Decaf Coffee – What Is It and How Is It Made?

by Jeanette Kierstead

Coffee is consumed by millions of people around the world. There are some who require this liquid gold each and everyday, in multiple doses.

The caffeine in coffee is the essential part as to why people enjoy this drink so much. This is the stimulant that picks you up and keeps you going throughout the day.

However, it's not for everyone.

Decaf coffee has been "invented" for those who seek an escape from the chemical rush that coffee, naturally, provides.

What is Decaf Coffee?

What is Decaf Coffee?
What is Decaf Coffee?

All decaf coffee has its caffeine removed while the bean is in the green, un-roasted state. It requires a very special process to remove the caffeine compound without affecting, too much, the natural flavours of the coffee itself.

No matter what decaffeination process is used, there will always remain trace amounts of caffeine. If you thought that decaf coffee was complete void of caffeine, you've been lied to.

In order for a coffee to be called decaf, it must have at least 97% of the caffeine removed. This is a requirement by the USDA in order for a coffee to be called decaf. To achieve this, a bit of chemistry is required.

How To Make Decaf Coffee

There are four methods of removing the caffeine from coffee which can be clumped into two categories: Solvent Based and Non Solvent Based.

Solvent Based Decaf Production

  1. Indirect-Solvent Based Extraction. First, coffee beans are boiled for several hours to extract the caffeine and other flavours and oils. Next, the beans are removed and a solvent is added to the liquid, such as methylene chloride or ethyl acetate, which bind to the caffeine. Afterwards, the solution is heated and the solvent will evaporate with the caffeine attached to it. Finally, the beans a reintroduced into the water to soak and reabsorb most of the flavours and oils.
  2. Direct-Solvent Based Extraction. Coffee beans are steamed for about 30 minutes to open the pores. When this occurs, a solvent (similar to those mentioned above) will be used to rinse the beans for about 10 hours. The solvent will be rinsed away removing most of the caffeine. At this stage in the extraction process, the beans are steamed to remove any residual solvent leaving decaf coffee ready for use.

Non-Solvent Based Extraction

  1. Swiss Water Process (SWP). This process requires beans to soak in hot water which dissolves the caffeine. The caffeinated water is then passed over a charcoal filter with pores sized to allow oils and other flavour molecules to pass through but not the caffeine. At this stage in the process, the flavorless beans are thrown away. Next, a fresh batch of beans are used and the caffeine and flavour infused water is used to soak the new batch of beans. This time, the water is already infused with flavour and only the caffeine escapes the new beans. The result is decaf coffee beans with an close to original flavour.
  2. CO2 Process. Like the previous methods of caffeine extraction, coffee beans are soaked in water. This time, the coffee beans are placed in an extraction vessel, sealed, and exposed to liquid CO2 at a pressure of 1 000 pounds per square inch. The CO2extracts the caffeine without effecting many of the other molecules inside the coffee bean. When this step is complete, the caffeine captured CO2 is transferred to another chamber where it returns to a gaseous state and detaches from the caffeine (to be reused again). This process is commonly used to produce commercial grade, less expensive decaf coffee.

Is Decaf Coffee Good?

For health related reasons, decaf coffee would be the best choice for you. High levels of caffeine can have some negative effects on your body. Here's a few:

  • High Blood Pressure [ source]
  • Increased Risk of Heart Attack [ source]
  • Gout Attacks for Binge Drinkers [ source]
  • Insomnia [ source]
  • Headaches [ source]
  • Cause Anxiety and Depression, [ source]

Another reason to keep coffee in your diet while eliminated the potentially negative effects of caffeine is that decaf coffee retains much of its healthy antioxidants. If you're unfamiliar, antioxidants are important because they help prevent diseases like cancer by eliminating dangerous chemicals in your body called free radicals.

If you're starting to forget what the effects of caffeine does in your cup of coffee, here's a refresher:

  • Improves Mood, Reaction Time, Memory, and Mental Function ( source)
  • Increases Metabolic Rate and Fat Burning ( source)
  • Wakes you up

These are the effects that the caffeine has and are unlikely to experience this (keep reading to learn about a special phenomena).

Does Decaf Coffee Taste the Same?

Aside from eliminating the caffeine from the coffee and possibly reducing the negative risks listed above, decaf coffee can have a range of different (and sometimes disappointing) flavours.

Finding a quality and good tasting decaf coffee is often hit and miss. You can see in the processes above that decaf coffee loses varying amounts of flavour and essential oil.

Does Decaf Coffee Make Me Alert?

If you've been away from caffeine for a while, there is a chance that the trace amounts of caffeine remaining in the decaf coffee could give you that energetic rush.

However, if you experience a similar "pick me up" as if you were drinking regular coffee, there is a plausible reason for this phenomena: the placebo effect.

The placebo effect is based upon the power of belief that coffee itself has the ability to increase and enhance alertness.

In other situations, you may have ordered a decaf coffee at a restaurant believing it to be decaf. As it turns out, they may have poured you a regular coffee with caffeine levels that trigger your excitement.

About Jeanette Kierstead

Jeanette has been testing and reviewing kitchen appliances for over six years now, so she knows her stuff when it comes to finding the best ones. In her spare time, she loves nothing more than baking cakes and cookies – especially if she can do so with one of her favorite stand mixers! When she's not in the kitchen, Jeanette is usually looking after everything homes-related; from garden tools to smart home products.

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