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Decaffeinated Coffee: What Is It?

Many of us who enjoy speciality coffee appreciate not only the kick we get from the amazing flavours and aromas, we also relish the unique sensations when the caffeine hits. However, a high-quality speciality brew does not require caffeine in order to be considered perfect. Decaffeinated coffee can provide as much pleasure as its caffeine-rich counterpart and is sometimes a better option for those who enjoy many cups of coffee a day.

A New View On Decaf

Decaffeination refers to the process of removing the caffeine from coffee beans. Although European Union standards say that decaffeination removes 99.9% of the caffeine, that is not always the case. According to EU regulations, the caffeine content of decaf coffee cannot exceed 0.1 percent in roast and ground coffee. There are some common misconceptions surrounding decaffeinated coffee.  It has been bandied about that the true taste of the coffee is ruined because it is full of nasty chemicals.

Decaffeinated coffee is not renowned for its amazing taste, but that is set to change with a whole new decaf outlook on the horizon. Coffee consumption in moderation provides an abundance of health benefits. For those who don’t get on with caffeine, decaffeinated can sometimes offer a better option with more applicable health benefits.

Is Decaf Better For You?

Decaffeinated coffee can offer a number of health benefits compared with a brew that is full of caffeine. The lack of caffeine can unsurprisingly provide a much higher quality of sleep than drinking caffeinated brews, which are well known for heightening energy levels and making people much more alert. Caffeine is also known to be linked to increased blood pressure in some people which can often be a factor that contributes to those who suffer from anxiety and increased stress levels. Consuming too much caffeine can have a negative effect on stress. Decaf brews are considered a better option for people that have issues with stress. Although, it is important to consider that research into the effects is as of yet inconclusive.

The process of decaffeination was initially discovered in 1903 when Ludwig Roselius found a method of extracting caffeine from coffee beans. His method involved benzene, a chemical solvent known to be a carcinogen, a substance linked with promoting the formation of cancer. Although the process of decaffeination has evolved to now be regarded as safe, decaf has unfortunately kept a reputation for being produced with loads of chemicals, even despite the fact that benzene hasn’t been involved in the process for decades.

Coffee Cup On Table

The processes of decaffeination

A chemical-free process that is now widely used is the Swiss Water Process. It was first developed in the 1980s in Switzerland but is now used across the world as a decaffeination method. The process involves submerging raw coffee beans in water and using the water to extract the caffeine from the beans whilst ensuring that the flavours are not drawn out as well. This is done by using water that is full of desirable coffee components because this reduces the chance of withdrawing all of the vital coffee oils that give coffee its flavour. Coffee beans are steamed in the water for up to 10 hours.  However, the process requires work as well as time with the coffee beans being moved to and from different baths of steam that each extract the caffeine leading to a highly effective result. Coffee beans that have been decaffeinated using the Swiss Water Process as considered very high quality.

The second process of decaffeination is referred to as the CO2 process (technically, in scientific vocabulary, supercritical fluid extraction). Carbon dioxide is not a harmful chemical so this process avoids any harmful substances within the coffee. Similarly to the Swiss Water Process, the coffee beans are immersed, this time in carbon dioxide instead of water. They are submerged for roughly 10 hours in order to extract the caffeine effectively. Once the beans have been soaked in the carbon dioxide thoroughly, the CO2 that has been pressurised is removed. This CO2 containing dissolved caffeine which, when it hits normal atmospheric pressure, evaporates leaving behind pure caffeine which is removed with a charcoal filter. The CO2 process again produces decaf coffee of a very good quality and taste.

Decaffeinated coffee has made great strides throughout its time, especially over the last few years. It can be a perfect way for those who can’t consume copious amounts of caffeine to still be able to enjoy many brews, exploring speciality coffee from an array of countries (see our ‘Coffee Origins’ blog posts on the main blog). Decaffeination may remove one aspect of coffee, but it doesn’t remove the fundamental blend of unique flavours that make speciality brews perfect. Whilst the methods outlined above are mainly used to decaffeinate coffee, there are other less used methods, which will be explored in a later blog post.

Thank you for reading this blog post and make sure to subscribe to our weekly newsletter at the bottom of this page. Also, don't forget to check out our shop and pre-order your box today! We'll be back next Monday with our Coffee Origins post about Rwanda.
Written by Katie Humphrey
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