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Decaf - What Is It? How Is It Made? Where Can You Get It?

Regular or decaf? Most people choose regular - with caffeine - to jumpstart their day, keep them going in the afternoon, or possibly for a long night. But sometimes, for one reason or another, you might need to try decaf.   decaf coffee  

What Is decaf?

All coffee has caffeine. There is not a naturally occurring coffee that has no caffeine. And to be clear, decaffeinated coffee is not free from caffeine. Decaf coffee is made with regular, caffeinated coffee beans that have been processed to remove a significant amount of caffeine.  

How much caffeine does decaf have?

Decaffeinated coffee, on average, has 1/40th of the amount of caffeine as regular coffee. But what does this mean? The amount of caffeine in regular coffee is variable depending on the bean. Caffeine content can range from 95 to 200 milligrams per 8-ounce cup. Decaffeinate coffee has a range of 2 to 12 milligrams per 8-ounce cup.   The lighter the roast, the more caffeine in the coffee. As coffee is roasted, it loses caffeine. So if you are looking for a higher caffeine content, choose a lighter roast. Subsequently, if you are looking for a lower caffeine content, choose a darker roast.  

Where did decaf coffee come from?

Let’s start with how decaffeinated coffee was discovered. In 1903, a German merchant named Roselius received a shipment of coffee that had been submerged in salt water. He found that the caffeine content had been lowered but the flavor was essentially unchanged.   By 1906, Roselius had developed a method, known as the direct method, to remove caffeine from coffee beans by first steaming them with various solutions then using benzene to remove the caffeine. This coffee was marketed in the United States as Sanka. It was then found that benzene was harmful and was replaced with either dichloromethane or ethyl acetate.  

How is coffee decaffeinated?

This brings us to how coffee is decaffeinated today. Like was mentioned above, there is no naturally occurring coffee that is free from caffeine. Therefore, coffee needs to be processed to remove the caffeine. But how?   The decaffeination process is done prior to the coffee being roasted. The green beans are washed in one of three ways to remove the caffeine.  

Direct Method

Roselius’ method is still widely used today. Green coffee is decaffeinated by washing green whole beans with a solution which pulls the caffeine out. Today, they still use the solvents dichloromethane or ethyl acetate to remove the caffeine. These solvents are completely removed from the coffee as well.  

Indirect Method

In this method, the coffee is soaked in water to remove the caffeine. The beans are then taken from the water and the water is “washed” with the dichloromethane or ethyl acetate which removed the caffeine from the water. The same water is then used to remove caffeine from another batch of beans. This process is also sometimes called “water processed”. That should not be confused with water processing of the fruit of the coffee beans.  

Supercritical CO2 Method

In this process, the coffee beans are steamed and then placed into a highly pressurized container with water and CO2. The caffeine is then removed by the CO2, which does not affect the flavor within the beans. The CO2 is then “washed” with more water to remove the caffeine and is reused to remove caffeine from subsequent batches of coffee.  

Swiss Water Method

This one sounds similar to those experiments we did in middle school where we had two solutions with different levels of, say salt. The solutions would eventually equalize with the salt moving from one solution to the other.   In this method, a Green Coffee Extract (GCE) is used to wash the green coffee beans. This extract has all the elements found in the beans with the exception of caffeine. By osmosis, the caffeine in the beans moves into the GCE. The GCE is run through a charcoal process to remove the caffeine and is reused again and again until the coffee meets the required minimum caffeine content.  

Is decaf coffee safe?

The short answer, yes, decaffeinated coffee is safe. The solvents used to remove caffeine are also removed from the coffee during the decaffeination process and any potential residue would be removed during roasting. If the direct, indirect, or supercritical CO2 methods concern you, look for coffee decaffeinated by the Swiss Water method.  

Does decaf coffee provide the same benefits?

Again, yes, decaf coffee does provide the same benefits as regular coffee. The only compounds that are removed during decaffeination are the caffeine molecules. The antioxidants and other nutrients that are found to be beneficial in regular coffee are all present in decaf coffee. So, if you are simply wanting to cut back on caffeine and are still looking forward to the benefits of drinking your coffee, you can!  

Where can you get decaf coffee?

Well, CoffeeAM of course! In addition to all of our over 125 flavored coffees, all available in both regular and decaf, we have single-origins, organic, blends, and espresso in decaf options.   Now you can enjoy that delicious coffee taste without the effects of caffeine!
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