Coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the world. It’s used by many as an energy booster to get their day doing and it’s very clear why it works.
The secret ingredient is caffeine. Caffeine stimulates your nervous system so it keeps you alert during the day.
Since caffeine is a stimulant, some people, mostly due to health reasons are advised to limit their caffeine intake.
Caffeine does have some health benefits so it’s not all bad but like other chemicals in the body, too much is usually a bad sign.
Decaf (decaffeinated) coffee is a good way to continue enjoying your coffee drink without accumulating more of the caffeine in your system.
Coffee normally has caffeine so decaffeination involves a process. Let’s see how it works:
How To Decaffeinate Coffee
Ludwig Roselius was the first to document a process used to decaffeinate coffee and he called his discovery the “Roselius Process.”
His process involved steaming coffee with water and the organic compound benzene which served as the solvent that eliminated caffeine.
Benzene has since been discovered to be carcinogenic so this method is no longer used. Modifications of this method though do exist and they include:
1. The Carbon Dioxide Process
It’s the most recent decaffeination method. Liquid carbon dioxide (CO2) is used in place of benzene here and dissolves the caffeine.
The process begins with coffee beans soaked in water placed in a pot called the extraction vessel.
The container is made airtight and liquid CO2 forced into the coffee at high pressures and this separates the caffeine from the coffee beans.
The caffeine-CO2 complex then gets transferred into an absorption container. Pressure is released and this destabilizes the complex so CO2 is converted back into gas and the caffeine is left behind.
Free carbon dioxide can then be liquefied and pumped again to extract more caffeine.
2. The Swiss Water Process
It’s called the Swiss water process because chemicals aren’t used in decaffeination. It’s mainly used for organic coffee decaffeination.
Organic coffee is coffee beans that are grown with little chemical influence, natural agricultural practices like crop rotation and biological weeding are employed.
Osmosis and solubility are used to extract the caffeine. Coffee beans are initially placed in hot water to remove the caffeine.
An activated charcoal filter is then used to trap the larger caffeine molecules. The filter creates two important tanks, one with caffeine-free flavor-rich water and the other with caffeine-free no flavor beans.
This is where osmosis sets in. Osmosis is the movement of a solvent (the liquid caffeine here) from a less concentrated solution to a more concentrated one.
The flavor-rich water serves as a concentrated solution so flavor doesn’t escape from the next set of coffee beans, only the caffeine is extracted.
Everyone loves an environmentally-friendly approach and that’s what the Swiss Water Process is about.
3. The Direct-Solvent Based Process
In this process, coffee beans are heated for about 30 minutes to open their pores.
The pores enable them to receive a liquid so methylene chloride is passed through them for around 10 hours to decaffeinate the beans.
Methylene chloride used is now dissolved with caffeine so it’s poured away. The coffee beans are then heated again to remove any other solvent left.
4. The Indirect-Solvent Based Process
Methylene chloride is also used in this process and it’s called the European Method because it’s very popular in that region.
Coffee beans are heated for a few hours to extract the caffeine, its oils, and flavors. The water used is then transferred into a separate tank from the coffee beans.
The coffee beans are then dissolved with methylene chloride to extract the caffeine and the decaffeinated beans are passed through the hot water to regain its oils and flavors.
Is There A Difference In Taste?
Getting decaf coffee doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice taste but decaffeinated coffee is just not the same.
Even the most effective decaffeination techniques will extract some flavors and oils from the coffee beans.
This doesn’t mean you can’t get decaf coffee with a rich taste.
All you’ll have to do is get coffee beans that are stronger than the ones you’ll normally use so after decaffeination, the flavors that have been lost will help make it similar to the ones you enjoy.
Can You Get 100% Caffeine-Free Coffee?
Decaffeinated coffee doesn’t mean coffee that’s completely without caffeine so it’s common to see 95% or 99% variants.
Decaf coffee helps you significantly reduce your caffeine intake if it’s one of your largest sources but it doesn’t eliminate your caffeine intake.
Decaf coffee is not just another fancy word coffee aficionados placed in the coffee glossary, it does have some health benefits. Let’s look at some of them:
Health Benefits Of Decaf Coffee
1. It Contains Antioxidants
Antioxidants in the body serve as scavengers of compounds called free radicals. Free radicals are produced during injury to your cells and they play a role in cell death so you need antioxidants to counter their effects.
Chlorogenic acid is a common antioxidant found in decaf coffee and it helps prevent heart failure and other heart diseases, cancer and type 2 diabetes.
2. It Prevents Neurodegenerative Diseases
Research has suggested that decaf coffee is linked with a reduced risk of neurodegenerative diseases.
Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are two common neurodegenerative diseases. Incidence increases with age and taking in decaf coffee helps provide long-term protective effects.
Who Should Take More Of Decaf Coffee?
Excess caffeine can overwhelm the central nervous system so you can be restless or develop sleeping problems.
This means you should try staying away from that much caffeine when you require some amount of rest like before an examination.
Some people are very sensitive to caffeine or may develop a medical condition that makes them caffeine-sensitive, decaf coffee will work for you if you have this kind of condition.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women have to limit their caffeine intake to avoid anxiety disorders and other side effects of caffeine on the nervous system.
Decaf coffee is usually dark roasted coffee but that doesn’t mean you can’t get decaf coffee with lightly roasted coffee beans, you’ll just need to search a little longer.