How Decaf Coffee Is Made
Caffeine is removed from coffee beans while they are green. Green coffee beans are beans that have been harvested, removed from the fruit and dried but have not yet been roasted. Once green coffee beans are ready for decaffeination there are a few different methods for removing caffeine in use today. Solvent-based methods use chemicals like Ethyl acetate or Methylene chloride to remove caffeine while the Swiss Water® process requires just water, time and temperature.
Swiss Water Process For Decaffeinating Coffee
Did you know that chemicals are used to make most decaffeinated coffee? But not ours! We use something called the Swiss Water Process. This particular method of decaffeination is different from the rest. It does not directly or indirectly add chemicals to extract the caffeine. Rather, it relies entirely on two concepts, solubility and osmosis, to decaffeinate coffee beans. This method is also exclusively used on organic coffee beans.
How To Choose Best Decaf Coffee Beans
Furthermore, however hard you try to remove only the caffeine, it is inevitable that the coffee will lose some of the oils and flavors that make a truly delicious cup.
This is something decaf drinkers will have to accept.
Finally, decaf is harder to roast. After decaffeination, the beans turn brown and contain less moisture.
This means they roast faster and are harder to control during the process.
The best advice is to opt for light roast since most decaf beans wont stand up to dark roasting.
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How Swiss Water Process Decaffeination Works
In a nutshell, the Swiss Water Process relies on caffeine solubility and osmosis to remove caffeine from green coffee beans. To begin the decaffeination process, green coffee beans are soaked in hot water to dissolve the caffeine. However, caffeine isnt the only water-soluble substance present in coffee. Sugars and other chemical components that create the flavor and aromas of coffee we love can also dissolve in water.
So, how do you decaffeinate coffee without solvents and retain the flavor profile of your favorite beans? After soaking, the water from the first round of green beans is passed through a charcoal filter. Caffeine is a large molecule and gets trapped in the filter while the sugars, oils, and other chemical elements in coffee that impart flavor and aroma pass through and stay in the water to create what is called Green Coffee Extract. This green coffee extract-infused water is now used to soak the next batch of green beans. Since the Green Coffee Extract already contains the other elements of flavor, those substances wont dissolve from the beans and just the caffeine is removed. It may sound complicated, but the result is decaffeinated coffee that is high on flavor and free from additional chemical solvents.
Ranking The Best Decaf Coffee Of 2021
Its great if you want to take advantage of the health benefits of coffee but want to keep your caffeine intake under control.
Want the health benefits of coffee without the buzz? Weve ranked the best-tasting and highest-quality decaf coffee on the market.
No Fun Jo Decaf is an excellent option for high-quality decaf coffee. This medium roast has many of the perks youll find in high-end specialty coffee thats not decaffeinated, like 100% arabica beans, and organic and fair trade certifications. Its pre-ground, so brewing a cup is a breeze.
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Safe Decaffeinated Coffee Brands Tested By The Clean Label Project
What is the best decaffeinated coffee? Well, there are a lot of variables to consider. However, if the presence of methylene chloride in your coffee concerns you, here are the brands that were tested by the Clean Label Project and found to NOT contain this chemical:
- ALLEGRO COFEE Decaffeinated Organic French Roast
- ARCHER FARMS Decaffeinated House Blend
- CARIBOU COFFEE Decaffeinated Caribou Blend
- COMMUNITY COFFFEE Decaffeinated Café Special
- DAZBOG COFFEE Decaffeinated French Roast
- DUNKIN DONUTS Decaffeinated Medium Roast
- FOLGERS Decaffeinated Classic
- KICKING HORSE COFFEE Decaffeinated Dark
- NESCAFÉ Decaffeinated House Blend
- PEETS COFFEE Decaffeinated Major Dickasons Blend
- STARBUCKS Decaffeinated House Blend + Decaffeinated Caffè Verona
- THE ORGANIC COFFEE CO. Decaffeinated Organic Gorilla
- TIM HORTONS Decaffeinated Medium Roast
These brands will definitely be on my list of brands to choose when I buy decaffeinated coffee! KNOW WHAT YOU ARE BUYING! Clean Label Project has filed lawsuits against four national brands for false and misleading advertising and labeling.
These brands claim that their decaffeinated coffee products are pure and natural. In contrast, Clean Label Projects study showed that methylene chloride was detected in the decaffeinated coffee products of these brands.
Lifeboost Organic Decaf Coffee Beans Best Overall
Our top pick is from Lifeboost, and we especially love it because of the fact that its Fair Trade sourced. This means that the relationship between the roaster and the farmers has been certified as being equitable and mutually beneficial. For more information about this designation, take a look at this helpful guide.
When you sip this coffee, youll notice a pleasing lack of acidity and a big, rich coffee flavor. Expect some hints of fruit and even a hint of bitterness.
This coffee is produced using the Swiss Water method meaning its decaffeinated using water, rather than potentially unhealthy chemical solvents. Its also shade-grown and pesticide-free.
For these reasons, Lifeboosts tasty decaf medium roast is our top pick. Its a little pricey , but trust us its worth it.
Who says you cant enjoy unique coffee varieties in decaf? Volcanicas Sumatra Mandheling Decaf allows you to taste distinctive earthy, full-bodied Sumatran beans without the caffeine. And dont worry, you wont have to sacrifice any flavor with these single-origin beans.
Like our top pick, these beans are decaffeinated without chemicals using the Swiss Water Process. This more delicate process helps the beans maintain their powerful, exotic flavor. Plus, theyre available in three convenient grind sizes , making this coffee our pick for pre-ground beans.
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Solvents Used In Decaffeination
As Ive mentioned above, the decaffeination of coffee involves the use of a decaffeination agent. In solvent-based processes a chemical solvent is added either directly or indirectly to selectively remove the caffeine.
Given numerous health scares connected to early efforts in decaffeination , dichloromethane and even chloroform) the solvents of choice have become methylene chloride and ethyl acetate.
Although methylene chloride , aka dichloromethane or MC, is a solvent, its use as a decaffeination agent is not considered a health risk. In fact the Food and Drug Administration has determined any potential health risk is so low as to be essentially non-existent . While the FDA regulation allows up to ten parts per million residual methylene chloride, actual coffee industry practice result in levels closer to one part per million.
Furthermore, while it is probable that traces of the solvent remain in the decaffeinated beans it seems very unlikely that methylene chloride would survive the roasting process. This colorless liquid is highly volatile and vaporizes at 104 degrees F. Now if you take into consideration that coffee is roasted at a minimum of 400 degrees F for at least 15 minutes, and that proper brewing temperature is at about 200 degrees F, it seems unlikely that much if any methylene chloride would end up in your cup of Java.
Ethyl acetate, like methylene chloride, is very volatile and hence the point made above also applies here.
Koa Coffee Kona Decaf Premium Pick
- Flavor profile: Tropical fruits, grapefruit, and nuts
- Swiss Water Process
Coffee from the Kona region is renowned for its special taste. When you drink Kona coffee, you first experience the rich, sweet taste of tropical fruits, then feel the bitter aftertaste of grapefruit with a hint of nuts.
The quality of the coffee is all thanks to the growing conditions: rich volcanic soil and a unique climate with sunny mornings, rainy and windy evenings, and cool nights.
However, when choosing Kona coffee, you can easily stumble upon a fake. Due to the high price of this coffee, scammers sometimes mix Kona beans with other beans.
But coffee from the Koa Coffee Plantation is guaranteed to be pure Kona. This plantation and its coffee were rated “Best in America” . Koa coffee brand also ranks high in our list of the best Kona coffee beans.
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Top 1: Best Decaf Coffee
Weve already told you about the best overall coffee beans, but we saved decaf for this list. After a lot of research on your behalf here are the best decaf coffees weve found. All these options have been Swiss water processed.
Weve excluded chemically decaffeinated options, such as the Eight OClock Whole Bean Coffee, which is processed with methylene chloride known in your local hardware store as paint stripper. It might be safe or it might not, but hey, why take the risk?
This 100% chemical-free Swiss Water Processed decaf coffee is low-caffeine, low acidity, organic, and sustainably sourced from the Nicaraguan mountains.
These 100%-Arabica single origin beans are praised for their smooth, balanced flavors, with low acidity and caffeine levels. Home baristas describe the flavor profile as caramel and nutty. Life Boosts organic beans are Fair Trade, shade-grown, handpicked, spring water washed, and grown at high altitudes like the best coffee usually is. This company is serious about offering amazing tasting coffee without risking the health benefits.
You wont be inspired by their branding or packaging, but at the end of the day that does not matter as long as the product is gold standard.
Their beans are sourced from the best growing regions around the world, particularly those defined by rich, volcanic growing soil, and usually at fairly high altitudes both of these factors being renowned for yielding incredibly high-quality beans.
Choose The Swiss Water Method Of Decaffeination
There are 4 methods of decaffeinating coffee with the most popular today being the Swiss water method. Its the most effective, and safest method used today. We cover these in detail in our guide: The truth about decaf coffee. Read it out if you really want to get into the science.
The Swiss Water Method of decaffeinating coffee is a certified organic process that naturally removes 99.9% of the caffeine, while keeping all of the flavors as unadulterated by the process as possible.
Heres how the process works:
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What Is Caffeine And How Do We Remove It From Coffee
Caffeine is a compound that occurs naturally in coffee beans that stimulates the central nervous system , increases heart rate and blood flow, and makes you feel more alert and energetic.
In fact, it is considered to be the most commonly used psychoactive drug in the world.
Apart from the flavor, caffeine is one of the main reasons people drink coffee.
It is something we have come to rely on to help us clear our heads in the mornings and survive until lunchtime as the hours in the office drag on.
However, sometimes we just want to enjoy a cup of coffee without disrupting our sleep later on when its time for lights out so down the years, people have developed several different methods of removing the caffeine.
How is it done?
Caffeine is soluble in water, and all methods of decaffeination involve dissolving the caffeine and removing it from the beans while attempting to leave everything else the flavors and aromas intact.
Broadly, there are two types of method, one that makes use of solvents and one that does not.
The Swiss Water Process is a that uses only water for this reason, it is seen as more natural than methods that use solvents.
Whats The Point Of Coffee Without Caffeine
Most people drink coffee for two reasons: they like the taste, and they like the boost of energy they get from the caffeine kick in every cup. So intertwined are these reasons for buying, making and drinking coffee that it fuels the entire industry. Not only does the idea of decaf coffee seem pointless, its often downright degraded by a significant number of coffee-lovers.
These decaf-naysayers are just posturing, however. Theres nothing fundamentally wrong with enjoying a caffeine free coffee. In fact, caffeine free coffee is the only way some coffee aficionados can enjoy their favorite drink.
Chief among the reasons why people choose decaf are health-related conditions that can be worsened by regular caffeine intake. If you have a heart problem, for example, you may need to be extra cautious about your exposure to stimulants like caffeine.
Others have more casual reasons for their decaf preference. Many people just want to enjoy the same comfort and flavor they love from their morning cup of coffee, but at night and without the risk of losing beauty sleep.
These days, its just good manners to let folks enjoy their coffee as they please. If youve been waiting to make a switch to decaf for some or all of your daily coffee intake, dont let the fear of being shamed for liking a lesser form of coffee keep you from living your best decaf coffee life!
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The Indirectsolvent Based Process
In the indirect-solvent method the coffee beans are soaked in near boiling water for several hours, which extracts the caffeine as well as other flavor elements and oils from the beans.
The water is then separated and transferred to another tank where the beans are washed for about 10 hours with either methylene chloride or ethyl acetate. The molecules of the chemical solvent selectively bond with the molecules of caffeine and the resulting mixture is then heated to evaporate the solvent and caffeine.
Lastly, the beans are reintroduced to the liquid to reabsorb most of the coffee oils and flavor elements.
This method is very popular in Europe, especially in Germany, and primarily uses methylene chloride as solvent. Hence its often referred to as KVW Method , The European Method,Methylene Chloride Method, or Euro Prep.
Why Is It So Difficult To Make Good Decaf Coffee
Lets start by stating a sad fact first: finding a good decaf coffee is the exception rather than the norm. The reason for this centers around two problems that are very difficult to overcome.
First, as weve already seen, the decaffeination process tends to damage many flavor compounds that contribute to the sensory character of roasted coffee.
Secondly, decaf coffees are notoriously difficult to roast. The reason for this is that decaffeinated, unroasted coffee beans start off almost brown in color rather than green. This makes it difficult for the roasters to control them, since they respond inconsistently and exaggeratedly to heat applied to them during roasting. Furthermore, they have less bound moisture content, which causes them to roast faster. So, you dealing with an unroasted green bean that tends to roast darker and faster than un-decaffeinated beans.
But all is not lost. Given what we just learned we can use this information to ensure a better decaf experience. Overall the type of roast you buy is going to have more of an impact on the taste than the decaf method. Try to avoid any decaf coffees that are really dark and oily, for you certainly dont want to add the ravages of a very dark roast to the rigors of any decaffeination process.
Whats your favorite decaf? Is there any particular process or roaster that you particularly like? Lets hear it in the comments!
and if you found this article valuable, go ahead and share it on your favorite social network
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The Verdict: Whats The Best Decaf Coffee
Without further ado, for our money the best decaf coffee is the Volcanica House Blend Decaf
Your mileage may vary, of course. But one thing is certain the days when decaffeinated was second-best are well and truly in the past.
Moisture Creates A Challenge
All this hot water, steam, and more water mean the moisture content in the green coffee has changed, even after it has been thoroughly dried.
This moisture content affects the temperature changes in the coffee beans during the roasting process, and roasters have to regulate temperature and air flow carefully to avoid letting the batch proceed to quickly or too slowly.
Its not uncommon to see a decaf coffee and a regular coffee, both from the same microlot, have a completely different roast profile, simply because the decaf responds to roasting temperatures differently. And its that kind of detail that can determine whether a decaf coffee tastes delicious or horrible.
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How Does The Swiss Water Process Work
As we mentioned, caffeine is soluble in water, and the trick is to remove the caffeine without removing anything that gives coffee its delicious flavor.
Unfortunately, much of the other stuff in coffee that we want to keep is also soluble in water.
This means if you simply soak a batch of green beans in water, yes, youll remove all the caffeine but youll also remove a lot more.
Then, when you roast the beans and try to brew them, youll find that your coffee doesnt taste of anything much at all.
The Swiss Water Process involves using an ingenious trick to remove only the caffeine while leaving everything else behind.
First, a batch of green beans is soaked in water. Everything that is soluble dissolves and ends up in the water, including the caffeine and all the good stuff.
This doesnt matter because this batch of beans will be discarded. However, what you end up with is a solution full of everything that can be dissolved out of coffee. This is called Green Coffee Extract, or GCE.