For many of us caffeine addicts decaf coffee is for the weak and serves no greater purpose! However, for some—and we don’t judge—decaf maybe the only option for those with caffeine sensitivities and medical reasons.
At Loveland Coffee, we believe everyone deserves a great coffee experience even if it involves decaf. Therefore, we thought it a good idea to share with everyone the history and three-step process of our delicious decaf coffee!
Now the question we most often get is “not what is decaf coffee” but “how is it decaffeinated”? The father of decaffeination was Ludwig Roselius, a German coffee merchant, who supposedly believed his father was poisoned by drinking too much coffee (As if that’s a real thing.)
Roselius first discovered the removal of caffeine when his shipment of beans were accidentally soaked in seawater during a storm. From this experience he developed a process where he would first soak his beans in a mixture of water and salt and then treat them with benzene—an organic chemical compound—which removed the caffeine. In 1905 Roselius patented this process and in 1906 opened up the Kaffee HAG Company. However, and very ironically, this process is no longer in use due to benzene being a known carcinogen.
Like Roselius' method, all decaffeination begins with green coffee beans and water but instead of Benzene, solvents such as ethylene chloride and ethyl acetate—both organic compounds—are most commonly used, which we’ll discuss later.
It wasn't until 1933 that a chemical free process was developed, the Swiss Water process. This process uses no chemicals, but is more expensive than using solvents. The third method, supercritical carbon dioxide method, created by Kurt Zosel in 1967 is used for large coffee companies and is often quite expensive.
Water removes caffeine but also washes away other components like proteins and sugars, which changes the body and flavor of the coffee. In general, only 97% of caffeine has to be removed in order to be classified as decaf. So, that means you’re still getting a little jolt even in your decaf coffee!
Solvent decaffeination is the most common and cheapest method. The solvent can be used in two different ways to remove caffeine from coffee: directly and indirectly. Both methylene chloride and ethyl acetate can be damaging when taken orally and it's nearly impossible to completely cleanse the beans once they've been exposed to these chemicals.(Yuck!)
However, both are quite volatile and usually evaporate in the process of roasting and making coffee, due to temperatures reaching anywhere from 200-400 degrees Fahrenheit (We are still not willing to even risk it and will never offer this type of decaffeination process at Loveland Coffee).
Carbon Dioxide Decaffeination
Carbon Dioxide decaffeination is normally used in very large batches for beans that will be sold in a supermarket due to the upfront cost.
Supercritical Carbon Dioxide method:
Green beans are soaked in water then placed in an airtight stainless steel container. Carbon dioxide is forced into the container with the beans, causing the pressure per square inch inside the container to 1,000 pounds! In this supercritical state (brought on by temperature and pressure levels), the carbon dioxide dissolves the caffeine while leaving the other flavors intact. The caffeine is then extracted with water or a charcoal filter. The carbon dioxide can then be used again.
Water based Decaffeination
Out of all the decaffeination methods, water based decaffeination is the safest since only water is used. The only drawback to using this method is that two batches of beans must be used to make one batch of decaffeinated beans, so it cost more. The Swiss Water process is used almost exclusively for specialty and organic coffee, and is found more frequently at local shops rather than grocery stores. The Mountain Water process is very similar to this one.
Swiss Water Process & Mountain Water Process
A batch of beans is first soaked in preparation to allow the flavors to be extracted. Once this is done, fresh water flows into the tanks and dissolves all of the flavor components of the beans. The water then flows through a carbon filter designed to catch all of the caffeine molecules while letting the flavors pass through. A second batch of coffee, the one that will become decaffeinated, is soaked. The water, now saturated with all the components found in a coffee bean, minus the caffeine, flows through this tank of coffee. Because the water is already full of coffee components, the only component that will be dissolved is the caffeine. The water (labeled Green Coffee Extract or GCE) is filtered after each trip through the tanks of beans. The entire process can last up to 10 hours. Once this process has been completed, the beans are then sent to a dryer where all the moisture is evaporated before being sent to the roaster.
In our Roastery we use the Swiss Water & Mountain Water process because we believe the best coffee is made with chemical-free beans and it provides 99.9% decaffeinated Organic Fair Trade Coffee. We hope this quick tutorial has been educational and easy to understand. We receive a lot of questions on how our coffee has been decaffeinated, and here it is—the answer we’ve all been waiting for! The processes are intense but effective! We now have ways to safely decaffeinate coffee while maintaining the taste you love. If you're trying to cut down on caffeine, don't cut out coffee! No one wants that! Decaffeinated coffee is a great way to still get that awesome cup in the morning.
***DISCLAIMER*** Before making a switch to Decaf from Regular Coffee you might want to consult the below Chart to make sure it is safe for you and your loved ones. . .