Decaffeination is the process of removing caffeine from something. In the context of coffee, it usually means removing caffeine from the beans themselves. However, a common conception is that decaf means there is no caffeine at all. This usually isn't true. In fact, it's almost impossible to remove all of the caffeine from a coffee bean and the FDA only requires you to remove 97% of the original caffeine in order for it to be considered decaffeinated.
But why do people drink decaffeinated coffee in the first place? Does it affect the overall taste or quality of the coffee? And are there any downsides or concerns that you should keep in mind when drinking decaffeinated coffee? We'll be covering many of these considerations in this post.
What exactly is decaffeinated coffee?
Decaffeinated coffee, often known as just decaf, is coffee that has had at least 97% of its caffeine content removed. There are a number of ways to remove caffeine from coffee. Many of these methods include using water, organic solvents, or even carbon dioxide.
Using a solvent
There are two main solvents that are used to remove the caffeine content from coffee beans; methylene chloride and ethyl acetate.
Methylene chloride is considered to be safe for use in coffee decaffeination. It is a colorless liquid chlorinated hydrocarbon and is often used in paint removers, degreasing, and even in the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals. This is how a vast majority of decaffeinated coffee beans are made While it's safe, it's not considered the most natural way to decaffeinate beans and there are chemicals involved that can make people anxious about drinking it.
On the other hand, ethyl acetate is a natural fruit ether that is often made from acetic acid. It has a distinct sweet smell and can sometimes be found in nail polish remover. The caffeine molecules in coffee are essentially bonded to the ethyl acetate, effectively removing it from the beans. Ethyl acetate can often be produced by fermenting sugarcane, making it 100% natural and often free from any chemicals.