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Love coffee but want to keep your caffeine intake down for the sake of your health? There are some great quality decaf coffee varieties that contain much of the flavour of regular coffee without the caffeine content. Some methods of making decaf coffee are more natural than others, and it's good to know which decaffeination process different producers use and the effect that has on the cup of coffee you drink, so you can make an informed decision about the decaffeinated coffee you buy. So whether you're concerned about how much caffeine your daily brew contains for the sake of your health, or just want to switch out a cup of two of your regular brew, here's what you need to know.
Why would I want to drink decaf coffees?
Caffeine is a stimulant and while it's fine as part of a balanced, healthy diet, research shows that drinking too many cups of coffee in a day can lead to raised blood pressure and headaches. If you're pregnant, you'll need to limit how much you consume for the health of your baby, and if you struggle with insomnia, you might want to cut down on regular coffee to help you get a good night's sleep.
How do you decaffeinate it?
There are a few methods producers use to turn regular coffee into decaf coffee. All these methods start with the green bean, before they've been roasted. In a solvent-based method, coffee beans are soaked in near boiling water, removing the caffeine and oils from the beans. They're then washed with chemicals - most commonly methylene chloride and ethyl acetate. While using solvents might sound worrying, both have been proven to be safe, plus any remaining solvent will be burnt off in the roasting process. The molecules in the solvent bond with the molecules of caffeine and the mixture is then heated so the solvent and the caffeine evaporates. Then the beans are added back into the liquid to absorb the oils and flavours.
A more natural decaffeination process is the Swiss water process. This is where the green bean is soaked in very hot water to dissolve the caffeine. The water is then drawn off and passed through a filter which collects the caffeine molecules, allowing oil and flavour molecules to pass through. The decaffeinated beans, which also have no flavour, end up in one tank, and green coffee extract, which is full of natural taste, is held in another tank.
The flavourless coffee beans are discarded, and the water is used to remove the caffeine from a new batch. Because the water is already full of natural flavours, the flavour in the new batch can't dissolve, so the coffee ends up caffeine free while the flavour stays in. This method doesn't rely on any chemicals to make the coffee decaf, so is often used where organic coffee is being decaffeinated.
Is all the caffeine removed?
While the majority is removed, decaf coffee contains up to three per cent caffeine. So while your cup of decaf is significantly less caffeinated than your regular brew, which gives it definite health benefits, it can still have some of the effects.