Fortunately, with or without the caffeine, coffee is rich in biologically active substances that contribute to its aroma, taste and color. Some of these have been investigated to determine which components of the drink are responsible for its well-documented health benefits.
Caffeine, which is found in coffee and other foods (cocoa, tea), is that substance that keeps us awake, both when we need it and when we don’t want it. Unfortunately, to some people this and other side effects of caffeine are not welcome.
Decaffeinated coffee or “decaf” is coffee that has had most of the caffeine removed. By weight, the amount of caffeine found naturally in coffee is only about 1% for the Arabica and 2% for the Robusta coffee beans. There are currently two main methods used commercially that remove caffeine from coffee:
Most decaf coffees are made using a chemical process first used in Europe. This process involves soaking the beans in water and then “washing” them in methylene chloride to absorb the caffeine from the bean. After this, the beans are rinsed clean of the chemicals, dried and shipped to the coffee roasters. The advantage of this method is that it provides decaf coffee with more flavor than the Swiss water processing. Although there is virtually no trace of any chemicals left in the bean after roasting, some people are uncomfortable knowing that the coffee they are drinking was chemically processed.
Swiss Water Process
The second method is known as “Swiss water processing”. This process uses no chemicals, but rather hot water and steam to remove the caffeine from the coffee. The “life” of the bean is taken into the water, and then the water solution put through activated charcoal filters to remove the caffeine. Once the caffeine is removed, these same beans are then put back into the decaffeinated solution to re-absorb everything except the caffeine. The beans are then dried and shipped to the roasters. The disadvantage is that the water processing removes more than just the caffeine. Some of the oils from the coffee bean are removed as well, making it less flavorful.
The best thing to do for those who really want this kind of decaf is to start out with a high quality, Arabica bean. Even though some of the flavor will be lost, there will still be a lot left to enjoy.