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How is Decaf Coffee Made?

There are many reasons why people drink decaffeinated coffee. One major benefit is that the antioxidant benefits in decaffeinated coffee beans are almost exactly the same as in regular coffee after the decaffeinating process. Another benefit is being able to enjoy a tasty warm beverage without worrying about staying up all night or aggravating some anxiety.

As such, this non-caffeinated alternative is preferred by others who experience adverse effects from caffeine, including restlessness, anxiety, heart arrhythmia, or digestive disorders. For others, caffeine disturbs their sleep or their medications don't allow the consumption of caffeine-containing foods.

Despite the fact that decaffeinated coffee is generally less caffeinated, the FDA does not regulate the amount of caffeine it contains. It is typically considered acceptable by the FDA for anything labelled as decaffeinated coffee to have at least 97% of the caffeine removed. Regardless of what the FDA “prefers”, caffeine levels can range from 2mg to 13mg in decaf coffee.

But let’s get to the question on everyone’s mind: How is decaffeinated coffee actually made?

 Here are some of the most popular processes for decaffeinating green coffee beans.

 1. Direct Solvent Decaffeination

 One of the oldest methods of decaffeination, this process released the first decaffeinated coffee bean batches in the early 1900s.

 Steaming causes the pores of green coffee beans to open, and as soon as they are opened they're then soaked in a solvent. Previously, the solvent used was benzene. But it was eventually found to be carcinogenic. Today, either methylene chloride or ethyl acetate is used.

 As the solvent combines with the caffeine from the beans, some of the flavour compounds also are absorbed, which is sometimes why decaf coffee seems to be “weaker” when brewed.

 Decaffeinated beans are then steamed, dried, and roasted to remove any remaining solvents.

 2. Indirect Solvent Decaffeination

 A similar process is employed, where a solvent is used to decaffeinate green coffee beans. Surely you’ve come to the conclusion that, as opposed to the “direct solvent decaffeination”, this method does not use the solvent in direct contact with the beans.

 The green coffee beans are soaked in hot water instead of being steamed; this is where the caffeine (and some flavor compounds) dissolve. The solvent is added to the extracted water after removing the beans, which absorbs the caffeine and some flavor compounds.

 In this phase, water and solvent are separated. The green coffee beans need to be added back to this dissolved water for reabsorption of lost flavor compounds, but as you can imagine, some flavor does escape entirely.

 They are then dried and roasted after being removed from the water.

 3. Carbon Dioxide

 With this process, unroasted beans are soaked in liquid carbon dioxide. This liquid carbon dioxide is created by high pressure and cool temperatures. No heat is needed during the process.

 A green coffee bean is soaked first in water. After that, the beans are moved into an extraction chamber where liquid carbon dioxide is pumped in at high pressure. This step occurs after the carbon dioxide is added to the coffee beans to remove the caffeine, but leaves the flavor compounds behind. This method is effective for retaining more flavor than the solvent methods, but it is also more expensive due to the nature of the compounds used. 

 Carbon dioxide solution with caffeine is transferred to an absorption chamber. An absorption chamber gives off pressure and turns carbon dioxide into gas. As the carbon dioxide changes, it leaves behind the caffeine. A pressurized container is then used to store the carbon dioxide, which is reused in liquid form again for future decaffeinations.

 4. Water Processing

 This is the method we use for our decaffeination process. Organic or high-end coffee beans usually ought to go through this decaffeination process since there are no chemicals used in the process.

 With Water Processing, coffee beans are soaked in hot water in order to break down caffeine and flavor compounds. A similar method to solvent decaffeination is also used to extract caffeine from the new solution. Water Processing, in contrast, uses activated carbon filters to carry out the extraction without the use of a solvent.

 Caffeine molecules are removed from the solution by these carbon filters, leaving the flavor compounds in the water.

 Then the new solution is added to a fresh batch of green coffee beans; the original batch has been discarded. Since the solution has flavor compounds, it will not affect the flavor of the new green coffee beans. It is recommended to use this solution on beans of similar flavor to avoid cross-contamination.

 In essence, the water process uses green coffee extract (GCE), which is created by removing the caffeine from a separate batch of green beans and discarding them. Carbon filters shaped to only remove caffeine molecules from the GCE are then used to filter the GCE, after which it will be reintroduced to a batch of green beans.

 You may wonder why GCE is added to caffeinated beans; well, this GCE helps the coffee remain as flavorful as possible during decaffeination. Afterwards, the new batch of beans goes through the same process, but the GCE is still packed with flavor (but without caffeine), so you are left with a decaf coffee that is rich in flavor, without using any chemicals.

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 Decaffeinated coffees not only have less caffeine, but they also have less acidity. Some believe that part of the coffee’s nutritional benefits is removed; however, it’s been proven that decaf coffee contains just as many antioxidants as its caffeinated counterpart. In the long run, since you won't have to deal with the potentially negative effects caffeine can bring, you may not mind sacrificing a few taste molecules. You can find our decaf coffee in our online store as well as different brewing methods to brew it with.

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