March 28, 2021

Decaffeinated Does Not Mean Caffeine-Free

By Scott Thomas
Image of a resealable bag of Sinister Joe Coffee Company Peruvian Decaf roast coffee with coffee beans in front of the bag.

Decaf is short for decaffeinated and is not the same as caffeine-free.  Contrary to popular belief, decaffeinated coffee still contains some caffeine. 

Feel confused?  Let us compare. A regular cup of coffee contains 75 to 130 milligrams of caffeine per six ounces and green tea contains 12 to 30 milligrams per six ounces. Decaffeinated coffee contains 3 to 6 milligrams per six ounces.  So basically, that cup of decaf contains very little caffeine by comparison.

Why does decaffeinated coffee have caffeine you might ask? 

Well, the caffeine must be extracted from the coffee beans, but it is just not feasible to remove every molecule of caffeine. 

There are three primary extraction methods … Solvent-Based Process, Carbon Dioxide Process, and Swiss Water Process. 

Solvent-Based Processes use solvents like methylene chloride or ethyl acetate to remove caffeine from the coffee bean and there are two ways that this is accomplished: The Indirect-Solvent and Direct-Solvent.

The Indirect-Solvent Process soaks coffee beans in boiling water which extracts the caffeine and flavor molecules along with the oils from the beans.  The water is transferred to another holding tank and the beans are washed with one of the solvents mentioned above.  The solvent molecules bond with caffeine molecules and the mixture is heated to evaporate the solvent and caffeine.  The beans and water are reintroduced so the beans may reabsorb the oils and flavor molecules. 

The Direct-Solvent Process steams the beans to open their pores then the beans are rinsed with one of the solvents mentioned above to remove the caffeine.  The solvent is drained away and the beans are steamed to remove any remaining solvent.

The Carbon Dioxide Process (CO2) soaks coffee beans in hot water.  The beans are then transferred to an extraction vessel and mixed with compressed CO2.  The CO2 pulls the caffeine from the beans but leaves the flavor molecules.  The CO2 is transferred to an absorption chamber where it returns to a gaseous state (leaving the caffeine behind) and is reused.  The caffeine may be reused as well like caffeinating soda.

The Swiss Water Process uses solubility and osmosis to remove caffeine.  The coffee beans are soaked in very hot water and the caffeine, flavors, and oils leach out into the water.  This water is then filtered using a carbon filter designed to capture the caffeine molecules only.  This leaves us with flavorless coffee beans with no caffeine and caffeine-free water (Green Coffee Extract – GCE).  These flavorless coffee beans are thrown away and the GCE is used to remove caffeine from a fresh batch of coffee beans.  The caffeine is leached out, but because the water already has the flavor molecules the flavor molecules from the fresh beans cannot leach out.

Our Peruvian Decaf is an organic coffee that uses the Swiss Water process of decaffeination.


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