I know it seems absolutely pointless to drink decaf coffee to some people, but the fact is, not all of us can handle its effects. Whether it’s a bad ticker, sleepless nights, preggers, or headaches, there are those of us who love the taste of coffee, but must go for the decaf. Decaf has had a bad reputation for being sub-par on the taste. Don’t despair! We have some amazing decaf coffees with great flavors and no aftertaste. But how is the caffeine removed from the bean? Let’s talk.
There are several different ways that growers remove the caffeine from the bean, but we will discuss the three most common. The first is the Swiss Water Process (or Mountain Water Process). A batch of green beans is first soaked in a bath of hot water to release the caffeine. The water left over with caffeine as well as some coffee solids passes through a carbon filter that traps the caffeine but allows the coffee solids to pass through. The resulting solution is called “green coffee extract” or GCE. New green beans are then introduced to the solution, and only caffeine diffuses from the new beans because, as we learned in high school chemistry, equilibrium must be reached between the solution and the beans. The GCE passes through the carbon filter, which captures the caffeine, and the process repeats until the beans are 99.9% caffeine-free. These beans are removed and dried and retain most if not all of their flavor. This is the type of decaf beans that we carry.
Another method is the Direct Method where beans are steamed for 30min to release the caffeine and then rinsed repeatedly with methylene chloride or ethyl acetate, a naturally occurring organic compound found in some fruits, for about 10 hours. The ethyl acetate bonds to the caffeine. The solvent is drained away and the beans are steamed for an additional 10 hours to remove any residual solvent.
Finally, the Indirect Method. Green beans are soaked in hot water for several hours then removed and either methylene chloride or ethyl acetate is used to extract the caffeine from the water. The caffeine is separated from the organic solvent by evaporation. The same water is recycled through this two-step process with new beans until equilibrium is reached between the water and the beans. After this point, the caffeine is the only material removed from the beans. It is important to note in both of these chemical processes that the methylene chloride is never absorbed by the bean and completely dissipates through the roasting and brewing process.
An interesting side note: Caffeine is a hot commodity, and is added to everything from cake mix to ice cream and low grade chocolate. When coffee is decaffeinated, the caffeine is salvaged and sold!
So now you know. Just because it says decaf doesn’t mean it’s not delicious! We recommend our Mexican Decaf that we use in our espresso. Great as a brew, too!
Congrats to Cassie Duchow who suggested today's blog!
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