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How Is Decaf Coffee Made: How Do They Make Decafe Coffee

how is decaf made

Today we’re going to tackle the question of how is decaf coffee made? There are several processes by which caffeine is removed from coffee to create the decaffeinated, milder form of what has become known as the world’s most sought-after or second most sought-after drink—depending on who you ask.

Now before we delve into the various methods used to make decaf coffee, let’s first get some background. Don’t worry. Well, keep this part brief. But don’t start yawning yet. The history of coffee is quite interesting. Historians believe that ancient Abyssinia (today’s Ethiopia). I began using coffee as a stimulant. As we all know, caffeine is the ingredient in coffee that causes it to act as a mild upper focus on the central nervous system. 

It’s typical for a 6-ounce cup of coffee to hold around 50 to 75 milligrams of caffeine. However, the amount can vary significantly depending on how it is prepared coffee used. For instance, Robusta coffee has almost twice the caffeine as Arabica. 

Many coffee lovers are unfortunately highly sensitive to caffeine, which can be a real problem for individuals who are predisposed to caffeine’s bad effects. Even a mere 10 milligrams can cause great distress. One issue that they tend to suffer from is a headache, which can range from moderate to severe.

how is decaffeinated coffee made

That is the reason practically all decal coffee has fewer than 10 milligrams of caffeine. The norm is 2 to 5 mg per serving. Amazingly, nowadays,  decaffeinated coffee composes somewhere around 12% of the total global coffee consumption. Or almost 1 billion pounds annually. As the process for making decaffeinated coffee gradually gets better. This figure is expected to rise. Although not dramatically. As most people still do and probably always prefer their coffee with as much caffeine as possible. 

It was Ludwig Roselius back in 1905 who invented the original process for decaffeinating coffee. Unfortunately. his method used benzene, which has been identified as a toxic hydrocarbon. To eliminate caffeine from green coffee beans, which have been premoistened. Benzene is not used in making coffee today. in fact. It is illegal to use it. So you needn’t worry about that being an issue. 

Modern Decaffeination Processes 

Today’s modern decaffeination methods are a great deal gentler, which has many coffee companies pointing that out by stating that they are naturally decaffeinated. 

There are essentially four main decaffeinating processes presently being used. They have several likenesses in all four methods. Roasted beans are moistened as the first step of the process. This makes the caffeine able to be dissolved so that it can be extracted. Also, each one of these processes decaffeinates green coffee at moderate temperatures. Typically (160 to 210 degrees F). 

how do they make decaffeinated coffee

Water Processing Method 

Naturally, his method uses water as a way to eliminate caffeine from the green coffee beans. This usually requires a process done by battery extraction. During this process, 8 to 12 vessels are used—each vessel holding green coffee at a varying point of being decaffeinated. 

It further involves circulating water and green-coffee-extract. The caffeine level has already had the caffeine level lowered about the coffee beans inside the extraction battery. This is done because oils found in the mixture aid in the process of decaffeination. 

Once a certain amount of time has passed. The vessel that was subjected to the low-caffeine extract is emptied. The decal coffee beans are then taken and rinsed thoroughly and dried out, and a vessel full of fresh green coffee is put on stream. 

The caffeine-rich extract taken from the vessel holding the fresh. Green coffee is then sent through a bed of activated charcoal. This charcoal was pretreated. Usually with sucrose. That makes it possible for it to absorb caffeine without draining other substances that compose the coffee’s flavor. The use of sucrose blocks carbon sites that would ordinarily soak up sugars from the liquid—green-coffee extract. Then the caffeine-reduced extract can be reused to start the process all over again. The water technique is natural in that it does not use any chemicals. 

Direct Solvent Method 

For our second decaffeination technique, we have the method of direct solvent use. This way uses methylene chloride (used mainly in Europe). Oil from coffee or ethyl acetate breaks down caffeine and removes it; the reason the use of methylene chloride is limited to Europe. It has been shown that exposure to high quantities can be poisonous and, Over time, can damage the body’s main nervous system. On the other hand, Ethyl acetate is an ester that is naturally made in many vegetables and fruits like bananas, apples, and coffee. It is sent through a bed of damp. Green coffee beans. Eliminating some of the caffeine; then is retained in an evaporator. And the beans are washed with plain water. 

Steaming the beans eliminates remnants of the solvent from the coffee. Frequently this method uses batch processing–which means that the solvent is added to the vessel. Sent out and repeatedly emptied until the coffee is decaffeinated to the intended level. One of the reasons solvents are used is because they leave practically all the noncaffeine solids behind. The solvents which are more caffeine-specific. Like methylene chlorides. It can effectively remove 96 to 97% of the caffeine. 

how are coffee beans decaffeinated

Supercritical Carbon Dioxide Method 

This is the third method of decaffeination and is close to the way direct solvent operates, with the exception being that in this instance, the solvent is carbon dioxide. It was discovered, to some extent accidentally, in Germany. A chemist by the name of Kurt Zosel was experimenting with supercritical carbon dioxide while working at the Max Planck Institute for Coal Research located in Ruhr. Zosel found that when the gas is heated and placed under a great deal of pressure. It reaches a supercritical state that can be used to separate various chemical substances. These substances included caffeine from coffee when it is pumped through the coffee beans. And an idea was born. 

This idea is still widely used nowadays, and here’s something interesting you probably didn’t know. Crude caffeine can be saved during the supercritical carbon dioxide process and is then used in energy drinks, sodas, and other products. 

Extremely high-pressure vessels are used to send carbon dioxide through moistened green coffee beans. At extremely high pressures, carbon dioxide embodies various ‘supercritical’ traits that increase its potency as a solvent. Moreover. Supercritical carbon dioxide has the density of a liquid. But its consistency and other aspects are gas-like.

 These qualities substantially decrease their pumping costs. What makes carbon dioxide a commonly used solvent is the fact that it possesses a fairly low-pressure critical point, and is naturally plentiful. The carbon dioxide which exits the vessel used for extraction is caffeine-rich and handled in one of two ways. It’s either passed through a bed of activated charcoal or through a water ‘bath’ tower to rid it of the caffeine.

 Then it’s sent back to the vessel used for extraction. Supercritical carbon dioxide decaffeination is expensive. But it provides excellent results. It can usually extract 96 to 98% of the caffeine. 

The Swiss Water Process (SWP) 

This is a type of chemical-free water decaffeination method that was developed in Switzerland in 1933 by Coffex S.A. and became a practical manner of decaffeination in 1980. 

This rather unusual technique does not directly or indirectly add any chemicals whatsoever in order to eliminate the caffeine. It simply depends upon two concepts. The ability of certain substances to dissolve and osmosis, to decaffeinate coffee beans. 

It involves soaking beans in extremely hot water so that the caffeine present in them will dissolve. Next, the water is drawn off and put through a charcoal filter. This filter is made to only catch larger particles of caffeine. While permitting smaller molecules of oil and flavor to move through it. 

Thus the caffeine-free beans with no flavor wind up in one tank, and the caffeine-free ‘flavor charged” water (green coffee extract) is in a different tank. 

Thus the caffeine-free beans with no flavor wind up in one tank, and the caffeine-free ‘flavor charged” water (green coffee extract) is in a different tank. 

Next, the flavorless caffeine-free beans are thrown away. But the water which contains lots of flavors is reused in the process for another batch of beans. 

Because this water is full of flavors, they won’t dissolve in this new batch; only caffeine travels from the coffee beans into the water. The result is decaffeination and flavor. 

how is caffeine removed from coffee

It can be hard if not downright impossible to decipher the process by which your decaf coffee was made. This is in part due to the fact that there are no labeling rules that specifically require companies to reveal this information. However. some coffee companies do reveal their ways of decaffeinating coffee. (For instance. The very elite coffee company Blue Bottle. stresses its use of the Swiss Water Process in making its decaffeinated coffee.) 

Furthermore, the FDA states that decaffeinated coffee can have small increments of caffeine. While warning consumers that an 8-ounce cup of decaf still has 2 to 16 milligrams of caffeine, yet, you have to keep in mind that’s still a lot less than a caffeinated cup of coffee, which usually has about 80 to 100 mg of caffeine in the exact same amount of ordinary coffee. 

Interesting Facts. Taken by itself, the coffee industry in the United States is estimated to rake in around $19 billion a year. A 6-ounce cup of coffee will hold anywhere from 50 to 78 milligrams of caffeine. 

The exact amount depends on the manner in which the coffee is prepared and the kind of coffee it is. 

  • Decaf coffee is caught out on a technicality. It really isn’t completely decaffeinated because it still has a small amount of caffeine in it. Thus it’s not totally caffeine-free. 
  • Decaffeinated coffee makes up around 12% of the total amount of coffee that is drunk globally. 
  • Coffee that is in its green (unroasted) state is always decaffeinated 
  • No matter what type of decaffeination we’re talking about. Water is used in the process. This is because caffeine is a water-soluble compound. 
when was decaf coffee invented

Water alone is not the ideal solution for the process of decaffeination. No. there is no simple answer. The reason water can’t be the perfect solution is because water is not a “selective” solvent and thus will also remove other soluble substances. Such as proteins and sugars. Together with the caffeine.

Thus. all decaffeination processes. Regardless of what they are. Use a decaffeinating agent (for example, methylene chloride. CO2. activated charcoal. or ethyl acetate). The use of these substances helps to make the process faster and lessen the “washed-out’ effect that just using water would have on the taste of decaffeinated coffee. 

The most difficult part of the decaffeination process is to separate only the caffeine from the beans while allowing the other substances to remain at their original amounts. This task is extremely difficult because coffee has around 1.000 chemicals in it that are considered essential to the taste and smell of a good cup of coffee. 

decaffeinated coffee process

Decaffeinated coffees are extremely demanding when it comes to roasting. This is because of decaffeinated, unroasted coffee beans that are nearly brown in color, not green. This makes it hard to control them so that they roast evenly because they respond erratically to the heat used on them.

Moreover, they have less bound moisture caught up in them, which results in them roasting faster. So you end up handling an unroasted “green” bean that tends to roast quicker and more darkly than un-decaffeinated beans will. 

This isn’t a cause for worry, though. Every day we are learning more and more about the process of decaffeination and how it can be improved. 

Also, Keep in mind that usually, it is the brand of roast you purchase, which is going to have more of an effect on the way the coffee tastes than the method used to decaffeinate it. Make an effort to stay away from any decal coffees that are very dark and oily as you don’t need the problems of an extremely dark roast added to the trials of any decaf process you might use. If your looking for more guides, we have an Indonesian coffee guide and a Mr Coffee ECMP50 Review on our site!

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About David Dewitt

Hi, my name is David and I come from Columbus, Ohio. I am a amateur photographer, and a coffee lover. I love to write, and don't mind me a cup of joe!