varieties can be a reasonable alternative in these circumstances.
Of course, people who want the taste of coffee without any caffeine usually choose decaf. Decaffeinated coffee is widely available in most places, but it is often criticized for not having quite the same taste. When coffee is decaffeinated, a chemical agent binds the caffeine in order to remove it. The only problem is that some of the flavor molecules are often removed, too. Soaking the treated beans in flavor-rich solutions can restore most of the original taste, but not usually all of it and, as a result, how the beans are decaffeinated can make a big difference. Choosing half caf is a compromise that reduces the caffeine without necessarily sacrificing the drink’s distinctive taste, or at least not as much of it.
Where to Find It
A number of major coffee roasters and manufacturers make special half caf varieties that are sold alongside regular and decaf selections. These are typically available in stores and specialty shops, but cafes and restaurants can also usually make them on demand by blending “normal” beans in equal proportion with decaf versions of the same or complementary flavors.
Espresso drinkers who are interested in ordering specialty drinks like lattes or mochas with only half the normal punch will often ask for “split shots,” which is a very similar concept. The barista, or coffee maker, will typically pour a half shot of full-strength espresso and a half shot of decaf into drinks ordered this way.
Mixing at Home
It’s usually fairly easy to make half caffeinated coffee at home. People just need to purchase two blends of their favorite coffee, one caffeinated and one decaf, then mix the two when preparing their brew. Flavors can also be added to the grounds prior to brewing as a way of making the blends more distinctive — many people use a few drops of vanilla extract for a sweet mellow flavor, for instance, or add a few sprinkles of cinnamon to reduce the coffee's bitterness.
Why People Drink It
Drinking a lot of coffee — or any caffeinated beverage, for that matter — can have a negative effect on overall health and mental focus. While small amounts of the stimulant usually improve focus and concentration, too much can cause jitters and distractibility. People who are used to drinking a lot of coffee throughout the day but who want to cut back on these side effects often choose half-caffeinated versions.
Choosing drinks with low caffeine can also be a good way for a person to begin weaning himself off of the stimulant. Quitting outright is often hard to do since caffeine can be addictive. People who are used to drinking a lot often get headaches and suffer fatigue when their bodies are suddenly cut off, which often makes a gradual approach best.
Cutting back to half the usually amount of caffeine can be an effective way to start. After a few weeks of drinking true 50/50 blends, people can start manipulating the proportions, slowly adding less full-strength and more decaf until they eventually drink nothing but decaf. At this point, they can slowly reduce the number of cups consumed per day, often without experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
In most cases, even true half caf blends contain slightly more than 50% caffeine because most decaf blends are not truly caffeine free. In general, about 3% of the beans’ original caffeine remains regardless of the method of decaffeination, which means that two cups of caffeinated coffee will have less total caffeine than four cups of half caf, though only by small amounts. Still, people who are very concerned about charting their total stimulant intake should keep this in mind.