Decaffeinated coffee: what is it and how to make it?

I maestri della tostatura media
Have you ever wondered what decaffeinated coffee is and how it is decaffeinated?

If yes, then this article is for you!

Let’s start with a premise, when people talk about decaffeinated coffee there is always the impression that it is bad coffee or even not real coffee.

Perhaps this was the case in the early days of its use, as fine coffees were not used for decaffeination. But to this day, things have changed! Coffee roasters who want to offer quality coffee do not give up careful research and selection of raw material, including decaffeinated, just as we do at Ernani.

In fact, read what x_Elba_x writes about ours:

But back to us. What is decaffeinated coffee and how is caffeine removed from coffee?

Decaffeinated is defined as coffee that does not exceed 0.1 percent by weight of residual caffeine.

The decaffeination process is applied to green coffee beans, then to coffee while still raw, in industrial plants that extract caffeine using solvents.

The main steps of the process are:
  • Inflating
  • Extraction
  • Separation of solvent from 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 this process is that it is not very selective with respect to caffeine and therefore in the extraction stage it also carries with it some of the water-soluble aromatic components contained in the beans. So in addition to the caffeine, it also takes away some of the aroma.

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

Or, the water used for 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 quality result and is also affordable. It turns out to be complex as a process, however.

2. Ethyl acetate is a selective solvent for caffeine and is also found naturally, such as in fruit.

However, it has two significant drawbacks: it is highly flammable and leaves an extraneous fruity odor in the coffee.

3. In contrast, supercritical carbon dioxide is a solvent that operates at very high pressures and temperatures.

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

Qualitatively it produces very good decaffeinated coffee, but it is very onerous to be able to bring the substance into this supercritical state and therefore not widely used.

4. Finally we find dichloromethane, which is the most widely used solvent for decaffeination and was also among the first to be used industrially, so the process is highly refined.

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

Then the raw coffee is dipped inside jars of water with the solvent and allowed to act. After that with water vapor the dichloromethane is removed and the coffee is allowed to dry.

The quality of the resulting product 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 on the surface of the raw coffee bean.

We at Cafe Ernani have opted for precisely the latter method for our Adagio.

In fact, many people do not know that there is a very small layer of waxes on the surface of the beans; we are talking about really small numbers, not to mention that half of them are removed during roasting. But for a person who struggles with digestion, the waxes present can exacerbate the problem.

Demus’ dichloromethane decaffeination process also removes surface waxes, thus making the coffee lighter and more digestible.

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

The decaffeinated is not decaffeinated directly by the roasters, but there are special industrial plants that take care of it, and they must then also perform the following analyses:

  • 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 the roasted coffee;
  • Of the moisture content, which must be less than 11%.
If the analyzed coffee does not pass these tests, it cannot be sold in any way.

In addition, we point out that in Italy 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 ensures 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 is 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 did not select a quality raw material, or may have spoiled it with inappropriate roasting!

Try our Adagio – decaf yourself and let us know what you think.

Marketing, E-commerce e Social Media Manager
Coffee Lover


Martina Mazzoleni

Marketing, E-commerce e Social Media Manager Coffee Lover

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