Is it time to give decaf a fresh look? How to choose the best decaffeinated coffee
Whether you want to keep drinking coffee past dinner without losing out on sleep, or need to reduce your caffeine intake for health reasons, there’s so much great decaffeinated coffee on the market these days. While decaf might once have been considered a poor substitute for the real deal, modern decaffeinating methods remove almost all of the caffeine without removing the great flavour, retaining the characteristics of the speciality coffees you love without the caffeine buzz.
Want to give decaf coffee a try but not sure what to look for? We’ve pulled together a beginner’s guide to decaffeination to help you make the right choice for you.
So, how is the caffeine removed from coffee?
There are three methods generally used to remove caffeine from coffee beans:
1. The Swiss water process
This is the method we use on our Decaf 01 coffee as it doesn’t involve adding any chemicals and helps retain more of the natural qualities of the coffee bean.
First, the dried beans are soaked in very hot water to dissolve the caffeine before the water is passed through an activated charcoal filter. This captures the larger caffeine particles but lets the smaller oil and flavour particles pass through. This leaves the beans free from caffeine, but also from flavour – all the great taste is now in the water the beans were soaked in. This is called green coffee extract. The flavourless beans are discarded and the extract is then used to remove the caffeine from a fresh batch of coffee beans. Because this water already is saturated with flavour, flavours in this fresh batch can’t dissolve and only caffeine moves from the coffee beans to the water, leaving the fresh batch of beans without caffeine but packed with enhanced natural great flavour.
2. Carbon Dioxide Decaffeination
In this process, water soaked coffee beans are placed in an extraction vessel, which is sealed and pumped full of liquid CO2 at high pressure.
The CO2 dissolves the caffeine and draws it out of the beans, leaving the flavour molecules behind. The caffeinated CO2 solution is then transferred to another container called the absorption chamber. Here the pressure is released and the CO2 changes back into a gas, leaving the caffeine behind. The caffeine-free CO2 gas is then ready to be used again.
This method is fairly costly because of the amount of liquid CO2 required, so tends to be used on large batches of commercial-grade coffee, and is most likely the method used to decaffeinate coffee you might buy from a big-name supermarket.
3. Chemical processing
This is generally the most popular commercial decaffeination method, using either methylene chloride or ethyl acetate to strip the caffeine from the beans.
The beans are first soaked in water and then covered in a solution containing one of these solvents. The solvent water is then reused again and again until it is full of coffee flavourings and compounds. By this stage in the process the beans lose very little flavouring because they’re essentially soaked in a concentrated coffee essence. While both solvents are safe to use in food processing, methylene chloride is used in paint stripper and ethyl acetate in nail varnish remover, so chemical processing is by far the most intrusive method of decaffeination.
Does the decaffeination process remove all the caffeine from coffee?
No, but the amount of caffeine left is negligible – about 0.01 per cent using the Swiss water method – meaning you can drink multiple cups without feeling the effects of the caffeine.
Why would I choose decaffeinated coffee?
While studies show that most adults can drink three to four cups of coffee a day with no issues (and quite a few benefits including increased energy levels and concentration) everyone has a different tolerance for caffeine, and some people like to keep drinking coffee right into the evening without the caffeine disturbing their sleep.
So, whether you want to keep drinking coffee all day long, or are a little more sensitive to caffeine than other people, switching some or all of your regular brews to decaf means you still get to enjoy the great taste of good coffee, making sure it fits around your lifestyle.
Decaf coffee from Bridge
At Bridge, we source the best quality speciality coffees from producers we know and trust, and that applies to our decaf coffee too. From single estate and event single farms, our beans are treated with care throughout the roasting and decaffeination process to retain the natural great flavours
For example, our decaffeinated Brazilian coffee has all the distinctive chocolate and nut notes you expect from Brazil. Sustainably grown beans are cleaned and hydrated with pure, local water before the caffeine removal process begins. Caffeine is extracted naturally into a green coffee extract, until the compounds in the extract and the beans are perfectly balanced – removing the caffeine but retaining the flavour.
Ready to give decaf a try? Shop our decaffeinated coffee now