Decaffeinated Coffee Methods

How is Coffee Decaffeinated?

Let us start off with stating the obvious, coffee is naturally caffeinated, so, why would we want to try and do the opposite? To some, it may seem like going against the natural way coffee is supposed to be done. However, there are a handful of people out there who would rather enjoy a nice cup of joe without the stimulating effects of caffeine. So, can decaf really be just as good as “regular” coffee?

3 Ways to Decaffeinate Coffee

1) The Swiss Water Process (What Amora Uses)

This process is quite different from the other two methods as it does not involve the use of a chemical solvent. Instead, it uses caffeine-free green coffee extract to absorb the coffee beans’ caffeine. Its name comes not from the type of water but its country of origin. Here is how the Swiss Water Process works:
  • The coffee beans are first cleaned and hydrated with fresh water.
  • The beans are then soaked in caffeine-free green coffee extract, which naturally draws out the caffeine from the beans and into the solution while the flavor components are retained in the beans.
  • This process is repeated until the beans are 99.9% caffeine free.
  • The beans are then dried and shipped to their destination, and the green coffee extract is decaffeinated for further use.
This method is preferred for many coffee beans as it does not use chemicals to draw out the caffeine. However, the time required for the coffee beans and the technology required make it relatively expensive. The Swiss Water Method is typically used for higher quality coffee.

2) Solvent Method

Solvent based processes are those in which the caffeine is removed from the beans with the help of a chemical solvent, such as methylene chloride or ethyl acetate. Those solvent based processes in turn can be divided into methods using the “direct” method versus the “indirect” method. There are two processes to this method: Direct Solvent Process This process uses methylene chloride as the primary chemical compound to separate the caffeine from the coffee beans.
  1. The beans need to stay in near-boiling water for a few hours to remove the caffeine and other compounds
  2. The beans are moved to another tank where they are usually left to soak in methylene chloride.
Indirect Solvent Process In the indirect-solvent method the coffee beans are soaked in near boiling water for several hours, which extracts the caffeine as well as other flavor elements and oils from the beans. The water is then separated and transferred to another tank where the beans are washed for about 10 hours with either methylene chloride or ethyl acetate. The molecules of the chemical solvent bond with the molecules of caffeine and the resulting mixture is then heated to evaporate the solvent and caffeine. Lastly, the beans are reintroduced to the liquid to reabsorb most of the coffee oils and flavor elements. This method is very popular in Europe, especially in Germany, and primarily uses methylene chloride as solvent.

3) CO2 Method

The CO2 is a method of decaffeination that was discovered by accident in 1968. Chemist Kurt Zosel was experimenting with CO2 under extremely high pressures when he discovered that caffeine actually dissolved when under high pressure. His patented method became one of the most commonly used methods of decaffeination. What this process requires is liquid CO2, coffee beans, and stainless steel extraction vessels. Here is how the process works:
  • The beans are left to soak in water, which allows them to grow in size, making the decaffeination process easier.
  • The coffee beans are then placed in the stainless steel extraction vessel.
  • Liquid CO2 is pumped into the chamber at tremendous pressure. This pressurized CO2 absorbs the caffeine. The beans are left in this chamber for about 6 hours.
  • The now-decaffeinated beans are then removed, dried, roasted, and shipped to their final destination.
  • The caffeine is then removed from the CO2 and sold to companies that add caffeine to their products.
This method of decaffeination is typically more expensive than others because of the massive machinery required. Therefore, it is typically only used on large, industrial-level decaffeination. It is also a less delicate method and so is often used on lower quality coffee beans.

What’s the Best Method to Decaffeinate Coffee?

The Swiss Water Process that we use at Amora doesn't use chemicals and is the best at keeping that distinct coffee flavor but without the caffeine.

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