Decaffeinated coffee can be organic, naturally-processed, and delicious! Long gone are the days when the sole option to remove caffeine from a bean was chemical decaffeination. Long gone should be the days of decaf bashing. To understand decaf, it is necessary to understand why offering a non-caffeinated coffee is important. Caffeine is a powerful, natural chemical that can remain in your body for up to 15 hours. For the caffeine sensitive, it can create jitters, exacerbate heartburn and acid reflux, worsen headaches, make it difficult to fall asleep, and increase anxiety and restlessness. Decaffeinated coffee offers all of the health benefits of caffeinated coffee without the side-effects. The key is finding a flavorful, naturally decaffeinated coffee. To learn more about the Mills and TheQueenBean decaffeinated coffees, scroll down to the end of this entry.
How is coffee decaffeinated and is it safe?
There are four primary methods of decaffeination: Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Process, Swiss Water Process (SWP), European Water Process, and the Direct Solvent Method. When purchasing a decaf, look for beans processed with either the CO2 or SWP. Both are 100% natural and both preserve the inherent flavors and character of the bean. For more on these two methods, please click here. European Water Process involves soaking green beans in very hot water (200 degrees Fahrenheit, which is brewing temperature) for several hours before washing them with either methylene chloride or ethyl acetate. With the Direct Solvent Method, green beans are steamed to make them more absorbent and then rinsed with either methylene chloride or ethyl acetate for many hours. Coffee is very porous and green beans exposed to methylene chloride or ethyl acetate are almost always devoid of natural oils and flavor. We do not recommend purchasing coffees decaffeinated using either the European or Direct Solvent methods. So, decaf haters, if your only exposure to decaf has been a chemically decaffeinated coffee, we understand your animosity. One more time, when you are purchasing decaf, look for beans that have undergone the CO2 or SWP methods.
I’ve tried! Why are natural decafs so hard to find?
Ah, problem number two. Natural decafs are pricy to purchase and require highly specialized, extremely expensive equipment. For these reasons, few small and mid-sized roasters offer a large selection of decafs. If a small roaster purchases decaffeinated green beans they also need the skill to understand how to roast them as the decaffeination process alters the beans’ structure, making them more porous, buoyant, and reactive to heat.
Is decaf really caffeine-free?
No, while most high-quality decafs are 98-99% caffeine-free, coffee is considered decaffeinated at 97% caffeine-free. While this may be disappointing to decaf drinkers, to provide perspective, a 6-ounce cup of decaffeinated coffee generally contains 0-7 mg of caffeine compared to 70-140 mg found in a cup of caffeinated coffee. On the positive side, this small amount of caffeine ensures your decaffeinated cup provides the same health benefits as a fully caffeinated cup.
Decaf coffee offers the same health benefits as caffeinated coffee?
YES! Coffee, including decaffeinated coffee, is a fantastic source of antioxidants, is good for your liver, and helps reduce risk of developing many debilitating diseases such as type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and numerous cancers. According to one study that specifically looked at decaffeinated coffee drinkers, people who drank at least two cups of decaffeinated coffee per day lowered their risk of developing rectal and colon cancer by 48%1. Research is increasingly finding that it is the antioxidants, not the caffeine, that hold the bulk of coffee’s health benefits.
I’m sold! Do I need to modify my brewing technique for decaf?
Well, that all depends on how you measure your coffee grounds. If you use a scale to measure your grounds, no change is required. If you use a scoop or just approximate, you will want to reduce the coffee grounds by 10% and roasted decaf beans are denser than non-decaffeinated beans.
Decaffeination at Mills and TheQueenBean
We take decaf very seriously! (For more on our history with decaf, please click here.) Our green beans are decaffeinated at one of the world’s premiere decaffeination plants, CR3. Based in Germany, CR3 is regarded as one of the leading, eco-conscious processors of all-natural CO2 decaffeination. CR3 apply the highest standards to all they do — from purchasing to processing. Not only do they hold the most stringent environmental certifications, including Bird Friendly / Smithsonian Certified, Rainforest Alliance, Organic NOP/OCIA, Fair Trade, UTZ, and Bio-Suisse, they have also taken extensive steps to create an energy-efficient, waste-minimized processing facility. Thus far, they’ve attained an 80%+ efficiency rate by conserving natural resources, minimizing emissions, and using all byproducts derived from decaffeinated coffee production. CR3’s dedication to the coffee and the environment doesn’t stop at their facility. Their parent company is an environmental foundation that supports, among other organizations, the World Wide Fund for Nature.
Well, decaf drinkers, I hope you feel vindicated! Decaf haters, we hope this has shed a little light on how different decaffeination processes and roasting techniques can significantly impact a decaffeinated coffee’s structure and taste. We at Mills and TheQueenBean stand by, support, applaud, drink, and even take photos of our decafs. The one at the top of this blog entry, for example, is of our French Roast decaf. It tastes near-identical to our caffeinated French Roast and took me a full four days of drinking it in the morning and not getting my caffeine kick to realize I had opened the wrong bag.
To learn more about coffee selection and decaffeination, please visit the following entries: