Whether caffeinated or decaffeinated, research shows that coffee is linked to numerous health benefits. Both decaf and regular java are associated with decreased risk of several chronic diseases and cancers. Also, coffee increases longevity.
At least 90 percent of Americans consume caffeinated beverages. Sadly, some people do not tolerate caffeine or have allergies. If you are avoiding caffeine for one reason or the other but still want to enjoy the flavorful taste or other benefits associated with coffee, you can switch to decaf coffee.
However, the process of making decaf coffee often makes its safety questioned by many individuals. So is there a safe decaf coffee? In this article, we’ll discuss how decaf coffee is made to help you understand whether it is safe.
How to Make Decaf Coffee
There are several techniques of making decaffeinated coffee including:
The Swiss Water Process
The Swiss Water Process is a method of removing caffeine from coffee beans using water. There are no chemical solvents involved in this decaffeination method. This method was developed in Switzerland. In this decaffeination method, raw (green) coffee beans are soaked in water to extract caffeine. The water is saturated with desirable components of coffee. Thus, there is reduced extraction of coffee flavors and oils when the beans are soaked in water.
The steaming process takes about 8 to 10 hours to extract caffeine. The beans are moved through several baths of steam. Once the process is complete, most of the caffeine is extracted. The amount left is negligible.
Methylene Chloride Process
Abbreviated as MCP, this technique removes caffeine using a solvent known as methylene chloride. It is an old-fashioned decaffeination process, which is still used today. Most decaf brands use this method. If your decaf beans do not state the decaffeination method used, it is likely MCP.
Essentially, Methylene Chloride is a chemical solvent. It is colored with a relatively sweet aroma. It has multiple uses including making hair spray and paint remover.
In MCP decaffeination, the beans are steamed to remove caffeine from the inner to the outer surface. Next, the solvent is applied to the beans to get rid of the caffeine. Steam is applied to the coffee beans to clear the residual solvent. After that, the coffee beans are dried in readiness for roasting. Drying and roasting them further removes any chemical solvent residue. Any chemical that finds its way into brewed coffee is less than 1 part per million.
Carbon Dioxide Method
The carbon dioxide (CO2) decaffeination method involves immersing coffee beans in carbon dioxide for about 10 hours. It is the same gas used in sparkling water. Thus, some roasters refer to this method as the Sparkling Water Decaf Process. The reason is to make it appealing to people who’re highly conscious about their health.
In this technique, the gas is used in a closed system. It is not vented out to the atmosphere. Thus, there’s reduced release of carbon into the environment. As a result, this decaffeination process is considered safe.
Ethyl Acetate Decaffeination Process
Referred to as EA decaffeination in short, this technique is relatively new. Regardless, its popularity is growing rapidly. It employs a natural solvent known as ethyl acetate to eliminate caffeine from coffee beans. It is often referred to as the Sugar Cane Decaf method because the solvent is a by-product of sugarcane fermentation when manufacturing processed sugar.
In this method, green coffee beans are soaked in water. Next, they are steamed to expand the cells making up the coffee beans. Thereafter, they are soaked and washed in the ethyl acetate solvent. The solvent attracts and removes caffeine from the beans. Finally, the beans are rinsed, dried, and packed in readiness for shipping.
Is There a Safe Decaf Coffee?
All decaf coffees are generally safe. All four methods used in decaffeination are safe. Although some of the decaf methods use chemical solvents, the coffee beans are thoroughly washed, steamed, and roasted to rinse off the solvents used.
The U.S. FDA has set strict safety standards on decaffeination to ensure any traces of solvents left behind are safe for consumption. In that case, safe decaf coffee should not contain more than 10 parts per million of the solvent used.
How Much Caffeine Does Decaf Coffee Contain?
Decaffeination removes at least 97% of the caffeine content in coffee beans. A cup of decaf contains roughly 2mg of caffeine. On the other hand, a cup of regular joe contains roughly 95mg of caffeine.