Many coffee lovers have experienced the effects of having too much of this popular beverage. If you overdo it with caffeine, you might experience the jitters, which can include a racing heartbeat, shaking hands, and anxiety - all common things that people experience if they over-caffeinate. You can build up a tolerance to caffeine over time, so if you drink a lot of coffee, you might not experience these effects so badly. But for some people, even just a small amount of caffeine can affect them negatively. Whether you want to drink coffee later in the day and avoid the stimulating effect of caffeine, or you are sensitive to caffeine and want to drink coffee without the jitters, then decaffeinated coffee can be an ideal option to consider.
But, what’s the truth about decaf coffee? Can you get specialty decaffeinated coffee, or decaf versions of certain coffees that will taste just as good? How does coffee get decaffeinated? When it comes to drinking decaf, there are some common myths and misconceptions about the health risks, quality, and more. So, let’s take a closer look at the truth.
Why Drink Decaf?
No matter where it is from, all coffee will naturally contain caffeine. Caffeine is a chemical compound that is thought to protect coffee and other plants that contain caffeine against predator insects. It also prevents the germination of competing seeds. Caffeine is also a natural stimulant that has been used for centuries for its energizing effect. However, there are times where you might benefit from a cup of coffee without that energy buzz. There are plenty of reasons why some people choose to drink decaf rather than regular coffee, including the fact that it is often perceived as being healthier.
In 2018, a report from the National Coffee Association found that just over 40% of coffee consumers drink decaf, with young adults drinking the most. Other market research has also suggested that decaf drinkers are willing to pay more for high-quality decaf compared to other consumers.
Is decaf coffee caffeine free? Has decaffeinated coffee got caffeine int it? While steps have been taken to remove caffeine from the beans, most decaf coffee still has a very small amount of caffeine left over. So, is decaf coffee a stimulant? While this might not affect somebody who drinks regular coffee every day, you might notice some effects after drinking a decaf cup of coffee if you do not have any tolerance to the stimulant.
Is Decaf Coffee Bad for You?
Decaf coffee sometimes gets a bad name not only for not tasting as nice, but also due to concerns with the processes used to remove the caffeine. Sometimes, chemicals are used in the process to remove the caffeine, which can be concerning for some people. If you want to get the healthiest option, choose coffee that has been decaffeinated using chemical-free methods.
How Coffee is Decaffeinated
What is decaffeinated coffee? Ludwig Roselius created the first reported method of decaffeinating coffee in 1095. He used benzene to remove the caffeine from green coffee beans that had been moistened. However, this technique is no longer used in the process as it is now known that benzene is a carcinogen.
However, all modern methods of removing caffeine from coffee beans start the same way. The green coffee beans are moistened to make the caffeine soluble, and the caffeine is then extracted from the beans. There are different techniques used to do this, including:
Carbon Dioxide Method
This method uses pressurized carbon dioxide to remove caffeine from coffee. Liquid carbon dioxide is circulated through moistened green coffee beans where it attaches to the caffeine. Then, it is either passed through charcoal filters or allowed to evaporate. While this method of decaffeinating coffee is low in toxicity, it is generally one of the more expensive methods to set up. However, if you want a coffee that has as little caffeine as possible, this method reportedly extracts more caffeine compared with other techniques.
Direct Solvent Method
The direct solvent method is the most popular way to decaffeinate coffee. It uses either ethyl acetate or methylene chloride to extract caffeine from coffee. The green coffee beans are first soaked before being immersed in the solvent. The solvent with then attach to the coffee molecules, before it is recaptured in an evaporator. The beans are then washed and steamed to remove any remaining solvent residue. Once the process is complete, the beans are then dried and roasted like any other coffee.
There are some decaf coffee health concerns regarding the use of methylene chloride for decaffeinating coffee as occupational exposure to this solvent has been linked to an increased risk for certain cancers. The FDA limits the amount of methylene chloride to ten parts per million in decaf roasted coffee.
On the other hand, ethyl acetate is sometimes known as natural decaffeination as this solvent is often made from cane or fruit sugar. However, the downside to this solvent is that it is very flammable which makes it more dangerous to work with. It also has a characteristic scent which can sometimes remain in the decaf coffee.
Swiss Water Method
This method of decaffeinating coffee uses carbon and green coffee extract to remove the coffee by osmosis. Coffee beans are first immersed in very hot water, before they are introduced to a combination of green coffee extract and water, which has already been reduced in caffeine. The green coffee extract creates balance by drawing the caffeine from the immersed beans. Then, the water is passed through an activated charcoal filter to trap the caffeine. Coffee beans are passed through several times to make sure that all the caffeine is removed. However, this method is more expensive compared to other options, and one downside is that any caffeine that is extracted cannot be recovered.
Can You Get Decaf Specialty Coffee?
Can you get decaf coffee beans that are specialty coffee? Decaf coffee used to have a bad reputation as being flavorless. While caffeine itself doesn’t actually have any taste, some of the methods that are used to create decaf coffee don’t just remove the caffeine, but also some other important compounds that add flavor to the beverage. For any company that manufactures decaf coffee, one of the main challenges is finding a decaffeination method that extracts a high caffeine amount without impacting the flavor of the beans. This is even more important in the world of specialty coffee, where the flavor is everything.
Using a solvent is one of the most common processes for dissolving caffeine; however, these methods can damage the flavor of the coffee as it’s impossible to only target the caffeine. During the decaffeination process, other positive compounds will also be dissolved, which results in the cup no longer being as flavorful. However, these methods only tend to be used with lower quality coffees in general.
However, this method of decaffeinating coffee beans does not always mean that you cannot have specialty decaf coffee. You can still ensure a great cup of coffee by starting with high quality coffee beans and using alternative methods of decaffeination. For example, the Swiss Water method, which is more expensive to use, is often a top choice for specialty coffee since it is the best option for leaving all the flavors intact while removing the caffeine. This method leaves the soluble solids in the coffee beans and only captures the caffeine molecules by using a carbon that is caffeine pore-specific. Because of this, most specialty coffees are decaffeinated using this method as the steps involved ensure that the flavor nuances in the coffee from each origin and region are fully protected and represented just as well in a cup of decaf coffee.
How is Decaf Coffee Roasted?
According to the experts, coffee that has undergone the decaffeination process tends to be more porous, and as a result, is more receptive to heat. Because of this, coffee roasters do need to make some adjustments when roasting decaf coffee beans, including a more sensitive roasting process. Decaf beans tend to do best with a longer, more slowly developed roast profile. Since the process of roasting itself does tend to remove some positive flavor compounds from the coffee beans, a lighter roast is not often the best choice for decaffeinated coffee since this will result in less flavor and the acidity and sweetness will be compromised. Due to this, most decaf coffee beans are a darker roast since this will enhance the sweetness by building caramelization.
While it’s not usually possible to get a decaf coffee that is exactly the same flavor as you would expect from a regular coffee, there are plenty of great decaffeinated specialty coffees out there if you know where to look. You can definitely find decaf coffee beans that still have great natural sweetness and acidity, even at lower roast levels.
If you want to drink coffee without the energy boost, decaf is a great choice. Despite having a bad name for a lack of flavor and chemical processing concerns, decaf coffee has come a long way and you can definitely get healthier, specialty coffee options.