When the waitress at your favorite diner offers to pour you a cup of coffee first thing in the morning, she may ask if you prefer decaffeinated coffee. Consumers may wonder what the difference is between regular coffee and decaffeinated, coffee that has undergone special processing in order to remove most of the caffeine content. Although many people actually prefer the caffeine in coffee for the energy boost it offers them, there are just as many people for whom caffeine produces adverse side effects.
People who are sensitive to the caffeine in coffee often experience an uncomfortable jittery feeling after drinking even one cup. Caffeine in coffee has also been linked to headaches, nervousness, elevated heart rate, and bouts of insomnia. Luckily, people for whom caffeine is not beneficial don’t have to give up drinking coffee, they just have to switch to drinking the decaf variety.
Decaffeination is the process of removing the caffeine content from unroasted, green coffee beans. The first step is steaming the beans, then using a solvent containing acid in order to remove the caffeine. The process of steaming and then rinsing with solvent is repeated up to a dozen times until testing proves that at least 97% of the caffeine in the beans has been eliminated, the international standard for categorizing coffee beans as decaffeinated.
Since Ludwig Roselius was the first entrepreneur to attempt to make decaf coffee in the early 20th century, several other processes have been developed that use a variety of different solvents in the process of retaining the taste and flavor but eliminating the caffeinated content in coffee beans. Although benzene was originally used as a rinsing solvent, it has been found to be a harmful chemical and safer methods of making decaf coffee have prevailed.
In the Swiss Water Process, the green coffee beans are first soaked in hot water to express the caffeine. The Direct Method involves rinsing steamed coffee beans with ethyl acetate or dichloromethane for up to 10 hours. The beans are then re-steamed to remove any traces of the solvent rinse. The Indirect Method of producing decaf beans, sometimes called water processing, involves a hot water soak of the beans, then removing the beans and then extracting the caffeine from the resulting water using either dichloromethane or ethyl acetate.
The CO2 process of removing caffeine from coffee beans involves immersing steamed green beans in supercritical carbon dioxide placed in a pressure chamber. Many coffee companies prefer this method to make decaf coffee because there are no harmful solvents used to remove the caffeine in the beans. The Triglyceride Process involves soaking green coffee beans in a solution of hot water and coffee in order to help the beans release their caffeine by drawing it to the bean surface. These beans are then immersed in coffee oils for several hours, with the final step of separating the beans from their oil bath and drying them for use in preparing decaf coffee.
The process of making decaf coffee makes it possible for people sensitive to caffeine to still get the benefits of drinking coffee daily. These health benefits include reducing the risk of getting diabetes, getting a good dose of antioxidants into the body to combat free radicals that cause cell damage, improved digestion and even as a weight loss aid when drinking a cup of decaf coffee is substituted for eating sugary, more calorie-laden snacks.