How is Decaf Coffee Processed?
To start with, coffee beans are decaffeinated before they are roasted. They have to still be considered "green" in order to get the absolute best results out of them and is done in food processing factories. The caffeine gets extracted with the Swiss Water Process and when complete the beans are dried. The end result is decaffeinated coffee beans!
Have you ever wondered exactly how to go about the process of decaffeinating coffee beans in order to get that fantastically hot cup of decaf on the table before you every morning? Well, this article is the one for you to read then!
Most laws surrounding the process of creating decaf coffee beans require for the beans to contain no more than 0.1% caffeine before they can be considered "decaf".
There are variations in this number depending on the type of coffee, instant coffee is often more lenient at 0.3% instead.
According to Scientific American, the process is done inside dedicated food processing factories (yes, that does mean that decaf coffee counts as a processed food) and typically involves the following:
- First, the beans must be swelled so that the caffeine is easier to remove from it
- The caffeine is then extracted in different ways depending on what decaf coffee the factory is making
- It can either be extracted by water, a chemical solvent or activated carbon
- The beans are finally dried so they return to the size they were previously before they were removed of caffeine
The process sounds simple enough, right? That is how decaf coffee is processed in a nutshell, but let's take a look at a few of the intricacies that are involved in the process.
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Is Decaf Coffee Chemically Processed?
As we've already mentioned, decaf coffee can be processed in a number of ways. Three if we're being exact. It can be processed with water, a solvent or activated carbon.
For this article we're going to focus on the chemicals that are used in the process to decaffeinate a coffee bean.
The solvents that are most typical in the process of decaffeinating coffee beans are simple enough to narrow down. More often than not they're included on the back of a package of decaf coffee for full disclosure.
One of the main solvents used in the process is known as ethyl acetate. In it's simplest terms, it is the by-product of acetic acid and is most commonly found in wines.
It is also prevalent in glues and makes for an excellent chemical to use in the process of decaffeination.
The other most important solvent in the process is called methylene chloride.
It's most common use is that of stripping paint, which if you've ever seen happen, shows that it isn't necessarily the most "mild" of chemicals out there and could be one to look out for.
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What Decaf Coffee Doesn't Use Chemicals?
There is a way to go through the decaffeination process without the use of the chemical solvents we mentioned above though, and that is by a method using water, which is known as the Swiss Water process (aptly named, considering it was developed by Switzerland in 1933).
There's a plethora of decaf coffee companies out there that make sure their beans have gone through this process and therefore don't come with the potential side effects of using chemical solvents in their products. The ones we recommend that are done with the Swiss Water process can be found here, and they are considered some of the best decaf coffee beans on the market.
All it would take is a quick online search with the term "swiss water decaf coffee" to find a list of a few of the best ones.
If you're worried about the issues surrounding the chemicals involved in the most mainstream methods of decaffeinating coffee beans, perhaps the safer, water-based alternative of Swiss Water is more for you.
All it involves is cycling fresh beans through a charcoal filter, which after some time migrates the caffeine from the beans away from the decaf beans.
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Do They Use Formaldehyde To Decaffeinate Coffee?
There is a naturally occurring amount of formaldehyde already in coffee beans before they undergo the roasting process required to bring out their unique taste.
It's because of this reason that some people report smelling it or having an allergic reaction to it when they are trying to enjoy their nice hot cup.
Formaldehyde is generally considered to be a thing of the past when it comes to the decaffeination process of coffee beans, regardless of the method that is used to get there.
It's considered to be quite the dangerous chemical, so it's okay to be a little bit worried about whether or not it's present in your decaf coffee.
If it helps to ease your mind, there is no formaldehyde present in most of the top performing brands of decaf, though they do tend to use more of the chemical solvents in their process to get the most ideal taste out of the decaffeinated beans.
On the most part though, decaf coffee is perfectly safe for your health and shouldn't warrant too much of a worry.
Final Thoughts on How is Decaf Coffee Processed!
So, hopefully this article has cleared up any questions you may have had about the decaf coffee process that is gone through when coffee beans are needed to be decaffeinated. It's certainly an eye-opening experience if you haven't considered it before.
Who would have thought there were that many chemicals present in the creation of it?!
On the surface of reading it, it might sound like decaf coffee isn't as healthy as you might have first thought, but hopefully we've cleared up a few doubts you might have had when you read about the traces of chemicals inside the beans.
Yes, they use fairly potent chemicals to get the desired affect out of the beans during the process but that doesn't mean that it's going to be harmful when it comes to actually drinking a cup in the comfort of your own home.
All in all, there are clearly a few ways that coffee can be decaffeinated, and though some seem to have a few issues compared to others, there are a plethora of choices to pick at when it comes to browsing for them in a shop or online.
Don't be alarmed by the mention of chemical solvents though, they're only a natural thing that has to happen to help with the process, they're not out to get you!