Decaf - Why do we hate decaf so much?
Updated: Jan 25
“Death before Decaf”
“Decaffeinated coffee is as satisfying like a lukewarm shower”
“Wanna hear a joke? Decaf”
Like many quotes on the internet, these are just some of the showcases of what most people think about decaf.
But why do people hate it so much? Why do they get angry at it? How is coffee actually decaffeinated and is there actually good decaf?
Many of us, and especially Baristas, have experienced the side effects of over caffeination. Sweaty palms, shaky hands and a general unwell feeling, especially after dialing in several different espressos in one day. For a lot of people, even a small amount of caffeine can have negative effects on their body. Most barista competitors would even agree that they mainly drink coffee for the taste and the caffeine rush is sometimes a quite negative side effect of coffee.
But can decaf actually taste as good as normal coffee and can it ever be considered ‘specialty’?
We think it can and a 2018 National Coffee Association (NCA) report shows that 42% of all coffee consumers drink decaf and of these consumers, young adults lead the trend. Some market research has indicated that decaf drinkers are willing to pay more for high-quality coffee than other consumers.
How is coffee decaffeinated?
Most modern methods work in similar ways. Green coffee beans are moistened, which makes the caffeine soluble, and then the caffeine is extracted. This is where the processes vary.
This is the most commonly used technique but unfortunately uses a quite aggressive chemical called dichloromethane. Coffee beans are soaked and then immersed in the solvent, which attaches to the caffeine molecules. The solvent is then recaptured in an evaporator, and the beans are washed.
After approx. 30 minutes of exposure to steam, the beans are stored for 10 hours in dichloromethane or ethyl acetate as the extraction agent (solvent). The extraction agent is then poured off and residues are removed in a further 10-hour drying step. Complete removal of the solvent is particularly important with dichloromethane, as this is suspected of being carcinogenic. Any remaining solvent residues are removed with steaming. The beans are dried and go on to be roasted like any other green coffee.
Carbon Dioxide Method / CO2 Process
This process is also called supercritical fluid extraction. Basically, the process starts with the beans being immersed in carbon dioxide (same gas as in sparkling water) for around 10 hours.
After a thorough soaking, the pressurized CO2 containing dissolved caffeine is removed from the chamber which is returned to atmospheric pressure, allowing the CO2 to evaporate. This allows the caffeine to be removed using charcoal filters. Again, this process avoids the use of any harmful substances and Decadent Decaf is investigating sourcing premium, great tasting beans using the CO2 Process for the future.
Swiss Water Process
Developed in Switzerland in the 1980s, the Swiss Water Process is a chemical free process. The green (raw) coffee beans are immersed in water to extract the caffeine using water saturated with desirable coffee components, thereby reducing the extraction of coffee oils and flavours during the decaffeination process. This means the caffeine is extracted, but not the flavour. This steaming process takes 8 to 10 hours and involves moving the decaf batch into various baths of steam.
A very simplified way of describing this method is the following: Imagine you have 10 buckets of water in front of you. You add 10 drops of caffeine tpo the first bucket, 9 to the second, 8 to the third and so on. Now let's imagine you add green beans to the first bucket with the most caffeine in the water. The content of caffeine inside the green beans is the same as in the water. Then you place the beans in the next bucket. Due to osmosis the caffeine from inside the bean will travel to the water to create a balanced caffeine level between the inside and the outside of the bean. This way the caffeine can be gently washed out.
Mountain Water Process
This unique non-chemical decaffeination process uses the clear waters from the highest mountain in Mexico, the Pico de Orizaba to gently remove the caffeine from the green beans.
In basic terms the process works by immersing the green beans in water in order to extract the caffeine content. The water preserves the soluble flavour components of the green beans and this protects the original characteristics of the coffee.
In order to remove the caffeine from the water containing these soluble flavour elements, the water is passed through a filtration system. This produces a solution comprising the original mountain water and the soluble coffee flavours, now free from caffeine.
The resulting green coffee is 99.9% caffeine-free. The beans are then dried to the required moisture content prior to importation.
Can Decaf taste as good as other specialty coffee?
Absolutely! Did you know that Cole Torode, Canadian Barista Champion who placed third in the 2020 National Competition, presented Swiss Water Process Geisha in espresso and cappuccino formats with the goal of driving home decaf's flavour potential.
Decaf coffees are reaching new highs and the companies are investing in better green beans to get a better endresult with fruity and bright flavour profiles that are just as amazing as normal coffees.
So maybe it is finally time to get rid of the tacky slogans and the hate against decaf coffee. It is time to invest more money for better beans and all over sudden we are back at the core value of specialty coffee. Judging decaf on one bad bean or bad taste experience is not fair and shows lack of innovation and drive.
And maybe slogans like “decaf is the new black” will be roaming the internet soon.