Caffeine, Drugs, Food Additives (and Inadequate Civilizations)

I think maybe 97% caf removal to legally qualify as “decaf” was a lie repeated by multiple websites.

FSSAI Drafts Standards for Decaffeinated Coffee and Revises Standards for Packaged Drinking Water

This is a 2018 draft which limits decaf coffee to 0.1% caffeine by dry mass.

Caffeine (anhydrous) percent. by mass, Max 0.1

The Truth About How Much Caffeine Is In Your Decaf Coffee | HuffPost Life

The decaffeination process usually removes 94 to 98 percent of caffeine from a coffee bean, according to Mental Floss. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t have any regulations around what can be called decaf, the baseline is typically a coffee that’s had about 97 percent of its caffeine removed, spokeswoman Deborah Kotz told HuffPost.

That was written in 2017.

For their study, researchers sampled decaf coffees from 10 different establishments in two states. The most caffeinated cup of decaf they found contained 13.9 milligrams of caffeine, about one-thirteenth of the average caffeinated cup.

What we think of as a “cup” of coffee is very roughly 100mg of caf. Some drinks from e.g. Starbucks can be over 300mg. There’s a common recommendation not to drink over 400mg per day but averaging under 20mg/day sounds wiser to me. Some people drink 5+ cups of decaf coffee per day and don’t realize that’s a meaningful amount of caf like 50mg. A can of coke has 32mg. Some people drink 5+ cups of regular coffee a day which sounds like an awful idea.

Espresso, which is prepared differently than regular coffee, varied too: Decaf espresso shotsfrom the same batch of beans had between 3 and 15.8 milligrams of caffeine, the study found. An average espresso shot contains 63 milligrams of caffeine.

Bigelow uses the CO2 method for green teas but not for black teas:

FAQ on Bigelow Teas - Bigelow Tea

We use a natural ethyl acetate process to decaffeinate our Black Teas. In the ethyl acetate (EA) decaffeination process, the tea leaves are moistened with water and ethyl acetate, an FDA approved solvent. The leaves are then dried and heated. The caffeine in the moistened leaves bonds with the ethyl acetate. During the drying process, the ethyl acetate and water is evaporated, taking the caffeine with them.

All decaffeinated dry tea leaves typically leave a caffeine residue of 0.1 percent - 0.4 percent. We periodically test our brewed decaffeinated teas (as prepared) for caffeine content and the results tend to be within that percentage range. No other residual substance testing is done.

So, first of all, they are openly admitting to having more caf than the 0.1% allowed by the draft law for “decaf” coffee. I don’t know if the law passed or what was done for tea.

Second, what do they mean that they test “brewed decaffeinated teas (as prepared)” when they are talking about 0.1%-0.4% caf in the dry tea leaves? How do you test brewed tea and determine it has caf content within a range for dry tea leaves?


During the drying process, the ethyl acetate and water is evaporated, taking the caffeine with them.

No other residual substance testing is done.

They admit that they make no effort to test/measure whether all the poisonous ethyl acetate actually evaporated as they hope (and claim in customer-facing writing) that it does.

DD told and taught me basically to trust society and companies to be competent, reasonable, modern, scientific, etc.

He’s wrong.

You can’t trust processed foods or or tons of mainstream medicines/surgeries/etc. Companies will just process foods with poison and be like “we think the poison evaporated away though we didn’t bother testing that”. We live in a fucked up world.

DD thought hotdogs, white bread, and basically every food at a regular grocery store was perfectly safe.

Eliezer Yudkowsky has a better perspective which I’ve talked about and agreed with before: we live in an inadequate world. It’s something I find people usually don’t want to talk or think about.

I actually see a ton of victim blaming online where I think the motive is refusing to believe that the world sucks or big companies suck (and they, the victim blamer, are actually at risk) so instead they blame victims. People want to think that if you get a bad result you must have done something wrong and unusual, so since they do reasonable things they are safe.

The story only ends there, however, if you’re fortunate enough to live in an adequate civilization.

we do live in an inadequate civilization

stranger: I think the key concepts you need are civilizational inadequacy and status hierarchy maintenance.

stranger: Excuse me, please. I’m just distracted by the thought of a world where I could go on and find 1,000 other stories as good as Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. I’m thinking of that world and trying not to cry. It’s not that I can’t imagine a world in which your modest-sounding Fermi estimate works correctly—it’s just that the world you’re describing looks so very different from this one.

I’ve linked and talked about these before though I forget specifically where.

Speaking of inadequate worlds, widespread (white collar) crime, etc:

They did this to me in 2010. They opened up a Premium Checking Account under my name, and a new credit credit to fund the checking account. All without my knowledge or consent. I didn’t log into my account for about a year since I had switched to a credit union, so it took a long time to find out about it. The only reason that I found out about it is because I went to buy a car and when they ran my credit it wasn’t pretty. I had a year of delinquent payments that I didn’t know about. Took over a year to get the fraudulent accounts removed and my credit score fixed. Then it took 10 years for me to get a settlement check from the class action lawsuit, of which I only got $69.

WF is a horrible, horrible institution run by criminals and fraudsters. I keep my money as far away from that scum as I can.

This is just one example from a thread with many complaints about Wells Fargo. BTW, some of you may not know that WF was in the news recently for a major scandal. Wells Fargo account fraud scandal - Wikipedia They fraudulently signed people up for millions of accounts without their knowledge or consent.

The problem I have when I read something like this is that I’m doubtful that competitors like Bank of America are better. I don’t think “avoid WF” is a safe conclusion.

It’s like how I’ve tried t-mobile, sprint, AT&T and Verizon and they’re all shitty. If I found one was bad and/or read online complaints about it, and concluded that I should avoid that one in particular, I would actually have been wrong.

EDIT: I read some more of the reddit thread and some ppl r like “WF sucks. Why are you using them? That was your mistake. Use someone else like Ally.” They should search for Reddit threads and other info about Ally. Ally is horrific too.

EDIT 2: it’s disturbing how bad big companies are with identity verification and account access protections:

I had Wells Fargo bank in 2009-2010. I got a call one day from the bank manager who told me it was urgent that I get to the branch as soon as possible. I left work early to handle it.

When I got to the bank, the manager was immediately accusatory and almost shouting at me asking how I was going to pay back “the money.” Somehow my account was overdrawn by about $40k.

I tried explaining that not only did I not spend that much money, I couldn’t have in the time frame alleged (2 days) and that she needed to take another look. She was absolutely incensed by that point and threatened to call the police. I sat there for a couple of hours and finally, they found out what the issue was…

A roofing company in Orlando had just opened an account with them and because their tax ID was similar to my social security number, some putz linked the accounts.

I withdrew every dime I had and cancelled the credit card I had with them that same day.

Fuck Wells Fargo.

Should they question whatever clever reasoning led them to that conclusion, in the same way that most smart individuals should question any clever reasoning that causes them to think AAPL stock is underpriced? Should they question whether they can “beat the market”

This reminds me that DD thinks the stock market is approximately efficient and I now believe it’s horribly stupid and irrational all the time on a massive scale. (Tesla’s stock price is a good example.)

Not that you should try to beat the market. In general that’s a bad idea, particularly if it isn’t your career. The stupidity and unreasonableness of the stock market actually enhances it’s unpredictability, which is one of the things that can make beating the market hard. Also stock market outcomes are massively affected by government policies; just looking at information about the companies themselves isn’t good enough. Media coverage is a huge factor too. And besides, about beating the market: if you adjust your opinions in an “everything is worse than I thought” way, that does not exclude yourself and mean you’re suddenly superior to everything.

I find caffeine, in general, problematic. Some comments:
I think people respond differently to it. I don’t know why that is.

For example, tons of people talk about needing caffeine to “wake up”, think clearly, get moving, etc. in the morning - which I’ll summarize with the term “morning energy”. I’d guess that morning energy is the #1 reason people cite for caffeine consumption. But I have tried different caffeine amounts (though never in doses exceeding ~200mg/day), for weeks or months at a time, and as far as I know I have never once experienced that effect.

If I’m avoiding caffeine as much as I can, when I wake up I get moving pretty much right away.

If I’m on some level of caffeine, when I wake up I get moving pretty much right away just the same. If I don’t have my usual caffeine dose for EX: 3 hours after I get up, it’s not a problem at all for me. I don’t feel more alert or clearer thinking after having the caffeine than I did before. If I have significantly more caffeine than I’m used to I can feel “jittery”, but that’s not a good thing / not a help.

Bottom line, I am pretty sure that caffeine is zero help to me in the morning whether I’m regularly having a significant amount of it or not. It’s possible all the people saying caffeine helps in the morning are lying, or having some kinda placebo effect, or something like that. Or it’s possible there’s some energy effect on me I’m failing to perceive. But I doubt it. I think caffeine affects other people differently than me wrt morning energy.

Caffeine will keep me up if I have a lot of it late in the day. I think that’s pretty standard.

More insidious though, caffeine will wake me up and keep me from going back to sleep as long as 12 hours after consumption. It stays around longer than drugs with pro-sleep effects (like benedryl). For example I’ve had a caffeinated dessert like tiramisu at dinner, taken a benedryl 2 hours later before getting into bed, and predicatably the benedryl wears off about 4-5 hours after that, the caffeine wakes me up and I can’t go back to sleep. So desserts like tiramisu I have learned not to have at dinner.

An effect I have that I don’t hear other people talk about much is caffeine sensitivity. I have, at times, attempted to maintain very low caffeine intake for months at a time. When I did, I found I became very sensitive to relatively small amounts of caffeine. One problem is foods I ate irregularly (like chocolate) would start to affect my sleep. Another problem as you (ET) said is that “decaf” means different things & different amounts than you might expect. And another problem is some recipes have more caffeine than you’d expect for the same “thing”: for example some chocolate cake recipes use espresso as an ingredient! And some flavors of ice cream etc. When I was trying to have low caffeine intake I ended up with what seemed to me like random sleep disturbances. I’d find myself awake at 3am, unable to go back to sleep, and in reviewing the previous day would guess that the cause was the chocolate, or the “decaf” tea that wasn’t as decaf as I thought. That could be misattribution but I don’t think so. One reason is that it stopped happening as soon as I started deliberately getting some caffeine again.

I think, for me, around 100mg of caffeine sometime in the morning results in me sleeping better at night. I wake up less or, if I do wake up, go back to sleep easier. The form doesn’t matter. I’ve tried coffee, black or green tea, chocolate covered coffee beans, and caffeine pills. All seemed to have approximately the same effect, although it takes 2 cups of tea, and even one cup of light roast coffee makes me feel jittery. I’ve heard light roast has more caffeine, so I think that’s why and I avoid it.

But even that isn’t great. After a while (1-2 months) the effect diminishes and I start sleeping worse. I could up the caffeine at that point and probably get the effect back, but I already know that’d be an ultimately fruitless approach. So instead I taper off for a week or so. The chocolate covered coffee beans are good for that, as I can just gradually reduce the amount. If I reduce too fast I get headaches. Once I’m off then I can stay off for a while before the sensitivity comes back, but my sleep isn’t as good.

Anyway, I think if it was reasonably convenient to get to and stay at zero caffeine that’d be best. Since it’s not, I think the next best option for me is to be relatively deliberate about consuming an intentional amount.

How long have you tried avoiding caffeine for? Full withdrawal from addiction can apparently take months for some people.

a comment at claims to still not be 100% recovered 9 months after quitting caf.

this one says they’re fully recovered but it took nearly 2 years

My own experience is that I don’t seem to have issues with irregularly having under 100mg of caffeine. Also I can have some caf at night (e.g. a tea) and sleep fine. I’ve never been a coffee drinker.

Are you in general optimistic or pessimistic? I’m not talking about the BoI theory of optimism. I’m talking about the common sense theory. Do you believe things will get better? I think you’ve made the point that people being bad at reasoning is one of biggest reason for all the problems in the world. I agree. Do you see progress happening there? Are people getting better at reason. Given how few people stick with CF, the battle for rationality seems lost. I found an article which shows that from the very beginning your goal has been to do the moral thing. CF are the most rational ideas I know of (I haven’t done even close to a comprehensive survey to find all the rational communities out there but I would guess I have a somewhat basic understanding of most of the big communities out there that are supposedly interested in reason/ideas). Doesn’t the lack of progress make you pessimistic? Don’t you think that progress is very hard to make and probably any good progress isn’t gonna happen? What do you work for then? What motivates you to keep going? Why do you keep going?

I have another related thing to say. Most of the times after reading your analysis of about how bad things most things are out there my pessimistic view further deepens (your analysis almost always convinces me that things are indeed bad). My answer for the question that I asked you (What do you work for then? What motivates you to keep going? Why do you keep going?) strengthens in the negative side. I don’t feel like working for anything because I already feel that positive outcome is not likely.

My goal with saying this is that, assuming you are indeed optimistic, I want to understand why and how you are optimistic?

Several years. I don’t know how many but it was more than two. But my avoidance was not super effective. I knew decaf stuff had some caffeine in it but no idea how much (or how much it varied). I learned about desserts only after they “bit” me a few times and I noticed. And even after I knew I’d still sometimes have them cuz I liked them.

If you go read the Ally threads with someone’s horror story, they are full of people defending Ally and saying the person was wrong to have not fully read and understood the terms of service. Or saying that what Ally did sucks and is difficult to deal with, but they don’t really have many options and it’s your own fault if having your one bank account makes you unable to pay bills because you should have back-up sources of funding.

So they they are still victim-blaming, but in a different way. With WF they say you should know better to have ever used WF at all. With Ally, they defend Ally and assume any problems you have with them are either because of your own incompetence or because Ally was doing something that they had to do that wasn’t any worse than any other bank would have done.

(I got this mostly from reading r/personalfinance where they are fans of Ally.)

Do you routinely get enough sleep?

Yes. Sleep is scheduled for at least 8 hours daily, and it’s extremely rare for me to incur on that schedule by setting an alarm for less than 8 hours after I actually go to bed. And I routinely fall asleep quick. When I don’t get enough sleep it’s almost always because I woke up too early and couldn’t go back to sleep.

I am often called (and have come to think of myself as) a “morning person”. Even if for example I woke up at 3am and couldn’t go back to sleep, I’ll be plenty alert & energetic at 9am, caffeine or no. If I get lethargic due to lack of sleep it’s generally after lunch.

Varies by issue. And that isn’t generally how I think about things. Pessimism/optimism is a degree spectrum, not decisive conclusions about goals and breakpoints.

I like rationality. I am curious. I want to understand things. And I do make progress. I’ve figured new things out this year, and I did it last year too, and the year before, and so on. Some of it is personal progress (new to me) and some is progress for humanity (new to everyone).

What else would I do? What would be more fun? I think philosophy is more fun than video games, novels, TV, etc.

I’m not writing/creating primarily to get things from other people, to influence them, to help them, etc. The primary thing is doing activities I like. I’m not relying on other people to motivate or reward me.

Things aren’t that bad: I think society is likely to keep feeding me and won’t violently assault me, for decades, continuously. I think chances are good that my money will still have value and grocery stores will keep operating and sell me good food that I can afford. And I’ll have adequate housing too – walls, roof, heat, cooling, electricity, indoor plumbing, internet access, etc.

Similarly, I did find some tea brands I can buy that make decaf with the CO2 method. So I have a solution that’s OK for me.

I advise against using caffeine


I think the issue might be that you are getting enough sleep, and many other people aren’t. (Also the thing about feeling like a “morning person” could be part of it.)

You say later that:

So if someone was tired/sleepy in the morning, and caffeine helped to keep them awake, that seems to be the same kind of effect that you are talking about getting from caffeine.

Thx. Do you have a good free resource that you can link? Don’t want to buy an book on it quite yet.

The things I find when web searching is mainly side effects of too much caffeine. None of which I experience myself.

I drink about 3-4 cups a day on weekdays (when at boot camp). On weekends (home) I usually don’t drink any coffee at all (at least not for months).

Edit: I don’t drink coffee to “wake up”. I get up at about 5 am and drink my first coffee at about 9 am. I like the taste and it keeps me from feeling hungry before lunch (I think).

Many people share on reddit about their struggles with caffeine.

Also, based on the data in this paper:

Healthy people’s rate of processing caffeine varies by more than a factor of 2. (And for people with the wrong disease, it can take literally weeks to clear caffeine out of their system.)

Also, apparently, caffeine is egregiously understudied (which really says something bad about a society where it’s used so much). The paper looks competent but doesn’t do enough studying/testing. The authors know that and express interest in doing more studies and have some decent ideas about what else to research. I’m guessing the primary problem holding back higher quality information is lack of funding.

Oh yeah, FYI, the main thing I was trying to check when I looked at that academic paper: caffeine has a half life. It doesn’t just go away after a set amount of time.

Very roughly, and variable by person, the half life is 5 hours. So if you drink coffee, 1/2 the caf is gone (due to your body processing it) after 5 hours, 3/4 after 10 hours, and 7/8 after 15 hours. That means if you drink 4 cups of coffee and wait 10 hours, it’s roughly the same as having just drunk 1 cup of coffee.

In terms of sleep, for some people, drinking 4 cups of coffee early in the morning is about the same as drinking half a cup right before bed. For some people it’s worse than that (they process caffeine more slowly, so it could be equivalent to e.g. drinking 70%, 90%, 110% or even more of a cup of coffee right before bed), but others do process the caffeine more quickly.

Some people who drink 5+ cups a day are probably avoiding withdrawals even while asleep – if they process caf more slowly then they could have a meaningful amount of caf in their system 24/7.