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The Mystery of Decaffeinated Coffee

Caffeine has become America's most popular drug by far. 90% of Americans consume caffeine in one form or another every single day. Most of it comes from drinking coffee. But if you're a coffee lover who prefers to avoid caffeine, you can still enjoy a cup of coffee that delivers rich flavor with decaffeinated coffee.
It's how the caffeine is extracted from coffee beans that is a mystery for most of us. These are some of the methods currently used for decaffeinating.

Direct Contact Method

In the direct contact method the beans come directly in contact with decaffeinating agents, such as methylene chloride, after being softened by water or steam. Caffeine is removed by directly soaking the materials in the methylene chloride.

Indirect Contact Method

With the indirect contact method a water and coffee solution is used to draw off the caffeine. The solution containing the caffeine is then treated with a decaffeinating agent, such as ethyl acetate, and mixed back into the beans for re-absorption of the flavorings.Sometimes this method is referred to as naturally decaffeinated because ethyl acetate is a chemical found naturally in many fruits.

Water Processing

This process is similar to the indirect method, except no chemicals are used. The coffee beans are soaked in hot water then the solution is passed through a carbon filter to remove the caffeine.

Swiss Water Process

In the Swiss Water Process method, the caffeine is still extracted with carbon filters but the beans soak in hot water that is saturated with coffee flavor. The result is caffeine removal without removing the coffee flavors.
It's referred to as Swiss Water Process because a Swiss company originally developed and patented the procedure.

Carbon Dioxide Processing

With this method the beans are soaked with water-softened materials in highly compressed carbon dioxide. The small caffeine molecules are extracted from the beans allowing the larger flavor molecules to remain untouched. This method retains the best overall flavor of all of the methods used. Not all of the caffeine is completely removed with any of these current methods. To qualify as decaffeinated coffee in the United States, coffee must have at least 97 percent of its caffeine removed.

Coffee beans are decaffeinated before they are roasted because that's when it has the least effect on the beans flavor. The reason decaffeinated coffee costs more is because of the additional labor, equipment and material needed to remove the caffeine. So what do they do with all of that caffeine? The extracted caffeine is manufactured and used mostly in medicines and soft drinks.
As an example, the caffeine content in soft drinks mainly comes from the caffeine extracted from these decaffeinate processes. The kola nut accounts for less than 5 percent of the caffeine in cola drinks.

For the past 30 years scientists have done extensive research on coffee and the effects of caffeine. New research has even shown that caffeine has many positive effects. Some of these effects include more energy, the ability to concentrate better and has even been used as an appetite suppressant.

But not all scientists agree with these findings and coffee and the effects of caffeine will continue to be thoroughly researched.

There will always be a market for decaffeinated coffee because some people just love their coffee without the caffeine buzz.

The rest of the 100 million regular coffee drinkers either love their coffee for the wonderful flavor or enjoy the effects of a caffeine boost. For most of us, I'm sure it's a little of both.

Gary Gresham

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