Decaffeination: Methods of Madness
Maybe you’re one of those people who shies away from coffee after dinner or maybe your doctor told you to lay off the caffeine. Either way, before you pull the trigger and go for the decaf, take a look at the different ways it’s decaffeinated and choose what’s right for you.
You see, there are several conventional methods used in the industry to decaffeinate coffee. The first, and what many consider an ideal way to remove the caffeine, is the Swiss Water Process. Unroasted coffee beans are soaked in extremely hot water (175°F) until at least 97% of the caffeine is removed – 99% in Europe. (The standard for what qualifies as “decaffeinated” varies by country. According to the US Food and Drug Administration decaffeinated coffee must have 97% of the caffeine removed in order for it to be classified as decaffeinated. In the European Union the classification standards are a bit higher at 99%.) The Swiss Water Process allows the beans to retain nearly all of their flavor and aroma, unlike other methods of decaffeination.
The Solvent Method strips most of the flavor and aroma from the beans because of the method itself. Methylene chloride is used to steam open the beans and remove the caffeine, instead of water. The beans are repeatedly rinsed with this chemical and dried before roasting. It’s been said the beans are rinsed up to a dozen times in the methylene chloride during this process to remove the caffeine.
Now if a more natural method instead of a chemical one is preferred to decaffeinate the beans, the carbon dioxide method might be used. Basically, water is added to carbon dioxide creating sparkling water that will act as a magnet to attract the caffeine molecules. This process is often considered a better alternative than the solvent method because the byproducts created are natural and recyclable, but still not as environmentally friendly as the Swiss Water Process.
So now you know three methods of decaffeination, but how do you know which company uses which method?
For the most part, if the solvent method is used the company doesn’t usually advertise it. This method is a relatively inexpensive way to decaffeinate coffee and doesn’t require an enormous amount of technology, so there’s little benefit in publicizing it. If the Swiss Water Process or the Carbon Dioxide Process was used, the company will usually advertise it.
However, Lavazza is one of those companies that doesn’t advertise the Swiss Water Process – and who knows why. According to a spokesman, they decided to use the Swiss Water Process for its Dek and Decaffeinato coffees, allowing only water to decaffeinate their air-roasted beans but never really advertised it. Go figure?
And if you’re still undecided on which decaf to choose we’ve got several available. Check them out!