Are you a coffee lover but have been unable to enjoy your favorite beverage lately because you are watching your caffeine intake?
Whatever the reason for limiting your caffeine intake is, it shouldn’t stop you from enjoying your morning cup of Joe, especially now that we have the decaf version available.
But, before you start gulping down mugs of decaf coffee, make sure you know what it offers to determine if it is worth making the move.
Keep reading to get all the essential information about the infamously famous decaf coffee that is often looked down upon by coffee snobs.
What Is Decaf Coffee?
As the name suggests, decaf or decaffeinated coffee doesn’t contain caffeine. However, as they say, names can be misleading, decaf coffee isn’t entirely caffeine-free.
In most cases, even after undergoing the decaffeination process, the coffee beans retain about 2% to 3% of caffeine.
While this isn’t a significant amount, it is worth mentioning to make sure that people who are caffeine- sensitive do not consume decaf coffee by mistaking it as completely caffeine-free.
How is Coffee Decaffeinated?
There are several ways to remove caffeine from coffee beans. But, only four are commonly used today. The four methods of decaffeinating coffee beans can be grouped into two general categories:
Important: Regardless of the method used, coffee beans are always decaffeinated before being roasted; in their green state.
1. Non-Solvent Based Processes
As evident from the name, the non-solvent based processes do not involve the use of a chemical solvent for the removal of caffeine from coffee beans. There are two main types of non-solved decaffeination processes:
· The Swiss Water Process
Known as a completely chemical-free process of decaffeinating coffee beans, the Swiss Water Process, also known as SWP in short, has been around since the early 1930s. But, it wasn’t introduced into the commercial coffee industry until 1988.
Based on the natural phenomena of osmosis and solubility, the Swiss Water Process involves soaking the coffee beans in hot water. Water, being a natural solvent, absorbs caffeine from the beans. The caffeinated water is then passed through a filter containing activated charcoal that catches the large caffeine molecules, but lets the smaller ones pass through it. This filtered water is called ‘flavor charged’ water or ‘green coffee extract’.
But, here comes the twist – the decaffeinated beans in the first process are discarded because they are not only free of caffeine but also flavorless.
The ‘flavor-charged’ water is then used to soak another batch of green coffee beans. Since this water is already saturated, it only absorbs caffeine from the new batch of beans and leaves the flavor intact.
This is how you get the famous Swiss Water Decaf. This process of decaffeination is considered the most effective of all as it removes about 99.9% of caffeine from coffee beans. It is also environment-friendly.
· Carbon Dioxide Process
This is the strongest decaffeination method and is widely used all over the world for its effectiveness. The process only removes caffeine from coffee beans and does not affect the flavor.
As clear from the name, the process involves using carbon dioxide. It starts with placing the soaked beans in a specialized container, known as the extraction vessel. The vessel is sealed and then liquid CO2 is inserted into it at a high pressure of 1,000 pounds per square inch. This is what causes the extraction of caffeine.
Once the process is complete, the liquid CO2 (laden with caffeine) is transferred to a different container where its pressure is released, allowing it to return to its original gaseous state. The gas is then reused for decaffeinating another batch of coffee beans.
Due to its cost-effectiveness, this decaffeination process is mainly used for commercial-grade decaf coffee that is commonly available in grocery stores.
2. Solvent-Based Processes
Solvent-based decaffeination processes are the ones that involve the use of a chemical solvent for removing caffeine from coffee beans. They can be further divided into the following two types:
· Direct-Solvent Process
This process involves the direct application of a solvent on coffee beans. It is typically performed by first steaming coffee beans for about half an hour and then rinsing them, repeatedly, with a solvent for about 10 hours. The caffeine-free beans are then steamed again to remove any traces of solvent from them.
Ethyl acetate and methylene chloride are the most commonly used solvents in this process.
· Indirect-Solvent Process
Widely used in Europe, this process of decaffeinating coffee beans begins with soaking coffee beans in boiling water for a few hours.
The beans are then separated and washed with a solvent for about 10 hours. The beans, along with the solvent, are then heated until the solvent evaporates, along with the caffeine.
Lastly, the beans are soaked again in the water separated in the first step to allow them to reabsorb coffee oils and flavors from the water.
Commonly known as the European Method, this process primarily uses methylene chloride as the solvent.
Is Decaf Coffee Better than Regular Coffee?
Decaf coffee has traditionally got a bad rap because it doesn’t give the ‘pick me up’ you get from a regular cup of coffee. A large number of coffee lovers also say it is nowhere close to regular coffee in terms of taste as well. Ask a coffee aficionado to describe the taste of decaf coffee and you are most likely to hear words like lousy, chalky, or gross.
Then why has there has been an increase (gradual though) in the consumption of decaf coffee?
According to the 2017 report of the National Coffee Association, 68% of consumers surveyed between the ages of 25 to 39 years, said it was important for them to limit their caffeine intake. The report further stated that millennials are leading the decaf coffee consumption in the United States – people between the ages of 18 and 24 are responsible for 19% sales or consumption of decaf coffee in the country.
The Guardian had also reported an increase in decaf coffee sales in the UK, in April 2019. According to an article published on the newspaper’s website, the sales of instant decaf coffee have increased by 20% within two years.
In another research report published by Coffee & Cocoa International, it was reported that the consumption of decaf coffee is outgrowing its caffeinated counterpart in many countries. These include South Korea, Japan, Northern Europe, and North America. The report further stated that the trend is more popular among younger people.
But, why are people, especially the young generation, giving up on caffeinated coffee when it doesn’t provide them the caffeine boost they need and doesn’t even offer the same taste?
While there are many factors contributing to the changing trend, increasing health awareness and concerns are one of the most important. For the young generation, being healthy isn’t only about not being ‘sick’. They have a holistic approach towards health and hence, give huge importance to eating clean.
Although regular coffee, due to the presence of caffeine, gives you a quick boost, increases alertness and improves brain function, concentration, and problem-solving skills, all these effects are temporary. To add to this, caffeine also has its fair share of downsides. It has been known to increase anxiety levels and depression and causing sleeping issues, heartburn, and ulcers over time. The energy-boosting compound can also inhibit the absorption of nutrition from other foods in the body. Not to mention, the dreaded caffeine crash (3 p.m. crash, we are looking at you!)
Decaffeinated coffee, on the other hand, doesn’t give that pick me up, but it can help coffee addicts satisfy their cravings without putting their health at risk or experiencing the unwanted caffeine jitters.
Decaf is also a great option for pregnant women, as they are often recommended by healthcare experts to limit their caffeine intake.
Wondering what it tastes like? Due to increasing demands, manufacturers have come up with better varieties of decaf coffee. Many decaf coffee makers now claim that even a true coffee aficionado will not be able to tell the difference between their decaf varieties and regular coffee. Are they true in their claims? You won’t know until you try them out.
Try out a decaf coffee and let us know if you could tell the difference or not!