Decaf coffee is an alternative to regular coffee but without caffeine. It’s impossible to remove 100% of its caffeine content, so you should know the decaf kind still contains around 3%.
But how is decaf coffee made, and what is the most natural decaffeination method?
As you’ll soon discover, there are several ways to make decaffeinated coffee, and we’re sure there will be even more in the future. Let’s find the current ones for now.
How is Coffee Decaffeinated?
Swiss Water Process
The Swiss Water method involves the following steps:
- The coffee beans are soaked in very hot water to remove caffeine.
- The GCE water (Green Coffee Extract) is then drawn off and passed through a filtering system, which catches large caffeine molecules and allows the smaller oil to pass straight through.
- You’re then left with beans without any caffeine (and almost limited flavour) and some caffeine-free, flavour-packed water in another tank.
- The caffeine-free beans are discarded while the flavour-rich water is reused to remove caffeine from another batch.
- With the water saturated with flavour, the flavour won’t dissolve with the fresh batch of coffee beans, which means that the caffeine moves from the coffee beans into the water. As a result, you can enjoy decaf coffee without a lack of flavour.
Direct Solvent Process
The direct solvent process involves the following steps:
- The organic coffee beans are steamed for around 30 minutes to open the coffee bean pores, enabling them to be more receptive to the new chemical solvent.
- After this steaming process is complete, the coffee beans are rinsed repeatedly with methylene chloride.
Carbon Dioxide Process
You can also remove caffeine from coffee using carbon dioxide to separate various chemical substances when it’s pumped through the beans. The liquid carbon dioxide method is one of the healthiest processes as it has few health concerns. Here are the steps to follow for the carbon dioxide process:
- The beans are soaked in highly compressed carbon dioxide to extract any caffeine.
- The caffeine is then removed from the carbon dioxide using activated carbon filters. These filters are then reused to extract more caffeine from the coffee.
In-Direct Solvent Process
This in-direct method is an effective way to extract caffeine to create delicious decaffeinated beans.
- The coffee beans are soaked in hot water (not boiling) to remove any caffeine content, which also removes some oil and flavour from the coffee beans, too.
- The water is then separated and moved to another container. The coffee beans are washed for around 10 hours with methylene chloride or ethyl acetate.
- The solvent connects with the caffeine molecules. Then, the mixture is heated to evaporate the solvent and caffeine from the coffee.
- Finally, the coffee beans are added to the water mixture to absorb the flavour and oils that even coffee drinkers will love.
This process isn’t one of the healthiest for you since methylene chloride is also used in nail polish removers and glue.
Instead, we recommend the Swiss Water process as the healthiest, most safe to consume. This process is entirely chemical-free, as it relies on the movement of water to extract caffeine.
The Benefits of Decaf Coffee
It’s worth noting that it’s not entirely possible to remove every grain of caffeine from coffee beans. But, now that you’re aware of the different decaffeination methods let’s explore many of the benefits of decaffeinating coffee and why you might want to consider switching to decaf coffees (especially if you’re looking to improve your health and mental well-being). In fact, decaf coffee:
- Lowers the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes – Many studies have discovered that decaffeinated coffee can help lower the risk of Type 2 Diabetes.
- Improves Sleep and Reduce Anxiety – If you suffer from anxiety and insomnia (which can be linked), you might want to switch to decaf coffee. Compared to regular coffee, decaffeinated coffee isn’t a powerful stimulant that will wreak havoc on your sleep. Switching to a caffeine-free drink can reduce insomnia, improve your overall energy the following morning, and help you fall asleep more easily. Above all, decaffeinated coffee can help reduce anxiety, especially for those who suffer from anxiety disorders.
- Contains the Same Antioxidants as Caffeinated Coffee – Another reason to drink decaf coffee is that decaf coffee beans also have the same level of antioxidants (if not a little lower) as the caffeinated alternative — perfect for those who drink roasted coffee just for the antioxidant benefits.
- Is Lower in Acidity – Instant coffee with caffeine contains more acid than decaffeinated coffee. This means that decaf beans have less acidity, reducing uncomfortable side effects like heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease.
- Can be Taken During Pregnancy or with Some Medications – Pregnant women should consume no more than 200 milligrams of caffeine every day, around the amount of two cups of coffee. So, to satisfy your cravings and keep your caffeine levels low, opt for the decaf alternative. Some medications aren’t suitable to take along with caffeine. But, instead of missing out on a great-tasting coffee, consider a cup of decaf with an aromatic flavour and just the caffeine missing.
- Improves Memory – Did you know that drinking too much caffeine could potentially have a negative effect on your memory? Fortunately, decaf coffee contains polyphenols compounds, which have been found to assist with alertness and memory health. In fact, the decaf kind might even help ward off early-onset dementia.
The History of Decaffeinated Coffee
So when did decaf coffee come onto the scene, and how did it become so widely known? The first commercial decaffeinated process was in 1900 by Ludwig Roselius, who founded the coffee company Kaffee Hag.
Twelve years later, the decaffeination process became more popular, as it was first introduced in the United States in 1923 and then in 1932 by General Foods.
The Perfect Decaf Cuppa
Now that you’re aware of the various decaffeination processes and are keen to remove caffeine from your diet, here are some of the best ways to create a delicious cup of coffee without caffeine.
- Use fresh water when boiling the kettle. Don’t re-boil old water sitting in the kettle for hours.
- Once the water has boiled, allow the kettle to cool for several minutes to prevent burning the coffee beans.
- Begin by using more drop coffee or beans than you think you’ll need. You can always add more water to the cup if it tastes too strong. Generally speaking, opt for 10 grams of coffee per 180 ml of water.
- Remember, you can always add syrups to your coffee, sugar or dairy-free milk to enhance the flavour.
Choosing the Right Decaffeinated Coffee Brands
Now you know the answer to “how do they make decaf coffee?” it’s time to consider the most important factors to keep in mind throughout your buying search.
Firstly, look into the coffee’s roast level. While you won’t be able to look into the coffee bag on the shelf to see the colour of the coffee beans, pay attention to the roast level on the packet. For the tastiest options, avoid varieties of a dark roast.
As well as the roast level, consider the coffee’s roast date. Like the food we consume, the use-by date of your coffee beans is vital because freshness has a significant impact on the overall flavour. In particular, since decaf beans oxidise faster, these beans lose their aroma and flavour much easier and quicker.
Finally, bear in mind where the green coffee beans originate. For the best results, the beans will be finer. Just because you can’t always see the beans in the packet, this doesn’t mean that you should skip this step. Instead, read on the packet where the beans originate.
Why Do People Choose to Stick to Only the Caffeine?
Drinking coffee is an enjoyable experience, and there’s no denying that the decaf alternative has less flavour than “normal” coffee. Most decaffeination processes remove some of the subtle flavours from coffee when you remove the caffeine.
However, when the beans are of high quality, this helps to improve the overall taste compared to low-quality robusta coffee. Consider increasing your budget and opting for a high-end brand.
No Caffeine Please
Caffeinated beverages aren’t your only option for a warm, cosy drink; actually, decaffeinated coffee exists, and it helps you sleep better and reduce anxiety.
So, to go back to our initial question – how is decaf coffee made? – you should now have learnt that caffeine can be removed from coffee beans through different processes. These include the Swiss Water Process, the direct solvent process and the in-direct solvent process.
Perhaps now that you have a bit more knowledge on the matter, you’re considering switching to decaf coffee? Let us know what you think!
- How to Cook Pasta in the Microwave
- How to Use Kitchen Scales
- How to Make a Cool Box
- Where to Place a Stove Fan
Tom is a former chef turned full-time food blogger. He has always been passionate about food, and loves nothing more than experimenting in the kitchen and sharing his recipes with others. Tom’s blog is one of the most popular food blogs on the internet, and he has won numerous awards for his cooking. When he’s not blogging or cooking, Tom enjoys spending time with his wife and two young children.