People all over the world choose to start their day with a cup of hot coffee. And one of the main reasons for that is the boost of energy and mood it can provide.
The main substance responsible for the stimulating effects of coffee is caffeine.
But coffee also provides other benefits besides the energy boost. If you want to enjoy a delicious cup of coffee late in the afternoon without losing any sleep, you are pregnant, or sensitive to caffeine, decaf can be a suitable choice.
How is decaf coffee made, does it taste different, and does it have more or fewer benefits than regular coffee? Read this article to learn everything you need to know about decaffeinated coffee.
Caffeine is a natural alkaloid responsible for the stimulating effects of coffee and also for its bitterness.
It occurs in coffee naturally, and it is originally there as a defence against insects. This is why robusta coffee beans contain higher levels of caffeine since they are grown at lower altitudes where more insects are present.
Caffeine has plenty of benefits including improving focus, providing a mood boost, enhancing athletic performance and increasing metabolism. These stimulating effects are the most common reason people drink coffee.
The caffeine content in your cup depends on the brewing process as well as the type of coffee. A typical cup of brewed coffee contains around 95mg of caffeine and a double espresso shot contains around 120mg of caffeine.
What is Decaffeinated Coffee?
Decaffeinated coffee comes from the same coffee beans and it differs from regular coffee in a way that 97% of its caffeine content has been removed.
Since caffeine is a water-soluble substance, it can be removed through a process that involves water and some other chemicals or solvents, depending on the decaffeinating method.
By removing the caffeine, decaf coffee can also lose some of its flavors and aroma, resulting in a coffee with a milder taste and less bitterness and acidity.
Coffee using decaffeinated beans can be prepared and enjoyed exactly the same way as regular coffee, only without the stimulating effects of caffeine, making it an ideal beverage to be consumed late in the afternoon or by people who are sensitive to caffeine.
How Do They Make Decaf Coffee?
The decaffeination process starts with regular coffee beans and removes the caffeine from them before they are roasted. The process is typically aided by the use of chemicals that help to strip the caffeine from the beans.
The green coffee beans are typically washed in a solvent where the caffeine is extracted. The beans are then roasted and ground as normal afterwards.
This process can slightly alter the flavor of coffee and typically has a milder taste. In the past, cheap decaf coffee beans were associated with an inferior taste, where the bad reputation of decaf coffee comes from.
Today, the decaffeination process has developed significantly and some processes promise little to no alteration in the flavor of the beans.
Who Invented Decaf Coffee?
The first method of decaffeinating coffee beans was invented by Ludwig Roselius in 1905 in Germany, whose father, according to the records, died due to excessive drinking of coffee.
The first method invented by Roselius involved steaming coffee in a brine solution and benzene to extract the caffeine from the beans.
Since nowadays, benzene is considered carcinogenic and potentially toxic, this method, although it hasn’t harmed anyone, is considered unsafe and no longer used.
Decaffeinated Coffee Beans: Process
How do they make decaf coffee today? Here are the three most commonly used methods:
1. The Chemical Solvent Decaffeination
The most popular decaffeination process uses chemical solvents methylene chloride and ethyl acetate and water to strip the caffeine from the beans.
These chemicals are used at very low levels and considered food safe as well as posing minimal risk, with ethyl acetate naturally occurring in fruit.
During the process, the solvent is circulated through the green coffee beans, then recaptured when the beans are washed with water. After removing the chemicals, beans are steamed again several times until they reach a desired level of caffeine.
This most widely used method removes 97% of the caffeine but also takes away from the flavours from the beans, resulting in a slightly milder coffee taste.
2. Swiss Water Decaffeination
This decaffeination process was discovered in Switzerland in the 1930s and it is a natural method that uses no chemicals.
The process involves boiling the green coffee beans in hot water until the caffeine binds to the water and is then filtered through charcoal carbon filters to remove caffeine. The water that contains the flavors from the beans is then readded back to the beans.
This innovative process limits the extraction of the coffee’s flavor and oils and promises minimal change in taste.
This method is also more effective, removing around 99% of the caffeine from the beans and is popular among specialty coffee roasters and cafes.
3. Carbon Dioxide Decaffeination
The carbon dioxide decaffeination method is the most recent of the three and was invented in Germany in 1970 by Kurt Zosel.
The process involves soaking the green beans in highly compressed Carbon Dioxide for 10 hours to extract the caffeine from the beans, which is then removed from CO2 by activated carbon filters.
This method retains most of the coffee’s flavor for the whole process, differing from the Swiss Water method when the flavor is extracted and put back in after the decaffeination.
Decaffeinated coffee, CO2 method contains around 95 to 99% less caffeine.
How To Make Decaf Coffee At Home?
While the decaffeination methods have developed and it is no longer true that decaf coffee always has an inferior taste, it can still be hard to find good quality decaf coffee in a regular store.
Besides, not everyone drinks decaf coffee regularly to make investing in a bag of decaffeinated beans worthwhile.
That’s why you might be wondering how do you make decaf coffee at home from regular coffee beans?
The simple trick that allows you to make your own decaf coffee is to pour hot water in your French Press, just enough to cover the beans, let it sit for a while and pour out.
Because caffeine is soluble in water, most of it will be released during the initial extraction. And then when you add more hot water over the beans, your coffee will contain significantly less caffeine.
While this is an innovative and easy trick you can try at home, bear in mind that together with caffeine, most of the flavors and aromas are highly soluble in water and extracted during the initial extraction too.
That’s why by getting rid of the caffeine, you’ll be removing most of coffee’s flavor as well, resulting in an inferior taste.
Does Decaf Coffee Have No Caffeine?
While a cup of coffee doesn’t contain zero caffeine, it is significantly less than a regular cup of joe.
Depending on the coffee and the type of decaffeination process used, a cup of decaf coffee can contain around 1-7mg of caffeine, 3mg on average.
Although decaf coffee still contains some caffeine, when compared with a cup of regular brewed coffee which contains around 95mg of caffeine, the values are significantly lower.
Benefits of Decaf Coffee
If decaf coffee is stripped of all its stimulating effects, are there any other benefits that remain?
Besides taste and caffeine, there are plenty of other reasons to drink coffee.
Coffee is high in antioxidants, especially hydrocinnamic acids and polyphenols, which are effective in fighting free radicals and reducing oxidative damage.
Coffee also contains small amounts of nutrients, such as Magnesium, Potassium, Niacin and Vitamin B3, and has been proven to reduce aging, help to prevent neurodegenerative diseases, reduce the risk of diabetes, and improve liver function.
While the levels of these nutrients could be 15% lower in decaf coffee, most of them are retained and still provide the same benefits.
Regular Coffee Vs Decaf
When it comes to regular coffee, apart from the benefits mentioned above, caffeine can provide further benefits.
This stimulant is known for reducing the feelings of tiredness and fatigue, as well as improving mood, mental function, athletic performance, metabolic fat burning, and reducing the risk of depression and anxiety.
Decaf coffee is also notoriously difficult to roast since the unroasted decaffeinated beans are brown in colour, contain less moisture, roast faster, and respond inconsistently to heat. This is the reason why good-tasting decaf coffee can be hard to come by.
When To Drink Decaf?
While moderate caffeine consumption doesn’t have any negative effects on the body and consuming less than 400mg is considered completely safe for most adults, some people can be more sensitive to caffeine and experience negative effects in smaller amounts.
The increased consumption of caffeine can cause high blood pressure, disrupted sleep, a higher risk of heart diseases and can cause restlessness and anxiety.
If you observe any of these effects, switching some or all of your cups of coffee for its decaf alternative is a good idea.
When trying to reduce your daily caffeine intake, don’t forget to consider other sources of caffeine, such as tea, soda, energy drinks, chocolate, or sports drinks that boost performance that can contain up to 200mg of caffeine.
To Decaf Or Not To Decaf?
Drinking coffee is healthy, provides nutrients, antioxidants and the caffeine consumption associated with it is safe in moderation.
However, if you’re sensitive to caffeine or want to enjoy a cup of coffee at night without disrupting your sleep, decaffeinated coffee is a better choice.
The decaffeination processes today are very advanced and retain most of the coffee’s flavors, benefits while reducing the caffeine content by 97%.