Caffeine Versus No Caffeine: What’s the Difference?
There are some arguable health benefits to avoiding the addictive caffeine that occurs naturally in coffee beans, hence the popularity of decaffeinated coffee. Note that “decaffeinated” doesn’t mean that the beans and brew are caffeine-free. That’s because even the most thorough decaffeination process always leaves behind some trace amount of caffeine in the beans. So, what exactly occurs during the decaffeination process, and what happens to those beans? The Basic Method There are four main ways to decaffeinate coffee beans, and there are a couple of factors that they all have in common. The process always involves green, unroasted beans, and it always involves water. Water’s basic properties make it excellent at extracting caffeine, but it also removes other substances as well. Water can alter or destroy the bean’s flavor. For that reason, the water always needs a little help. People either draw decaffeination into a long process with some discarded beans, or they use chemical solvents that help the coffee flavors stay in the bean while the water extracts the caffeine. Four Processes The Swiss water process doesn’t use solvents, and soaks the flavors and caffeine out of a batch of beans which are then discarded. The flavor-saturated water runs through a filter to strip out the caffeine, then this same water goes through again to remove the caffeine from another batch of beans while maintaining its flavor saturation. That way, the beans keep their flavor due to coffee-flavored water. After 8 to 10 hours, the beans are 99.9% free of caffeine. Another decaffeination process that does not involve chemical solvents other than water is the CO2 method. This involves subjecting water-soaked coffee beans to high-pressure carbon dioxide, and that gas removes the caffeine. This process doesn’t involve any other potentially harmful substances, but it’s expensive. The CO2 method pretty much only happens with companies that make large quantities of supermarket-quality coffee. The other two processes involve either direct or indirect application of specific chemical solvents added to water. It’s important to note that coffee companies use these chemicals at very low concentrations. Health agencies rate these substances as safe for human consumption, and they are almost always vaporized long before or during the roasting process. The important thing is that chemical solvents in low concentrations remove caffeine without extracting the other qualities of the coffee. The effects of any of these processes are such that it causes the unroasted green coffee beans to actually turn somewhat unevenly brown before they are even roasted. It also causes them to roast even faster once that process begins. That makes it more difficult for the coffee drinker to find a well-roasted brand of decaffeinated coffee that they like. The perceived or actual health benefits of decaffeinated coffee may make it well worth the effort, of course, so people can enjoy their favorite beverage in any way they like. See what kinds of decaf we have for you today!