The Truth About Decaf Coffee

The Truth About Decaf Coffee

How is it made? And how much caffeine is really in it?

Science is strange. Sometimes it can say that caffeine is good and even safe to drink for those with heart failure, and other times it flat out says caffeine is bad even for the healthiest of individuals. Either way, decaf coffee is a good choice for those of us who want to enjoy our favorite drink— minus the caffeine.

Separating coffee from caffeine sounds a little counterproductive and flat-out pointless at first. After all, caffeine is named after coffee, so their relationship is very important.

Caffeine contributes to bitterness and, by itself, can cause irritation of the stomach, which is why the removal of caffeine in coffee can lead to partial loss of its original flavor if not done carefully.

In terms of being “decaffeinated”: it is not, in the widest sense of the word. Decaffeination can only remove 97% of the total caffeine content at best. This means that a cup of decaf will still contain some caffeine, although the amount is practically meaningless— about 7 mg per cup, while a regular cup contains 140 mg or more per cup.

So let’s answer the big question: how are coffee beans decaffeinated?

There are two methods most commonly used for decaffeinating coffee beans:

#1 Swiss water method

The swiss water method came up as a solution for old methods invented more than a century ago which used solvents that are very bad for our health. Instead, the swiss water method (invented in 1933) uses only water.

Green coffee is soaked in hot water to extract the caffeine, yet it is then passed through an activated charcoal filter. This filter traps in it most -if not all- of the caffeine molecules. Those beans are then discarded, and it’s the caffeine-free green coffee extract that is used.

Now, the good coffee is soaked in this water, and a magical thing happens: caffeine is attracted towards this water, and so it migrates from the beans and into this water.

This process can be repeated ad nauseam, but it varies depending on the seller’s needs. Caffeine content will, however, be higher the less times the process is repeated and vice versa.

#2 Supercritical CO2

Carbon dioxide, usually a gas, can turn liquid when you apply the right amount of pressure and heat. This is anywhere from 100 to 1000 bars of pressure— an espresso is extracted using 15 bars of pressure, just so you get an idea. Temperature must be above 31°C or 87.8 °F for it to become supercritical.

Carbon dioxide used like this has dominated the market for solvents because compared to most others used before, this solvent is completely harmless to the body in small quantities. It is not toxic and -most important of all- it is cheap. Also, it’s rather good for the environment and you don’t need to resort to invasive practices (like deforestation) to get carbon dioxide.

In a similar manner to the first method of decaffeination, supercritical carbon dioxide is run through coffee beans enough times so that the caffeine is extracted. Unlike swiss water, this method is much less invasive and sometimes credited to achieve a better flavor in the cup than other methods.

In the end, one thing is sure: decaf coffee is not the same as any other coffee. Whether you use one process or the other, the truth is that the science is not clear on what else we’re removing from the coffee beans along with the caffeine. Or what could be added to them, even. What is clear is that caffeine content goes down: that’s more than enough for now.

While not the same in flavor or taste, decaf coffee can still be delicious if properly roasted by experienced people on this particular subject.

10 thoughts on “The Truth About Decaf Coffee”

  1. Chris:

    As my wife is the nightime coffee drinker in our house, I can only comment as to what she has said about your decaf coffee; ” It is the best”. She owned and operated a retail coffee store for a number of years so I can attest that she knows Coffee. Barista Joe’s is by far the best that she has used.

    1. We love to read things like this Mr. Garvin. We have spent countless hours trying to find the best tasting decaf blend, and we finally found it. We hear this all the time from lifelong decaf drinkers, that they have never tasted a decaf like ours. We appreciate your kind words, and wish you and your wife the best. Thank you !

  2. Very interesting. Thank you for your delicious decaf coffee. I feel pain when I have caffeine. Touching my skin hurts when I have caffeine so it is important for me to not have it in my coffee.

    1. Yea, caffeine sensitivity can cause symptoms like you mentioned which can really make people uncomfortable. That’s why we take such pride in our Decaf, as its 97.9% caffeine free, using the natural mountain water removal process. We have had so many compliments with our decaf. We are very happy you enjoy it ! Thanks for your comment 🙂

  3. Chris,
    I trust Barista Joe to give us the best possible decaf process all things considered. That said — which process do you use or is it a mix like Allegro? Any idea what process most high-end roasters, like Barista Joes, are using?

    I love the marketing “fluff” that both Swisswater and CO2 fanatics tell you the positive and not the negative. Swisswater claims 99.9% caffein removed depending on the number of cycles.

    What do you mean “… invasive practices (like deforestation) ?” If I understand the GCE rejuvenation process I wouldn’t expect “deforestation” but hey, us peons only get partial information. Based on end sales cost I would expect no more than ten percent bean loss in the SwissWater process. But ….

    1. We use the Mountain Water process which is similar to Swiss Water, but we like it better due to the softer water used which gives the coffee a better flavor. There are many invasive practices using chemical decaffeination, which inevitably goes back into the ground. There are many different schools of thought on the best methods, but we base our choices on taste and customer feedback. We have MANY customers tell us on a daily basis our decaf is the best they have ever tasted. We are always studying and researching our industry with best practices and new technologies at the forefront. What a great post, thank you Allen !

    1. Thank you Barb 🙂 We have put many hours in sourcing the best beans possible with the smoothest taste and very low acid and bitterness. Thanks for your business 🙂

  4. Thank you for sharing this information about decaf coffee, Dean! Some studies suggest that consuming excessive amounts of caffeine may cause restlessness, anxiety, and digestive problems. It may even increase the risk of heart disease and stroke in some people. That makes decaf an amazing way to enjoy coffee without the side effects of too much caffeine.

  5. That was a fascinating read! Decaf coffee is a terrific alternative for folks like me who consume a lot of coffee. You can have the flavor and appearance of a regular coffee while only consuming a small amount of caffeine.

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