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Everything You Need to Know About Decaf Coffee

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I know what you may be thinking. Why would anyone want to go decaf? Cutting caffeine is more common than you might think. Today, decaf coffee makes up around 12% of all coffee consumption.

According to this post by the Mayo clinic, some reasons to switch to decaf are:

  • If you have already had four cups of caffeinated coffee or consumed 400 total milligrams of caffeine that day (200 mg for those who are pregnant or nursing)
  • If you have a sensitivity to caffeine
  • If you’re not getting enough sleep

Is it actually coffee?
Despite the hate decaf often gets, it is, in fact, still coffee. The drink is made by running scalding water through ground-up roasted coffee beans just like its caffeinated counterpart. The difference, however, is what the beans go through before they reach the roasting process.

How is decaf coffee made?

I’ll do my best to keep from going full chemistry lesson on you, but the process of decaffeinating coffee beans is a bit science-y. Caffeine is a chemical, after all.

Caffeine dissolves in water. Unfortunately, water also washes away sugars and proteins that give coffee its delightful flavors. The key is to use something different; a selective-solvent that dissolves caffeine without robbing the beans of their deliciousness.

There are four techniques used to decaffeinate coffee. In each method, coffee beans are decaffeinated while they are still green (before roasting).

The methods are:

  1. Direct solvent-based process
  2. Indirect solvent-based process
  3. Swiss water process
  4. Carbon Dioxide process

As you can tell from their names, the first two techniques listed are solvent-based. About 70% of all decaf coffee is produced this way due to its efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

  • Direct solvent-based process – a selective solvent that absorbs caffeine is added to unroasted coffee beans.

Steps:

  1. Beans are steamed until their pores are nice and open.
  2. Organic chemicals like dichloromethane (ethylene chloride) or ethyl acetate are added to remove the caffeine without removing the beans’ flavor.
  3. Beans soak in the solvent for roughly 10 hours.
  4. The coffee beans are thoroughly rinsed to remove the solvent.
  • Indirect solvent-based process – This process also uses solvents, but the chemicals never come into direct contact with the beans, hence the name.

Steps:

  1. The unroasted coffee beans are soaked in scalding hot water, removing caffeine (and most of the coffee’s flavor).
  2. The beans and water are separated
  3. A selective solvent is added to the coffee water. The chemicals in the solvent bond to the caffeine in the water.
  4. The water and solvent solution is heated until both the caffeine and solvent evaporate.
  5. The newly decaffeinated coffee water is reunited with the beans.
  6. Once the beans have reabsorbed their oils, sugars, the water is drained, leaving behind tasty, decaf coffee beans.
  • Swiss Water Method – This method is very green and reportedly leaves the beans 99.9% caffeine-free. However, it’s not as commonly practiced because of the time and labor it takes compared to other methods.

Steps:

  1. The unroasted coffee beans are soaked in scalding hot water, dissolving the caffeine.
  2. The hot coffee water is poured through a filter of activated charcoal. This filter lets through most of the coffee and flavor molecules, but traps the large caffeine molecules.
  3. The original beans are thrown away.
  4. The newly decaffeinated, highly flavorful coffee water is poured over new beans.
  5. The cycle is repeated until the coffee water is so flavorful that no more flavor can move from the beans to the water. Only the caffeine is absorbed.
  6. The final beans are now decaffeinated but retain their original flavor profile.
  7. The flavor-packed water can then be used on several more batches of beans to continue the decaffeination process.
  • Carbon Dioxide Process – This method is by far, the most green, but also the most expensive due to the pressurization required. For that reason, it’s not commonly used.

                        Steps:

  1. Carbon dioxide gas is pressurized until it reaches a liquid state.
  2. Liquid CO2 is forced through water-soaked coffee beans.
  3. The liquid CO2 absorbs the caffeine from the beans.
  4. CO2 is then pumped out and returns to its gas state, leaving behind separated beans and caffeine. The gas can be reused over again.

Is decaf the same as caffeine-free?

Decaf coffee is not necessarily caffeine-free. The USDA mandates that in order for a product to be considered decaf, it must be at least 97% caffeine-free. While this is substantially caffeinated less than its traditional counterpart, some caffeine still may be present. If you have a health or religious reason to avoid caffeine, you should also abstain from decaf coffee.

Where can I buy decaf coffee?

We offer a wide assortment of decaffeinated beans available here. No matter your preferred machine or brewing method, we have a decaf option that fits your needs.

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