How Do They Make Decaffeinated Coffee?

by Peter Taylor | Last Updated: 12 December 2019

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How Do They Make Decaffeinated Coffee?

Decaffeinated coffee may not be as popular with people since it rather diminishes the point of drinking coffee (i.e. to wake up or get more energy for the day), but for many people, decaf is better than nothing.

Women who are pregnant, people who cannot have much caffeine for health reasons or sensitivity, or people who like a hot drink later in the day but don’t want to suffer the effects of sleeplessness all find refuge in their decaf (or half-caf) coffee.

But how do they make decaffeinated coffee? The process is rather interesting and leads to other questions such as benefits, problems, safety, and which decaf is the best around. So, how do they make decaffeinated coffee?

Decaffeinated coffee is made one of three ways. In all three ways, the green beans (If the beans are already roasted, the decaffeination process will result in dry, bland coffee that is likened to eating straw) are first moistened and then decaffeinated at moderate temperatures.

After that, the processing can vary between any of these methods:

  1. Using water to remove the caffeine from green coffee beans (This is also usually known as the Swiss water method and is the gentlest and most popular method for artisanal decaf coffee in particular).
  2. A direct solvent method using solvents such as methylene chloride to dissolve the caffeine and pull it out
  3. The use of carbon dioxide (or ‘sparkling water method’) which is pushed through the green coffee at high pressure

The third approach is the most popular because carbon dioxide is readily available, it’s cheaper to pump through the beans and it can pull out 96-98% of the caffeine, making it great for super decaffeinated coffee. (Particularly good for people who are very sensitive to caffeine).

The carbon dioxide method is good too because the carbon dioxide can be reused, though it is more intensive in capital costs.

On the other hand, the swiss water method is popular because it is gentle, considered healthier and safer, and results in more flavorful coffee. You’ll see this most often used in small batch decaf coffee that aficionados tend to appreciate more.

How to Decaffeinate Coffee Yourself

Most people choose to buy their decaffeinated coffee in a grocery store or in a coffee shop, but you may decide to decaffeinate coffee yourself. This could be because you don’t want to purchase different kinds of coffee for your household or you want to be able to control it yourself. Making your own decaf coffee isn’t precisely hard, but it is time-consuming and requires some patience.

Most people choose to buy their decaffeinated coffee in a grocery store or in a coffee shop, but you may decide to decaffeinate coffee yourself. This could be because you don’t want to purchase different kinds of coffee for your household or you want to be able to control it yourself.

Making your own decaf coffee isn’t precisely hard, but it is time consuming, requires a few specialized tools to make it easier and requires some patience.

You will need:

  1. Soak your green beans in just enough hot water to cover them. Using a big mixing bowl for this is best. Soak them for a few minutes and then strain and repeat. The more times you repeat this process, the more caffeine you are extracting. The counter to this is that the more times you pour hot water on them, the more quality you lose, so there is a balancing act. You may have to experiment a few times to find just the right balance.
  2. Roast your beans. You can either use a roasting machine or you can use a stainless-steel pan. You’ll know you’re done when the beans are brown or black and your house smells like coffee
  3. Grind your coffee using a grinder or a mortar and pestle

That’s all there is to it! As you can see, it’s easy to make your own decaffeinated coffee, though you will want a couple of good tools to make it less laborious.

Now, keep in mind that DIY decaf coffee probably won’t taste as good as the stuff you can buy in the store or in a coffee shop because the hot water bath not only takes out caffeine but also quality.

You will also find that you won’t get the same amount of caffeine out as a manufacturer because the hot water method can only remove so much before the quality of the bean is completely degraded. However, if you’re looking for a way to make decaf coffee yourself, as you can see, it can be done.

Is Decaf Coffee Safe?

Decaf coffee is absolutely safe to drink. The methods used to extract caffeine, even the more solvent heavy ones, are safe for human consumption afterward. Furthermore, decaf coffee is considered safer to drink than regular coffee for people who have health issues, sensitivities or who are pregnant.

The reason why there is a bit of a whiffy reputation around decaf coffee is that originally, it was made by rinsing coffee beans through benzene which is linked to cancer, blood disorders, and fetal development issues.

How Do They Make Decaffeinated Coffee?

Obviously, benzene was quickly replaced by other solvents such as carbon dioxide and methylene chloride or ethyl acetate. Methylene chloride is the most problematic of the bunch (relatively speaking) because it can cause problems breathing, headaches, confusion, sickness, and fatigue, though the amount found in decaf coffee is so minuscule that the FDA concluded it’s safe to use.

Is Decaffeinated Coffee Bad For You?

Short answer: no. Decaffeinated coffee is about as good (or bad) for you as regular coffee except that it lost its caffeine so you may find you have fewer issues with headaches or jitters. It also delivers many of the same health benefits as regular coffee such as lower risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and kidney disease.

It takes a lot of decaf coffee to get the same caffeine level as regular coffee, so if you’re on a caffeine limited diet, you may enjoy drinking decaf so that you can have more throughout the day.

The main health kick with coffee-both decaf and caf-is the amount of sugar and dairy you put in it, so if you’re looking to drink something healthier, drink black coffee, decaf or otherwise.

Is Decaffeinated Coffee Better Than Regular Coffee?

This is a loaded question, well, in my opinion, because it really depends on what you hope to get out of your coffee. If you want (or need) a morning jolt, then decaffeinated coffee is not going to do it for you.

Decaffeinated coffee also tastes different to many people than regular coffee, for better or worse. If, on the other hand, you just want your hot drink, but you don’t want to suffer the side effects of caffeine, then decaf is going to be better for you.

As we have seen, the health benefits are about the same between decaf and caffeinated coffee and the drawbacks are largely tied to the amount of caffeine and how much other stuff you add to your drink.

So really, it depends on what you want your morning mug to do for you. If you need a wake-up, then decaf is going to be useless to you. If you’re just looking for a hot drink, then decaf may work fine for you.

Decaffeinated Coffee Benefits

Coffee is one of those foods which bounces back and forth in the eyes of the public regarding its health benefits. At the time of writing, most experts have settled on the fact that, in moderation and without a pile of sugar, cream, and other junk, coffee can have some great benefits. And these benefits extend to decaffeinated coffee, at least by and large.

There are six broad benefits of decaf coffee (And regular coffee as well):

  1. Cancer prevention (skin and prostate in particular)
  2. Liver protection. Decaf coffee is known to protect the liver from cirrhosis and cancer and its unknown whether caffeine helps or hinders.
  3. Prevention of type 2 diabetes. This is due to the magnesium, chromium and other minerals that help the body regulate blood sugar and make use of insulin. Again though, this assumes you aren’t loading the drink up with sugar yourself.
  4. Alzheimer’s disease. Coffee is good for the brain, though decaf and caf diverge here. Decaf isn’t quite as good at it as regular coffee.
  5. Parkinson’s Disease: Two to three cups of coffee a day has been shown to really help Parkinson’s patients
  6. Helps the heart: Decaffeinated coffee has been linked to an increase in cholesterol levels, but this study was quite small. Larger studies have shown that coffee drinkers have a 25% less chance of developing cardiovascular disease and decaf is better still because it doesn’t cause jitters.

The main benefit, of course, is that the lack of caffeine wipes out the problems of headaches, diuretics, and jitteriness that is often associated with caffeinated coffee.

The Best Decaffeinated Coffee

There are tons of brands of decaffeinated coffee out there; basically every coffee producers have a decaf version (or a few of them), so choosing the best decaffeinated coffee is ultimately going to boil down to personal preference.

The method by which the coffee bean has its caffeine extracted is also going to play into things like flavor and preference. It’s important to try a few different kinds before settling on one if you want to make sure you’ll like it.

Still, there are some across the board that are considered excellent by those who sample coffee for a living, so let’s take a look:

  • Stone Street Swiss Water Process Mayan Water. This is a popular one because it has a great flavor, a freshness sealing packaging, and is made with swiss water which is shown to be safest and best for keeping flavor. It’s also ethically sourced.
  • No Fun Jo Organic Decaf: Another swiss water decaf which is made with the very best grade organic, fair-trade Arabica beans. It’s only found on Amazon and is one of the highest-rated brands there.
  • Cooper’s Cask Coffee: This decaf coffee is more known for its aroma (though the flavor is great too). It is also made using swiss water processing.
  • Kicking Horse Coffee: This is a dark roast coffee that is decaffeinated using the Swiss water methods. Dark roast is best for decaffeinating because it stands up the process really well, ensuring that you still get a really flavorful drink.
  • Kirkland Signature: Not all decaf coffee has to come in tiny batches and cost an arm and a leg. We have to give it up to Costco: their Kirkland brand is bulk, affordable, consistent, and gets the job done. Fine, it’s not artisanal, but not everyone can afford artisanal and yet they still want their decaf coffee.
  • Starbucks Decaf Caffe Verona: Like the Kirkland brand, the Starbucks brand is nothing special in terms of flavor, but it’s consistent and popular across the board. And, like the Costco brand, it’s more affordable. This is a dark roast as well.
  • Eight O’Clock The Original Decaf Coffee: Eight O’Clock is more old school, but it was well loved and still is. Known for making one of the smoothest decaf coffees around, this is a medium roast that is also 100% kosher!
  • Don Pablo Gourmet Decaf Coffee: Don Pablo is a Mexican coffee bean blend that is noted for not tasting much different from their caffeinated version. This is a non-GMO brand using swiss water processing.
  • Lavazza Decaf Espresso: And you thought you had to give up espresso. Nope! Espresso is made through the treatment of the beans and Lavazza, an Italian brand, makes the best. Lavazza comes in fresh, sealed containers and is roasted in Italy with non-GMO production. It’s really the only and best decaf espresso brand on the market.
  • Illy Decaf: Illy is a premium brand and their decaf is no different. It uses the best roasted beans, the best grinds, and is processed in a 100% air-free environment with high pressure for packaging and preservation. All this means you get the best flavor possible in your little canisters.

Of course, there are many more decaf brands out there and there’s one for every budget, taste preference, style, and personality. Again, we’d recommend trying a few out before landing on a favorite.

In Conclusion…

Decaffeinated coffee may not enjoy the best reputation and for people who drink coffee to wake up in the morning, it’s probably not going to be the first thing you reach for.

But for people who like an evening coffee, have health issues that caffeine would exacerbate or women who are pregnant, it is nice to know there are some great tasting alternatives.

Now, keep in mind that decaf is not caffeine-free. In order to be considered ‘decaf’, between about 95 and 97% of the caffeine must be removed, but that still leaves a bit of caffeine in there. Those who are very sensitive to caffeine may still notice that they have some problems with decaf.

‘Cheap’ decaffeinated coffee (or decaf you DIY) will also not taste as good as regular coffee because of the process used. However, it is perfectly possible to find wonderful decaf coffee that is made with the same care as regular coffee and can give you the same health benefits.

We hope that we took away some of the hatred or mistrust around decaffeinated coffee and gave you some ideas of some new blends to try. Enjoy a guilt-free decaf up when you want a hot drink but are worried about getting too jittery or not being able to sleep at night.

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