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Decaffeinated Coffee – A Buyer’s Guide

decaf coffee beans

Decaffeinated Coffee – A Buyer’s Guide

A Buyer’s Guide – Decaf or not to decaf? That is the question!

Decaffeinated coffee is often not given enough credit in the world of coffee. Some people think that is doesn’t deserve to be on the shelf or, as one person said, “it isn’t really coffee”. We disagree, decaffeinated coffee does hold a very strong position in the coffee industry and without this type of coffee we are depriving a lot of people the chance to try something very, very tasty.

Of course, like anything, there are going to be lovers and haters – a bit of a Marmite moment! We think that everyone who likes coffee should try a new type of decaf every once in a while. Of course, it may not be your ‘go-to’ every day but you may surprise yourself and like it!

The benefits of decaffeinated coffee

Some of us are lucky and despite having your umpteenth cup of coffee you are still able to have a peaceful and relaxing sleep. Unfortunately, that is not the case for the majority of consumers. Insomnia, restlessness and not being able to switch the brain out of ‘go fast’ mode is a familiar scenario for many. How many times have you said to yourself that a lovely cup of coffee would be perfect after a delicious evening meal? Yep, it would end the evening well but of course, sleeping would then be a problem.

Decaffeinated coffee is your answer, try our 100% Arabica Organic Honduras Swiss Water Decaf and you will continually have a guest at your dinner table and, uninterrupted sleep!

Our decaffeinated coffee is from Honduras and the caffeine is removed using the Swiss Water Process. Read on to find out the different types of ways that caffeine is removed from raw green coffee beans before the roasting process takes place.

What is decaffeinated coffee? 

We know this may be a simple question to answer but do you really know how the caffeine from your coffee is removed. Coffee contains a natural chemical, caffeine C8H10N4O2. There is no complicated way of telling you what decaffeinated coffee is, it is the removal of the caffeine from the raw green coffee beans. The difficult part is the process that the beans have to endure to become decaffeinated.

Coffee contains an estimated 400 different chemicals that contribute to its overall flavour and aromatic qualities. With this in mind, you can imagine how challenging a role it is to make sure that removing the caffeine does not disturb the precious other chemicals that give us that wonderful taste of in our cup. We only want to remove one of the chemicals, the caffeine!

Today’s methods are fairly precise and produce a cup of coffee equally as good as a fully caffeinated brew!

How is the caffeine removed from the coffee beans?

There are various methods of decaffeinating coffee. Solvent methods, the carbon dioxide method and water methods (Swiss Water and Mountain Water). There are however some similarities in all of them.

Solvent Method #1 – Direct Contact Decaffeination

Starting with green coffee beans the direct contact method begins with steaming the beans for 30 minutes. The green beans are then rinsed repeatedly over a period of several hours with a liquid solvent, ethyl acetate. This is a process in which the solvent binds the caffeine molecules. Once the beans have completed this stage they are then steamed again to remove the remaining solvent and caffeine.

The solvent during this method is in direct contact with the green coffee beans.

Solvent Method #2 – Indirect Contact Decaffeination

With this method, the green coffee beans are firstly soaked for several hours in hot water. During this first stage, the hot water gradually removes not only the caffeine but also the oils and flavours.

The beans are separated from the hot water and the solvent, methylene chloride is added to just the liquid. The solvent, now in the caffeine-rich liquids starts to bind to the caffeine. Once this process is complete the solvent solution is heated to evaporate the solvent and caffeine together.

Once the caffeine and solvent have evaporated from the liquid the green coffee beans are reintroduced to the fluid so they can regain their essential oils and flavours.

The solvent never actually comes into contact with the coffee beans as they are removed before the addition of the solvent. This process is also known as the ‘water process or water processed’ method, chemicals are used for this process. This should not be mistaken for the Swiss Water and Mountain Water methods – see below.

Solvent Methods – FACTS

An interesting point to make for both of these solvent methods is that if ethyl acetate is used it is sometimes referred to as a ‘natural process’. This is because ethyl acetate is a chemical compound found naturally in many fruits.

Whilst methylene chloride is a toxic chemical solvent, its use in decaffeination is not considered a health risk. While there is a possibility that a minimal amount of the solvent may remain in the decaffeinated beans, it is extremely unlikely that it would survive the roasting and brewing process. This is supported because methylene chloride evaporates at 40°C while the roasting of coffee beans exceeds 200°C.

The treated beans in both method #1 and method #2 are dried back to their ideal moisture content. Once they have been dried they are ready to be roasted in the same way as caffeinated beans.

Carbon Dioxide Method

This next method involves the inclusion of carbon dioxide, CO2, to remove the caffeine from the green coffee beans.

Firstly, the green beans are soaked in hot water to open the pores of the beans and prepare the caffeine molecules. Once this phase has completed the carbon dioxide is added to the water, this creates sparkling water – think SodaStream!

During this stage the carbon dioxide attracts the caffeine molecules, removing the caffeine from the green beans.

Water Decaffeination Process

Both the Swiss Water Process and Mountain Water Process are trademarked processes for this method of removing caffeine from green coffee beans.

Swiss Water Process

The Swiss Water Process is a non-solvent method. The process was originally pioneered in Switzerland in 1933 and developed as a commercially viable method of decaffeination by Coffex S.A. in 1980.

The green coffee beans are initially soaked in caffeine-free green coffee extract (GCE), this allows the caffeine to be extracted from the bean. The caffeine is removed, remaining in the water and GCE solution, while the flavour and oils are retained in the beans.

The GCE is then processed through activated charcoal to remove the caffeine, the GCE then becoming caffeine free again and ready to use for another batch of green beans.

Once the process is complete the green beans are dried to their original moisture level and exported around the world to coffee roasters. The Swiss Water Process results in coffee that is 99.9% caffeine free.

Mountain Water Process

The Mountain Water Process decaffeination is, as the Swiss Water Process, a chemical-free way of removing caffeine from coffee beans. The Mountain Water Process uses clear and pure glacier water. Like the Swiss Water Process, this is also regarded as the highest quality and best tasting decaf available.

The stages of decaffeination of the green beans in this process follow that of the Swiss Water Process.

how is coffee decaffeinated

Conclusions

As always there are pros and cons to all the methods used to decaffeinate coffee.

The solvent methods, despite chemicals being used, directly and indirectly, does allow for the caffeine to be reused. It is sold to companies across the globe for the use in health foods, dietary supplements, and soft drinks.

The carbon dioxide method is a more recent method and going forward in the world of coffee it may well replace the solvent-based decaffeination processes.

Both the Swiss Water Process and the Mountain Water Process do not allow for the caffeine to be reused by other industries. However, both these methods are regarded as a pure way to decaffeinate coffee resulting in the highest quality of decaffeinated beans.

Our Choice

The Quirky Coffee Co Organic Honduras Swiss Water Decaf is available in 250g, 500g, and 1kg bags in our shop. You can also select your purchase as a whole bean or ground to your brew method. Our speciality 100% Arabica Swiss Water Decaf really is a winner for both decaf lovers and those who are unsure! Organic and with a score of 83 from the SCAA it really will surprise you. Whether you drink decaf exclusively or just as an evening tipple you will not be disappointed with the flavour that our single origin decaf beans produce.

If you have read this blog and sit in the camp of, “it isn’t really coffee”, then take a chance and try it out!