The Scoop on Decaf Coffee

Decaf coffee. Oh, the looks we get at Starbucks when Lucas and I ask for decaf, especially in the morning. Normally, I drink caffeinated coffee, but when I’m pregnant I opt for decaf. Lucas has also been on decaf as he wanted to do a little caffeine detox. I don’t mind decaf coffee as I really just love the flavor of coffee and don’t really miss the caffeine. I will write a bit more of caffeine in the future, there’s some interesting info there!

I hadn’t given much thought to how decaf coffee is made so Lucas ran across an article and I found it interesting. Coffee is always decaffeinated in the green, unroasted state. It can be tricky to achieve this since removing the caffeine but not effecting any other part of what makes the bean flavorful is not an easy task. Caffeine is a water soluble substance so water is always used.

Two of the four ways to decaffeinate coffee involve a chemical, which include benzene (no longer used due to it being a carcinogen), methylene chloride or ethyl acetate, which have not shown any health harm. If any traces of the chemicals remain on the beans after the process they likely don’t survive the roasting process. Natural ethyl acetate is extremely expensive so a synthetic form is most often used.

When it comes to non-chemical ways to decaffeinate coffee, there are two, The Swiss Water Process and the Carbon Dioxide Process.

The Swiss Water Process “begins by soaking a batch of beans in very hot water in order to dissolve the caffeine. The water is then drawn off and passed through an activated charcoal filter. The porosity of this filter is sized to only capture larger caffeine molecules, while allowing smaller oil and flavor molecules to pass through it.

Consequently we end up with beans with no caffeine and no flavor in one tank, and caffeine-free “flavor charged” water (aka “Green Coffee Extract”) in another tank.

And here’s where the magic happens. The flavorless caffeine-free beans are discarded, but the flavor rich water is reused to remove the caffeine from a fresh batch of coffee beans.

Since this water already is saturated with flavor ingredients the flavors in this fresh batch can’t dissolve; only caffeine moves from the coffee beans to the water. So the result is decaffeination without a massive loss of flavor.

Coffees decaffeinated by this method are always labeled as “SWISS WATER” Decaf.

This method is almost exclusively used for decaffeination of organic coffee.

Coffee decaffeinated using the environment-friendly Swiss Water Process undergoes regular caffeine level audits to ensure compliance to 99.9% caffeine-free.”

“In the CO2 decaffeination process, water soaked coffee beans are placed in a stainless steel container called the extraction vessel. The extractor is then sealed and liquid CO2 is forced into the coffee at pressures of 1,000 pounds per square inch to extract the caffeine.

The CO2 acts as the solvent to dissolve and draw the caffeine from the coffee beans, leaving the larger-molecule flavor components behind. The caffeine laden CO2 is then transferred to another container called the absorption chamber. Here the pressure is released and the CO2 returns to its gaseous state, leaving the caffeine behind. The caffeine free CO2 gas is pumped back into a pressurized container for reuse.

Because of its cost, this process is primarily used to decaffeinate large quantities of commercial-grade, less-exotic coffee found in grocery stores.”

Since our go to coffee is Starbucks it was reassuring to learn that the only decaf blend that doesn’t use a chemical process is the Sumatra blend, which is what we buy.

I hope this helps you understand the process, I know I found it interesting and if you are someone that drinks decaf and wants the process with the least amount of chemicals, now you know what to look for!

References:
http://www.coffeeconfidential.org/health/decaffeination/

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