Did You Know?
Did you know that decaffeinated coffee is not grown, it is made? All coffee has caffeine in it when it is growing. If you want decaf coffee, you have to remove the caffeine from the coffee after you pick it. To do that, you can send the coffee through one of a few different processes.
All of the decaffeination processes use water at some point, because caffeine is water-soluble. The trick is to figure out a way to remove the caffeine without removing any of the components in coffee that make it taste great. Some of those components are also water-soluble, so these various methods all have ways of washing away the caffeine without washing away the water. There is no process yet that makes coffee 100% caffeine free, but all of these processes below are know to remove 96-99% of the caffeine in the beans.
One of the most common methods of decaffeinating coffee is through a solvent-based process. There are two different types of solvents that can be used to decaffeinate coffee, and neither of them are detrimental to heath, according to the FDA. In fact, one of the solvents is naturally found in many fruits! Solvent-based processes can either be direct or indirect. For the direct process, the beans are steamed, and then rinsed in the compound (usually the natural solvent ethyl acetate) for up to 10 hours, which draws out the caffeine. Then, the beans are steamed again for an additional 10 hours to remove residual caffeine and solvent. Because it mostly uses ethyl acetate, which is naturally found in many fruits, this method is often called the Natural Decaffeination Method. In the indirect process, the beans are soaked in very hot water for several hours to draw out the caffeine and all the oils and flavors from the beans. The beans are then removed, and a solvent (typically Methylene Chloride) is introduced. The solvent bonds with the caffeine but not the other compounds of the coffee. Then, the caffeine and solvent are evaporated out of the mixture, and the coffee is reintroduced to the water to reabsorb all the oils and flavors. This process is mostly used in Europe and is thus often referred to as the European Method.
The next process is the Swiss Water process, in which the beans are soaked in a green coffee extract, which consists of water saturated with desirable coffee oils. After 8-10 hours, the beans emerge mostly caffeine free, while still maintaining the oils essential to their flavors. The Swiss Water process is very environmentally friendly and is used mostly to decaffeinate organic coffees because it is entirely natural.
The last decaffeination process is the Carbon Dioxide process, which is the most recently developed of all the processes. This process uses liquid carbon dioxide as a ‘solvent,’ instead of a chemical solvent. Soaked coffee beans are put in a sealed vessel and then the liquid carbon dioxide is introduced to the coffee at high pressures. The liquid carbon dioxide reacts only with the caffeine in coffee and not with any of the other components, so only the caffeine is extracted. The caffeine heavy carbon dioxide is then moved to a different container, and once it is unsealed, the carbon dioxide vaporizes, separating from the caffeine. The caffeine can then be discarded, and the carbon dioxide can be reused.
Amazing how much work you have to go through just to get a cup of decaf, isn’t it? Little River sells coffee that has been decaffeinated by both the Natural Solvent Method and the Swiss Water Process. We’d love for you to check out all of our decaf coffees in our shop. Now that you know how they all work, maybe you’ll want to check out a specific one, or try them both and see if you can taste a difference! Let us know if you do!Posted in Coffee Perspective