It’s 7 in the evening and you NEED a coffee fix. But you also don’t want to be up for the next 8 hours from all the caffeine. That’s where the decaf kicks in. Whether you just want a late night coffee or you prefer to avoid the caffeine altogether, decaf is the way to go. Caffeine isn’t something that’s added to the coffee bean during the roasting process; caffeine occurs in coffee naturally and gives you that little boost of energy you need to wake up in the morning or even to get through that mid-morning slump. 10% of Americans prefer decaf to regular coffee, making it the perfect way to get that perfect cup of brew without all the caffeine.
You might be wondering how a coffee bean is “decaffeinated,” but before we get there, we need to answer a quick question.
WHAT IS DECAF COFFEE?
It sounds like a simple question, but many people don’t actually know what decaf coffee is. Decaffeinated coffee comes from a regular coffee bean that had gone through a process to remove about 97% of the caffeine. The end result is a good cup of coffee that won’t give you a morning pick me up, nighttime restlessness, jitters, or any other side effects associated with caffeine. One important thing to note: the coffee decaffeination process doesn’t remove all of the caffeine, but when you drink decaf coffee, you’re consuming just a small fraction of the caffeine you would get from regular coffee.
How does the coffee decaffeination process work?
There are several ways to decaffeinate a coffee bean, but all decaffeination processes start the same: green coffee beans. A coffee bean is always decaffeinated in its raw, green state. In all decaf approaches, the green coffee beans are moistened and soaked in water to make the caffeine soluble so that it can be drawn out of the bean. All decaffeination processes use water in this step since coffee beans are water soluble. This leads us to our next step; the water that was separated from the coffee beans is then mixed with a solvent. Water alone isn’t a “selective” solvent and tends to dissolve other important substances and chemicals like sugar and protein along with the caffeine. Because of this, all decaffeination processes use something called a decaffeinating agent to help speed the process up and preserve the flavor by minimizing the washing out that occurs when water alone is used in decaffeination.
Next, you’ll separate the solvent from the water, something made easier due to its oil like properties (oil and water don’t mix). Finally, you’ll return the water to the beans, allow them to soak up the decaffeinated water, and finish drying. Some companies use carbon dioxide instead of water; under certain circumstances, CO2 can act as a solvent to remove the caffeine. The decaffeination process slowly removes the caffeine from the beans resulting in a coffee bean that is mostly caffeine free and ready to be roasted into your favorite decaf roast.
Why is it so Difficult to Make Good Decaf Coffee?
The coffee decaffeination process appears to be pretty straightforward, but anyone who has ever had decaf coffee also knows how hard it can be to get a really good cup of decaf joe. A good cup of decaf coffee can be hard to come by as the coffee decaffeination process can damage many of the chemicals in coffee that lend to its flavor and character. A little-known fact, decaf coffees are also notoriously difficult to roast. Coffee beans are naturally green, but after the decaffeination process, coffee beans are almost brown. The decaf coffee beans have less moisture in them causing them to respond differently to heat during the roasting process. Basically, decaf coffee beans roast darker, faster, and less consistent when compared to regular coffee beans.
What are the effects on taste and aroma?
Don’t let all this talk of roasting difficulties scare you away from decaf. Ultimately, the roast type that you buy will impact flavor and character more than the decaf label. We already know that coffee’s flavor, aroma, and kick are caused by thousands of chemicals. The sheer complexity and variety of these chemicals are what give coffee its unique flavor, something that can be thrown off balance through the coffee decaffeination process. While chemicals vary from bean to bean, no coffee bean is exempt from a flavor and aroma change when decaffeinated. Avoid dark and oily decaf roasts and you should steer clear of any particularly bad cups of brew. Try a few flavors until you find one that suits your palate.
What are the health benefits of decaf? Who is decaf good for?
There are a lot of health benefits of drinking coffee, but there are a few key differences between the health benefits of drinking decaf. The good news: the health benefits of coffee aren’t eliminated through the decaffeination process. Just like regular coffee, decaf coffee is full of nutrients and antioxidants, however, decaf coffee can have up to 15% less of the antioxidants hydrocinnamic acid and polyphenols. In the grand scheme of things, switching to decaf isn’t going to lessen the health benefits of drinking coffee.
Decaf coffee still has the same benefits as regular coffee when it comes to reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, improving liver function, and reduced risk of a few neuro diseases. While decaffeinated coffee won’t give you the same pick me up as regular coffee, it actually reduces the side effects of heartburn and acid reflux.
The real question we all want to be answered is this: who should be drinking decaf coffee? The answer: anyone. Decaf coffee has the same health benefits that regular coffee has, plus a few more. People who specifically should switch to decaf include those with a sensitivity to caffeine, elderly people with a heart condition, and pregnant women who are looking to avoid caffeine to reduce the effects on the baby. For these people, switching to decaf is the perfect alternative to giving it up completely.
Hopefully, now you know the difference between decaf and regular coffee, as well as a little bit about the decaffeination process. Knowing these details can help you find the perfect decaf coffee roast if you’re looking to cut back on the caffeine because you know that just because you want to limit caffeine, doesn’t mean you have to give up your coffee.
Our last bit of advice for you: experiment with your decaf coffee roasts until you find the one that you like as much as regular coffee. It may take time, but if coffee is on your mind and you don’t want the caffeine, it’s worth it. Finding the right kind of decaf coffee is key for any coffee lover looking to limit their caffeine intake.