The methods of decaffeinating coffee

For many, caffeine is the very reason they begin drinking coffee. Soon after, whether it’s the caffeine rush or the rich, robust aroma and feeling of warmth and comfort coffee can bring, we get hooked on this strong brew. For some, the caffeine causes problems, either physiologically or medically. However, they just aren’t willing to give up that rich brew.

In response to those who still want their cup of coffee or three during the day but can’t stand the caffeine, the coffee manufacturers who purchase the imported beans can now process the beans to remove the majority of the caffeine from the beans.

Decaffeinating coffee can be done several different ways, both naturally and chemically. Let’s look at a few of the caffeine extraction processes for decaffeinating beans.

Decaffeination with solvents

The solvent decaffeination was once the most widely used and the cheapest method by which to decaffeinate coffee beans. The method consists of soaking the beans or passing the beans through a chemical solvent that extracts the caffeine from the beans. The biggest downside to this is that some solvents used in the past have been shown in large amounts to be carcinogens. As such, it’s important to remove any and all solvent residue from the beans.

Another problem with the decaffeination with solvents method for coffee, is that the solvents often strip the flavor from the coffee as well. Because of this, the flavor has to be somehow infused back into the beans. This is done through a special boiling process, using the water that was mixed with the solvent before the solvent was stripped from the top of the water.

Most people who have tried solvent decaffeinated coffee will likely report that the flavor of the decaf coffee is a little more bitter and not nearly as robust as regular coffee.

Decaffeination with the carbon dioxide (CO2)

This method of coffee decaffeination is performed by using compressed carbon dioxide to bind with the caffeine and then it’s flushed out of the bean. This is called the natural decaffeination process, because no chemicals come in contact with the beans, and the natural flavor of the bean is left in tact.

Unfortunately, it is also the most expensive method of decaffeinating coffee beans, so it is not commonly used for most major mass produced brands of coffee.

Alternate coffee decaffeination processes

There are other methods of decaffeination used, but the two mention above are by far the most commonly used methods. Other methods of decaffeination include:

Swiss Water Coffee Bean Decaffeination Process
Alternate Solvent Decaffeination Process
Low-Caffeine Grown Coffee Beans (Still a work in progress)

Decaffeinated coffee flavor woes

The amount of caffeine that is in coffee is different than a caffeine added to other drinks, such as sodas, even if the amount were identical. Coffee beans have natural caffeine in them, as part of the growing process and the caffeine has to be removed. When this happens, flavor of the coffee and the roast of the coffee is compromised in the process.

To reduce the flavor problems and still lower caffeine, an avid coffee drinking should look for naturally decaffeinated coffee (the CO2 processed decaffeinated coffee) and use a blend of regular coffee mixed with the decaffeinated coffee and adjust the levels until becoming accustomed to the flavor of the lower caffeine coffee.

Also, breakfast blend coffees tend to have higher natural caffeine content while the more roasted blends naturally have a stronger flavor but lower caffeine content.