Decaf coffee - whether you love it or you hate it, you've got to admit that it's here to stay.
I often get questions about decaf...
so I thought I would explain everything you've ever wanted to know about what makes the best decaf coffee.
This include how decaffeination works and why our decaf coffee subscription is head and shoulders above the rest!
What is decaf coffee?
You'd think that decaf coffee is simply coffee that doesn't have any caffeine in it. But this isn't strictly true.
While decaffeination methods (which we discuss below) will take most of the caffeine away, decaf coffee cannot be 100% decaffeinated.
Depending on the method that is used, decaf coffee is between 99-97% decaffeinated.
So if a regular 250ml cup of coffee has 95 to 200 milligrams of caffeine, decaf will have 2-15 milligrams.
It is very unlikely that you'll be able to feel the effects of 1-3% caffeine.
but if you're sensitive to caffeine, or trying to cut it out completely, this is definitely worth knowing!
How do you decaffeinate coffee?
There are a few different ways to decaffeinate coffee. All of these methods happen before the coffee is roasted.
You can soak the beans in water or other solvents when it is green before passing through a filter.
This is because the water will open the pores in the coffee beans. These larger pores allow the caffeine to diffuse out of the beans.
So which is the best decaf process? let's get through all the methods used to decaffeinate coffee beans, shall we?
Method one: Using a solvent
One of the most common ways to decaffeinate coffee is with a solvent such as methylene chloride or ethyl acetate.
First, the coffee beans are soaked in water, and then covered in a solution containing one of these two solvents.
The caffeine is then drawn out by these solvents. The water that has the solvent is then reused over and over until it is packed with coffee flavourings and compounds.
For the beans not to lose much flavour, it is soaked in a concentrated coffee essence..
These sound a bit scary (methylene chloride is used as a paint stripper and a degreaser.
and ethyl acetate is used to make nail polish remover), but only trace amounts are left at the end of the decaffeination and roasting processes.
Method two: Using water
There is also the Swiss Water method, where the coffee beans are soaked in water. Personally, I believe this is one of the best decaf method.
The solution is then strained through activated carbon, which captures the caffeine.
People tend to like this method because it doesn't involve solvents.
However, the beans will still lose a small part of their flavour and aroma because they are treated with hot water and steam, which take away some of the beans' delicious oils.
Method three: Using carbon dioxide
Finally, there's also the supercritical carbon dioxide decaffeination method, which uses carbon dioxide to extract the caffeine.
This is a particularly interesting method. Experts like it because carbon dioxide is an easily removable, non-flammable and non-toxic solvent.
It is also better for the environment, and the caffeine obtained from the beans is reused in pharmaceuticals, soft drinks, and cosmetics.
However, it is also very expensive, as it's a cost-intensive process.
Do these processes change the flavour?
In short, yes. As we discussed, water is involved in all of these methods, which will remove some of the natural oils of the coffee bean, which contribute to that great coffee flavour.
Also, one of the biggest challenges when comes to decaffeinating coffee is that you want to remove the caffeine, but also try to keep the other chemicals as untouched as possible.
This is a difficult task, as coffee beans contain around 1000 different chemicals which all add to the flavour and aroma.
However, you will not be able to taste any chemicals from the decaffeination process.
Another way that the flavour of the coffee might change is from the roasting process.
Unlike normal coffee beans, are green when they arrive at the roaster, unroasted decaf beans are brown.
This makes them much more difficult to roast, because it's more difficult to tell when they are done, and they tend to roast faster than normal coffee.
However, you will only be able to taste the difference in flavour if the roaster has done their job badly.
Make sure to avoid dark roast decaf coffees, and you'll be fine.
Why to drink decaf coffee?
There are many reasons why decaf coffee can be a great option for you: Cutting back on caffeine - if you find that caffeine makes you feel jittery, gives you headaches or causes other health problems, then it's probably best that you cut down on it a bit!
Try changing one or two of your daily coffees to decaf, and see how you feel. Late night coffee - decaf is also a fabulous option if you like to have an after-dinner coffee.
This is a lovely treat, but if you drink caffeinated coffee at night, you might find yourself wide awake in the middle of the night!
This is because caffeine has a half-life of around five hours, so it'll continue keeping you awake for around five hours after consumption.
Why does decaf get a bad rep?
You may have heard the phrase 'death before decaf'. Why does decaf coffee have such a poor reputation?
Flavour - from the processes we described, decaffeination generally gets rid of some of the subtle flavours that we so enjoy in coffee.
This becomes a problem when the beans themselves aren't very high quality. Take instant coffee as an example.
It already doesn't taste great, because they tend to use low-quality robusta coffee. Decaffeinated instant coffee will therefore taste even worse.
Unfortunately, decaf coffee beans have gained a reputation of not tasting very good, simply because most people have only tried low-quality, instant decaf.
Price - because decaf has extra processing steps, this means that it is sometimes a bit more expensive than normal coffee as well. People don't tend to like paying higher prices for a coffee that they think won't taste as good!
Culture - this might sound silly, but there is a real culture around coffee. It's seen as a substance that will drive people to work harder and for longer hours, rather than a delicious drink that can also give you a short-term energy boost.
You've probably seen those Instagram posts that say 'rise and grind' with an image of a coffee.
For people who drink it simply for the caffeine, decaf is seen as a lesser product. If you'd like to read an in-depth discussion about this, here's a great article about the culture behind caffeine.
But is decaf's poor reputation warranted? We don't think so
Try the best decaf coffee
To put it simply: our decaf coffee tastes just as good as our normal, caffeinated coffee. We have specifically sourced incredible, speciality-grade coffee beans to use in our decafs.
This ensures that the coffee will still taste amazing, even after it has gone through the decaffeinated process. And our customers agree: Click here to try our Halcyon decaf beans.
How Do You Decaffeinate Coffee FAQs
Below, I will get into some critical questions you have and I will provide answers for those questions.
What is decaffeination
Decaffeination is the process of removing or reducing the caffeine content in coffee beans, allowing individuals to enjoy a cup of coffee with significantly less caffeine.
Why do people choose decaffeinated coffee
People choose decaffeinated coffee for various reasons. Some individuals are sensitive to caffeine and prefer to avoid its stimulating effects. Others may enjoy the taste and ritual of coffee but want to limit their caffeine intake due to health concerns, sleep disturbances, or personal preferences.
How is coffee naturally decaffeinated
Coffee beans can be naturally decaffeinated through the Swiss Water Process or the Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Method. In the Swiss Water Process, green (unroasted) coffee beans are soaked in hot water to extract the caffeine, and then the water is passed through activated charcoal filters to remove the caffeine. The beans are then dried and roasted. The CO2 method involves soaking the beans in compressed carbon dioxide, which bonds with the caffeine molecules. The CO2 is then evaporated, leaving behind decaffeinated coffee beans.
What is the chemical solvent method
The chemical solvent method, also known as the direct or indirect solvent method, is another common decaffeination process. In this method, green coffee beans are soaked in a solvent, usually methylene chloride or ethyl acetate. The solvent selectively removes the caffeine from the beans. The beans are then washed and dried to remove any remaining solvents. The indirect solvent method involves using water to extract the caffeine from the solvent after it has been used.
Is decaffeinated coffee 100% caffeine-free
While decaffeinated coffee aims to remove most of the caffeine, it is difficult to achieve complete removal. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that decaffeinated coffee must have at least 97% of its caffeine content removed. Therefore, a cup of decaffeinated coffee may still contain a small amount of caffeine, typically ranging from 1 to 5 milligrams, compared to the 95 milligrams or more found in regular coffee.
Does decaffeination affect the taste of coffee
Decaffeination can impact the flavor of coffee to some extent. The processes used to remove caffeine can alter the chemical composition of the beans, which can result in a slightly different taste compared to regular coffee. However, advancements in decaffeination methods have significantly improved the taste and quality of decaffeinated coffee, making it difficult for many people to distinguish between regular and decaf coffee in blind taste tests.
Are there any health concerns associated with decaffeinated coffee
Decaffeinated coffee is generally considered safe for consumption. However, it is important to note that the decaffeination process may affect the levels of certain compounds in coffee, such as antioxidants. Some studies suggest that decaffeinated coffee may have slightly lower antioxidant activity compared to regular coffee. Nonetheless, decaf coffee still provides health benefits, such as being a source of phytochemicals and potentially reducing the risk of certain diseases.
Can I decaffeinate coffee at home
While it is possible to decaffeinate coffee at home using various methods, it can be challenging to achieve consistent and reliable results without specialized equipment. The decaffeination processes used by coffee manufacturers are often more effective and efficient. If you prefer decaf coffee, it is recommended to purchase commercially available decaffeinated coffee or explore specialty coffee shops that offer decaffeinated option.