Decaffeinated coffee: what is it and how is it made?


Have you ever wondered what decaffeinated coffee is and how it is decaffeinated?

If so, then this article is for you!

Let's start from a premise, when we talk about decaffeinated coffee, we always have the impression that it is poor coffee or that it is not even real coffee.

Perhaps this was the case at the beginning of its use, as fine coffees were not used for decaffeination. But today things have changed! Coffee roasters who want to offer quality coffee do not renounce a careful research and selection of the raw material, including decaffeinated, just like us at Ernani.

In fact, read what x_Elba_x writes on our Adagio, Ernani's decaffeinated coffee >>:


“When decaf feels like an ordinary coffee for intensity and tast, it means that quality is high”

But let's get back to us. What is decaffeinated coffee and how do you remove caffeine from coffee?

Decaffeinated coffee is defined as coffee that does not exceed 0.1% by weight of caffeine residue.

The decaffeination process is applied to green coffee beans, then to raw coffee, in industrial plants that extract the caffeine with the use of solvents.

The main stages of the process are:

  • Inflation
  • Extraction
  • Separation of the solvent from the caffeine
  • Drying
  • Packaging
  • Laboratory analysis

The solvents used for decaffeination are mainly 4: dichloromethane, water, carbon dioxide and ethyl acetate.

Let's see them in detail!

1. Water was among the first to be used, but it is also one of the most complicated.

The fundamental problem with water is that it is not very selective towards caffeine, and therefore in the extraction phase it also brings with it part of the water-soluble aromatic components contained in the beans. So in addition to the caffeine, it also removes part of the aroma.

To overcome this problem, the water is first saturated with all the other elements, so that it only touches the caffeine, no longer having an interest in the aromas as well.

Or, the water used for the extraction is cleaned of caffeine and then put back into contact with the beans to reabsorb the other molecules lost during the process.

In conclusion, the water process has a good qualitative result and is also economically accessible. However, it is complex as a procedure.

2. Ethyl acetate is a selective solvent for caffeine and is also found in nature, for example in fruit.

However, it has two major drawbacks: it is highly flammable and leaves a foreign fruity smell in the coffee.

3. Supercritical carbon dioxide, on the other hand, is a solvent that operates at very high pressures and temperatures.

In such conditions, in fact, carbon dioxide passes into a supercritical state, that is, it has properties that are halfway between a liquid (by density) and a gas (by viscosity).

In terms of quality, it produces an excellent decaffeinated coffee, but it is very expensive to be able to bring the substance into this supercritical state, and for this reason it is not widely used.

4. Finally we find dichloromethane, the most common solvent for decaffeination and it was also among the first to be used on an industrial level and therefore the process is highly perfected.

It is a solvent that acts selectively on caffeine, and it is also very volatile because it evaporates at 40 ° C and therefore is very easily eliminated from the coffee by means of water vapor.

Then the raw coffee is immersed in vats of water with the solvent and left to act. After which the dichloromethane is removed with the water vapor and the coffee is dried.

The quality of the product obtained is very high, because the organoleptic characteristics of the starting coffee are kept intact.

This process also has another great advantage: it also makes the coffee dewaxed, that is, it removes all the waxes present on the surface of the raw coffee bean.

We at Caffè Ernani have opted for this last method for our Adagio - FIND OUT MORE >>

In fact, many do not know that on the surface of the beans there is a very small layer of waxes, we are talking about really small numbers, without considering that they are half removed during the roasting phase. But for a person who struggles to digest, the waxes present can aggravate the problem. Demus's dichloromethane decaffeination process also removes superficial waxes thus making the coffee lighter and more digestible.

Now comes the fateful question: are these solvents still partially present in the grain and can they harm the body?

The decaffeinated is not decaffeinated directly by the roasters, but there are specific industrial plants that deal with it and they must then also perform the following analyzes:

  • Of the residual caffeine content, which must be less than 0.1%
  • Of the solvent residue, which must be less than 2 mg / kg on roasted coffee
  • Moisture content, which must be less than 11%

If the analyzed coffee does not pass these analyzes, it cannot be sold in any way.

We also specify that in Italy the controls are very strict, much more than in other European or world states, so the consumer can rest assured of the final product.

Finally, I wanted to point out that the Demus processing system is patented and also guarantees the removal of negative aromas, such as chemical or earthy odors and also removes carcinogenic fungal metabolites such as Ochratoxin A.

So let's dispel the myth that decaffeinated coffee is qualitatively inferior to non-decaffeinated coffee, because that's no longer the case!

If you drink a decaffeinated coffee that is not good, it is not due to the absence of caffeine, but the fault lies with the roaster who has not selected a quality raw material, or may have ruined it with an inappropriate roasting!

Try our Adagio - decaffeinated for yourself and let us know what you think BUY NOW >>

Martina Mazzoleni 

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