How is Decaf Coffee Made and How Does it Work?
Coffee and caffeine go hand in hand. There are countless phrases in which people demand they get their caffeine fix through the drink. It helps people get through the day, especially the mornings and gives a lot of people a fix. It’s a stimulant and an appetite suppressant, a dependable pick-me-up for students cramming for exams, workers on night shifts and anyone else needing a quick pick-me-up.
However, there are a large number of people who don’t get on with caffeine or actively seek to cut it out of their diet. For these people who still love the taste of coffee but can’t be dealing with caffeine, opt for decaf coffee.
It’s hard to imagine coffee without the caffeine so let’s take a look at exactly how coffee is decaffeinated and if it affects taste.
What is Decaf Coffee
Decaf is short for decaffeinated coffee. It is coffee from coffee beans that have had at least 97% of their caffeine removed. The way the process works means the beans being used are the same as their caffeinated counterparts, so they should have the same taste, in theory. There are many ways to remove caffeine from coffee beans. Most of them include water, organic solvents or carbon dioxide.
Though decaffeinated suggests that it’s caffeine-free, most decaf brews actually do contain some amounts of caffeine. Just how much, exactly, can be a little unclear. Under European law, decaffeinated coffee must contain 0.1%, or less, mg of caffeine content in roasted coffee beans, and up to 0.3%, or less, insoluble/instant coffee.
Why Do People Cut Out Caffeine?
At the end of the day, caffeine is a drug. There are some more healthy drugs and socially acceptable ones but it still is a drug which goes into your body. Because it’s a drug it has addictive properties, with its own set of withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Many people want to live a drug-free life, so will try to cut it out wherever they can. This includes their caffeinated beverages.
Some of us love the taste of coffee but can’t deal with the effects of caffeine. There are simply many who don’t do well with caffeine. Many sippers suffer from symptoms like acid reflux, heartburn, and general stomach discomfort after a cup of coffee. This is before mentioning sensitivity to caffeine and their mood. But because the decaffeination process can make the coffee milder, decaf may reduce these symptoms, making it a wiser choice for some.
Caffeine is also responsible for other less-than-stellar side effects, like anxiety, sleeplessness, high blood pressure, and fatigue. For many people, the pleasure of drinking coffee is outweighed by the caffeine-fuelled negatives.
The Origins of Decaf Coffee
The first person to hit upon a practical decaffeination method was Ludwig Roselius, the head of the coffee company Kaffee HAG. Roselius discovered the secret to decaffeination by accident. In 1903, a shipment of coffee had been swamped by seawater in transit, leaching out the caffeine but not the flavour. Roselius worked out an industrial method to repeat it, steaming the beans with various acids before using the solvent benzene to remove the caffeine. Decaffeinated coffee was born.
How do They Make Decaf Coffee
There are several different methods used that can make coffee relatively decaffeinated. The drawback of all of these methods is that they generally make the coffee flavour milder due to caffeine being one of the components which gives coffee its bitter, acidic flavour.
There are essentially three main methods used to decaffeinate coffee; water-processed, chemical solvent processed, and the most recently devised method is the C02 process. Below are brief descriptions of each.
The Water Process
The most common of water-processed coffee decaffeination is the patented Swiss Water Process. There are others such as the Royal Select Water process. Both are similar in that no chemicals are used to decaffeinate the coffee beans.
The Swiss Water Method involves raw beans (green coffee beans) being placed under pressurised, heated water which circulates through them causing the beans to absorb the water and swell. The pores of the coffee beans open, allowing the caffeine to wash free of them. The resulting aquafied, caffeinated substance is run through a series of activated carbon filters, thus indirectly removing the caffeine from the coffee beans.
The remaining substance is flavour-charged water (without caffeine) and is circulated back into the beans which adds the flavour back into the coffee. Next, the beans are dried, polished, bagged and made ready for shipment to the roaster.
The Solvent Method
The direct solvent method is the oldest and most common process to remove the caffeine from the beans. This is the method that Ludwig Roselius would have used. Solvent-based processes are those in which the caffeine is removed from the beans with the help of a chemical solvent, such as methylene chloride or ethyl acetate. Those solvent-based processes, in turn, can be divided into methods using the “direct” method versus the “indirect” method.
In the direct method, caffeine is removed by soaking the materials directly in a solvent; the solvent is directly applied to the beans. On the other hand, in the indirect method, the caffeine-laden water is transferred to a separate tank and treated with a solvent; in this case, the solvent never touches the beans.
The Carbon Dioxide Process
This is the newest method of decaffeination of coffee beans. 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 flavour 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.
Buy our Decaf Coffee Beans Today
At 80 Stone we have a number of different and exciting wholesale coffee beans for you to choose from. This includes our own decaf coffee bean, carried out with the swiss water process. As a coffee roaster, we can create some really interesting flavour profiles with our local roastery, giving you different tastes to experiment with.
We offer La Marzocco coffee machine leasing and commercial coffee machine rental opportunities. This allows your baristas to get the best results with the coffee used in your establishment. If you feel your baristas need some help preparing the coffee, we also offer a barista training course on-site.
Let us transform your coffee experience with exciting new flavours, skills and equipment. Get in touch today!
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