07 Jun What is Naturally Decaf Coffee?
Somewhere between 5% and 10% of the coffee sold in the United States is decaffeinated. That doesn’t sound like a lot. But at our current level of coffee consumption in the U.S., that translates to 20 to 40 Million Cups of Decaf per DAY.
So, why do people drink Decaf in the first place? In my experience, Decaf drinkers fall into several camps.
The largest group is very sensitive to caffeine, and tries to limit consumption. They drink regular caffeinated coffee in the early part of the day, then switch to Decaf in the afternoon.
A smaller group consists of people who like coffee, but feel that Decaf is healthier for them than regular coffee.
The remainder of the Decaf camp has a negative reaction to most sources of caffeine. The reactions range from mild stomach upsets to severe headaches and other serious symptoms.
Given the above, what are the pluses and minuses to drinking Decaf?
First, you must understand that coffee can be labeled “Decaffeinated” and contain up to 3% of the caffeine in regular non-decaf coffee. So you are not totally avoiding caffeine even if you drink only Decaf coffee. And while 3% is a small amount, if you drink Decaf all day without tracking your consumption, it can add up to a much more significant number.
It makes sense then, if you have a negative reaction to caffeine, to avoid all categories of coffee.
If, however, you fall into one of the first two groups, I think you need to be aware that not all Decaf coffee is equal. And I am not talking only about taste.
There are three primary methods to Decaffeinating coffee and not all are considered truly natural decaf coffee:
The first, and the most common, is a solvent based process. Either Methylene Chloride or Ethyl Acetate is used to extract the oils from the coffee bean. The caffeine and the solvent are then separated from the oil, and the oil is reintroduced into the bean.
However, just as not all the caffeine is separated from the coffee oils that go back into the beans, not all of the solvent is eliminated. And while the amount of solvent remaining is very insignificant, if you drink enough Decaf that amount adds up. And some people prefer to avoid any trace of solvent, no matter how little.
This gives rise to the other two methods of naturally processed coffee: the Swiss Water method and the CO2 process.
Unless your coffee is labeled “Swiss Water method” or “CO2 process” it has been treated using the solvent method. And under current standards, coffee labeled “Naturally Processed coffee” has still been treated with solvents. This is allowed since Ethyl Acetate also occurs as a compound in nature. But all Ethyl Acetate used in the decaf process is synthetic.
Basically, in the Swiss Water method the coffee beans are immersed in “Green Coffee Extract (GCE)”, which is designed to remove caffeine. The water is super-saturated with soluble coffee components, and caffeine is transferred from the beans into the GCE. Carbon filters then filter the caffeine out of the GCE, leaving the coffee beans more than 99% caffeine free.
The CO2 method uses liquid CO2 (carbon dioxide) that is forced through the coffee beans at extremely high pressure. At this high pressure, CO2 behaves partly like a gas and partly like a liquid, and one of its properties is that it combines readily with caffeine. And, as in the Swiss Water method, the caffeine is removed through charcoal filtering. This is an expensive method, but since the flavor components remain in the coffee during the entire process, we believe it does the least damage to the coffee flavor.
While the CO2 method is expensive and results in a higher priced product, we use it because we think the absence of chemicals and the clean taste justifies the higher cost.