How is coffee decaffeinated? Step by step guide method explained as to how the caffeine is removed, along with different method examples.
What we will cover in this article:
- 5 Ways To Decaffeinate Coffee
- Is decaffeinated coffee better for you?
- Is decaffeinated coffee really caffeine-free?
- Is decaffeinated coffee a stimulant? (No)
- Are the chemicals used to decaffeinate coffee harmful?
Coffees don’t always have to contain caffeine — some of them are processed so that they are decaffeinated beverages. With the decaffeination process, coffees can contain only a fraction of their original caffeine content. But how is coffee decaffeinated? This article will explore coffee decaffeination methods and decaffeinated coffee content.
Ways To Decaffeinate Coffee
There are at least five ways to decaffeinate coffee, described below.
The Direct Organic Solvent Process
In the Direct Organic Solvent Process, unroasted green coffee beans are steamed first.
The beans as part of the process are then rinsed with a solvent of caffeine-removing chemicals such as dichloromethane or ethyl acetate.
This process is repeated anywhere from 8 to 12 times. This process removes a large portion of caffeine from the coffee, anywhere from 97 to 99 percent.
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The Indirect Organic Solvent Process
The Indirect Organic Solvent Process involves soaking unroasted green coffee beans in hot water first.
This can take many hours, or until a strong coffee brew is made.
The liquid is drained from the green coffee beans. It contains the flavors and oils from the beans, as well as the caffeine.
The liquid is treated with ethyl acetate or dichloromethane. This removes the caffeine, which evaporates out of the solution.
The liquid now has all the flavors and oils, as well as the properties of the caffeine-removing chemicals. The green coffee beans are now soaked again in this hot liquid.
The beans can absorb the flavors of the liquid without the caffeine. This process is repeated until the chemical balance in the beans, and the liquid is the same — meaning that the flavors/tastes and oils are present, but not the caffeine.
This process is also known as “water processing.” Coffee processed this way is also referred to as “naturally decaffeinated” coffee — but it is likely (as with the Swiss Water Process) a proprietary title.
The Swiss Water Process (or “Natural Decaffeination”)
In the Swiss Water Process, green coffee beans are soaked in water first. This is to help the beans expand and get into a state of being ready to extract caffeine from them.
One the water is drained, in nthe next part of the porocess the beans are treated with Green Coffee Extract (GCE). Similar in content to the decaffeinated liquid used in the Indirect Organic Solvent Process, this liquid contains flavors and oils of green coffee beans but little to no caffeine. The fluid is passed through batches of green coffee beans, from oldest to newest.
The oldest batch will absorb the most flavor and oil from this solution, which picks up more and more caffeine along the way.
The oldest batch of beans is then removed and dried — it is ready for consumption as decaffeinated coffee.
The liquid that has picked up the caffeine is run through a series of activated carbon filters. This removes the caffeine from the liquid — and the fluid, the GCE, is sent back to the oldest-to-newest bean stage.
The carbon, which has picked up residual caffeine, is sent to a furnace, which burns off the caffeine. The carbon is then sent back from the furnace to the filters.
This process usually takes as much as 10 hours.
The Triglyceride Process
In the Triglyceride Process, green coffee beans are soaked in hot water to facilitate caffeine removal.
This water is drained, and the beans are soaked in coffee oils — oils extracted from used coffee grounds.
The bean/oil mixture is heated to a high temperature for many hours. During this time, the triglycerides in oils remove the caffeine from the beans.
The beans are removed from the oil mixture and are dried. They are now decaffeinated and ready to use.
The now caffeine-rich oil is treated to remove caffeine, as it is ready to be used again in the process.
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The Carbon Dioxide Process
In the Carbon Dioxide Process, green coffee beans are first steamed.
They are then combined with supercritical Carbon Dioxide — a state of CO2 between a liquid and a gas — in a high-pressure, high-temperature container.
The CO2 removes the caffeine from the beans. The CO2 is then treated with water to remove the caffeine, and it is used in the process again.
Is Decaffeinated Coffee Better For You?
It depends. Caffeine can cause anxiety, lack of sleep, higher blood pressure, urinary/gastrointestinal problems, jitters, and dehydration in some people. Also, caffeine is known to harm those pregnant or breastfeeding.
If this is the case, consuming decaffeinated coffee may be better for you than regular coffee.
It is best to know your reaction to caffeine and consult with your physician.
Is Decaffeinated Coffee Really Caffeine-Free?
Decaffeinated coffee is not really caffeine-free per se, but it does come pretty close. Most decaffeinated coffees in the United States are 97 percent caffeine-free. In Europe, decaffeinated coffees are closer to 99 percent caffeine-free.
The Swiss Water Process claims to have 99.9% of the caffeine removed.
If you have found that you are sensitive to caffeine, this can still have adverse effects on your body. Make sure you know your body can cope and has a tolerance to caffeine, even when drinking decaffeinated coffees.
Is Decaffeinated Coffee A Stimulant?
In general, it is not. Though if you are sensitive to caffeine, however, you may experience the effects of a stimulant. Be sure to check with your medical physician if necessary and if this is the case.
Are The Chemicals Used To Decaffeinate Coffee Harmful?
The CO2 and Swiss Water processes are not considered harmful. However, dichloromethane has been known to cause respiratory problems (coughing, wheezing) and more severe health issues (shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting) in large amounts.
Similarly, artificially-produced ethyl acetate can cause some health problems in large amounts. For the most part, though, these chemicals are used in trace amounts in decaffeinated coffee and are considered not harmful to most people.
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Coffee is decaffeinated in a variety of methods, with most methods removing most or near all caffeine. In all, decaffeinated coffees offer a convenient alternative to those who love the taste of coffee, but not caffeine effects.
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