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Decaffeinated Coffee: The Ups, The Downs, and Some Very Good News

[ADSENSE_0000000096]If you tend to frequent a lot of coffee shops, you may have heard someone exclaim in passing: “Drinking decaf is like kissing your brother – it’s just WRONG!” For coffee lovers who swear by their morning dose of caffeine, this expression certainly rings true… however, it’s also quite likely that many of these people have never looked into what decaf coffee really is, and are simply jumping to conclusions on their own.

True, decaf won’t give you a buzz and wake you up as quickly in the morning. It’s also less addictive, and decaf drinkers may develop less of a dependence on their beverage than full-caf lovers. But here’s a news flash for all you decaf drinkers reading this and suddenly feeling a little smug: your coffee still has caffeine in it.

That’s right! Decaf coffee isn’t fully decaffeinated – there’s usually about 1-2% caffeine still left in the beans, making decaf a bad choice for people looking to cut the drug out of their diet. How is it possible to get rid of caffeine from coffee? It’s not quite as esoteric as it sounds. There are two primary methods employed by manufacturers to turn your buzz beans into a lazier liquid: the European Process and the Swiss Water process.

The European Process: Chemical Beans

This process, while perfectly harmless, may leave decaf drinkers a little bit wary about their next coffee purchase. Coffee beans that are decaffeinated through the European Process are first soaked in water, and then washed in a solution of methylene chloride that absorbs the caffeine. The beans are then rinsed thoroughly, dried, and sent off to the roaster! As odd as it might sound, this method actually allows more flavor to remain in the bean than the Swiss Water process does, as described below. It’s a perfectly safe method, since no chemical are left behind, but some people may not be willing to take the risk.

The Swiss Water Process: Steamy Beans

The Swiss Water method uses only hot water and steam to remove caffeine from the beans: the beans are soaked in water, removing the caffeine and any other coffee solids. These beans are then set aside, and the water passed through a carbon filter that filters out the caffeine, but lets the coffee solids – ie. flavor – pass through. The beans are then re-added to the decaffeinated water, soaking the flavor up, and finally are removed and dried so that they can be sent to the roasters. While the method is effective for removing the caffeine, the issue is that some natural oils are filtered out by this process as well, removing some of the beans’ flavor.

While there are several other similar methods to create decaf coffee, these are the two primary ways of getting the dirty deed done. However, in 2004, scientists discovered what they believe to be a naturally decaffeinated coffee plant – which may eliminate this middle process altogether! Found in Ethiopia, experiments on the plants by scientists concluded that the trees lacked an enzyme typically found in coffee plants’ leaves that converts theobromine into caffeine. The tree is a version of Coffea arabica, which provides around 70% of the world’s high-quality coffee – which means that within the next 5-10 years, decaf drinkers may finally be able to have their coffee and drink it too! That is, fully flavored and without strange concerns over the solvents used for decaf production.

But do you really know the Truth About Caffeine?


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