By Robin Micheli

(MONEY Magazine) – Decaffeinated coffees may let you sleep at night, but they won't wake up your taste buds. That was the conclusion of the seven experts Money assembled to sample 10 varieties of decaf -- seven canned brands and three fresh-ground roasts. The top bean commanded only a 3.1 overall rating on a scale of 5 (excellent) to 1 (very poor); the lowest limped along with a mere 1.6. The tasting, conducted at the Culinary Center of New York in Manhattan, was carefully controlled. None of the coffees were identified to the panel, and all were brewed in a home-model automatic drip machine. The panelists graded each coffee sample for acidity, aroma, body, flavor and general impression. To arrive at an overall rating, we took the average of the scores for each attribute. Here are the results, in order of finish, with prices as of late spring: -- Zabar's Gourmet Decaffe ($4.98 a pound plus 70 cents a pound for shipping from Zabar's; 800-221-3347, 212-787-2000 in New York City). This whole-bean Colombian blend, decaffeinated by a solvent process that employs methylene chloride, got our panel's top score, a somewhat tepid 3.1. The experts found it a solid, serviceable brew, scoring 3 or better on all counts except acidity, which drew only a 2. One panelist described the blend as ''a very good overall cup,'' and another commended its lack of harshness. -- Medaglia d'Oro ($4.89 for 12 ounces in supermarkets on the East and West coasts and in specialty shops elsewhere). An Italian-style espresso, canned domestically, it came in at 2.8. Espresso is roasted longer and ground finer than regular coffees and so is generally richer. Because the panelists found most of the test brews overly weak, the darker espresso roast may account for this blend's strong showing. ''Espresso roasting covers a multitude of sins,'' said one judge. Still, some panelists found it too bitter. -- Brown Gold ($5.99 a pound at supermarkets in the East and at specialty shops nationwide). Scoring 2.7 points overall, this 100% Colombian ground- roast blend was praised generally for its mildly acidic character. But its greatest attribute was what one taster called its ''nice full body.'' The blend averaged a 3 in that category. One panelist, however, complained of an unpleasant aftertaste. -- Chock Full o'Nuts ($5 for 13 ounces at supermarkets in most metropolitan areas). This ground-roast blend of Colombian, Central American and Brazilian beans stirred some controversy among the panel. Overall, it rated 2.7. But the judges' individual ratings ranged from 1 to 4.6. One panelist complained that it had little flavor; two others deemed it their favorite. Most did come to agreement, however, on the coffee's pleasant aroma. -- Hills Brothers ($4.79 for 13 ounces in supermarkets nationwide). With a score of 2.5, it was characterized by one of our tasters as strong, straight and to the point. The panel generally savored its aroma, body and well- balanced acidity. But the judges gave it only a 2 in flavor. The remaining coffees trickled in with decidedly weaker results. The whole- bean Swiss water decaf, Secoffex ($7.50 to $8.50 a pound in specialty shops), rated a 2.2. One taster commented that it was ''everything you'd expect a decaf to be -- mousy and mild-mannered.'' Brim ($4.99 for 13 ounces at most supermarkets), with a 2.1 rating, was generally judged to be watery and lacking in aroma and acidity. Starbucks Mocca-Java ($8.95 a pound plus $2 packing and shipping charge at Starbucks Coffee & Tea, 4555 University Way N.E., Seattle, Wash. 98105), a whole-bean water decaf, scored 1.8. One panelist, however, thought the brew had some appealing espresso overtones. That old standby Sanka ($4.99 for 13 ounces at supermarkets) straggled in next to last with a 1.7 score. Though one taster detected an ''objectionable chemical taint'' to its aroma, another praised its ''very good aftertaste.'' Bringing up the rear, at 1.6, was Folgers ($4.99 for 13 ounces at supermarkets). Our tasters overwhelmingly found it flat. BOX: COFFEE AND HEALTH Most people who drink coffee in moderation -- up to five five-ounce cups a day -- need not worry about their caffeine intake. So says Dr. Sanford Miller, director of the Center for Food Safety at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. By contrast, in 1980 the FDA warned pregnant women to curtail or even eliminate caffeine consumption, and increasing numbers of researchers suggest that everyone else limit themselves to two cups a day. Caffeine stimulates the metabolism and the central nervous system. It can also increase your pulse rate and blood pressure, which can be a danger for people with irregular heartbeats and high blood pressure. The effects vary widely. For pregnant women, however, the risks appear greater. In studies involving laboratory animals in the late 1970s, caffeine was linked to such birth defects as missing toes, low birth weight and slow skeletal development. The FDA's Dr. Miller suggests that pregnant women drink no more than two cups of coffee a day. The average five-ounce cup of coffee has about 110 milligrams of caffeine; strongly brewed coffee, 200. Other milligram counts: a five-ounce cup of tea, 19 to 80; a 12-ounce cola, up to 52; six ounces of hot cocoa, 10; Excedrin, 65 per tablet. The average cup of decaf contains three milligrams of caffeine.