Understanding Extraction of Caffeine From Coffee

August 29, 2023
Update - 2020.02.28

Caffeine is an odorless bitter alkaloid that acts as a stimulant. There is much information, and misunderstanding, surrounding caffeine.

Simply, extraction of caffeine from coffee occurs through mixing a portion of a solvent with coffee to isolate the caffeine compound.

Basically, caffeine is a mild stimulant that occurs naturally as a compound in over 60 species of plants and trees. We most commonly ingest it when consuming coffee, tea, chocolate, and cola drinks as well as some prescription and over the counter medications.

Individual tolerance to caffeine varies widely, but for most individuals moderate daily consumption poses no problems. Therefore, that is why we use different methods to elevate the taste profile of the coffee we drink.

Understanding extraction of caffeine from coffee

Caffeine works as a gentle assistant to thought, productivity and conversation.

How Decaffeinated Coffee is Made

Coffee beans are decaffeinated before they are roasted. This is because the decaffeination process can be done more cost effectively and with the least effect on the beans.

As a rule, no matter which process is used, decaffeinated coffee is 97% caffeine free. There are various methods to decaffeinate coffee; however, the direct “Direct Methylene Chloride”, “Indirect Methylene Chloride”, and the “Swiss Water Process” (SWP) stand out as the three widely used methods in the specialty coffee industry.

Direct Methylene Chloride Method

The “Direct Methylene Chloride” method of decaffeination begins when green (unroasted) beans are placed in a rotating drum and softened by steam for approximately 30 minutes.

Next, then are repeatedly rinsed for 10 hours with methylene chloride that removes the caffeine from the bean. The beans are then steamed again for 8-12 hours to allow the remaining solvent to evaporate. Finally, the beans are vacuum dried to remove any excess moisture.

Indirect Methylene Chloride Method

The “Indirect Methylene Chloride” method begins when green beans soak for several hours in water/coffee solution at near boiling temperatures.

The caffeine, flavor elements, and bean oils are all drawn out of the bean at this stage. Next, the caffeine/water solution is treated with methylene chloride to eliminate the caffeine from the solution. The solution is then heated to evaporate the methylene chloride.

At this point, the beans are reintroduced to the solution. Finally, the beans are allowed to soak until they regain most of the flavor elements and oils that were stripped away by the first stage of the process. Using this process, the methylene chloride never makes direct contact with the beans.

Swiss Water Process Method

The “Swiss Water Process” (SWP) is a patented method which involves submerging green beans in heated water that is saturated with coffee flavor known as “Flavor-Charged” water. The flavor-charged water prevents much of the coffee’s flavor from dissolving during decaffeination.

The caffeine that is extracted from the beans is removed from the flavor-charged water using special carbon filters. These filters selectively remove the caffeine, leaving most of the coffee’s characteristic intact.

Is Decaffeinated Coffee Bad for You?

All three methods described are extremely viable options for decaffeination coffee. There has been some concern over the use of chemicals, such as methylene chloride to achieve decaffeination. But using the chemical is considered acceptable because any residue that is left on the beans is theoretically burned off during the roasting process.

The most popular alternative, Swiss Water Process, uses no chemicals. The only drawback to Swiss Water Process coffee are that some flavor is occasionally washed away when the beans are submerged in water and the process is more expensive than other decaffeination methods. However, if you are worried about the chemicals, always choose decaf coffees that used Swiss Water Process extraction method. You can find this information on the packaging.

Regardless of the process chosen during the extraction of caffeine from coffee, all three create excellent coffee that is at least 97% caffeine free.

Why Would you Drink Decaf Coffee?

Normally, not everyone can drink the normal coffee. The caffeinated coffee causes problems to some people. Therefore, decaf coffee offers an excellent alternative for these people to enjoy coffee, without the side effects of caffeine.

You can drink decaf coffee anytime and you won’t be worried about staying up all night. We all hate having the “I’m going to be up all night” feeling, and yet we want to enjoy a cup of coffee.

Also, individuals who love a normal cup of joe, but have trouble sleeping, can take the decaf coffee to experience the normal punch of coffee.

Caffeine worsens anxiety attacks for people suffering from anxiety disorder. Therefore, decaf coffee is recommended for people who experience anxiety attacks since it has little amounts of caffeine.

Overall, decaf coffee is the best alternative for people who are sensitive to caffeine.

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