Decaffeinated Coffees

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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Caffeine, of course, is perhaps coffee's most distinctive (would I be more accurate to say notorious?) quality. Discerning drinkers claim to taste the difference between regular coffee and any decaffeinated brew. The medical experts of the world waffle every so many years about whether caffeine will make you live for 300 years or die two weeks ago. Opinions on these and other coffee- and caffeine-related issues fill the forums of numerous online bulletin boards.

But let's look at the facts. Left to its own devices, the green beans of the coffee plant are indeed characterized, as scientists or botanists would say, by the presence of the alkaloid caffeine. These proportions range from 0.8 percent to 1.5 percent in Coffea arabica, and from 1.6 percent to 2.5 percent in Coffea canephora robusta. That is, whether you're sensitive to it or thick skinned, coffee has an invigorating kick.

Decaffeinated coffee suffers more from poor preparation and bad press more than it does from inherently inferior flavor. The fact is, brewed properly--with cold water, a clean coffee machine, and the appropriate amount of ground coffee--the aroma and taste of decaffeinated coffee are virtually identical to regular coffee. The difference would seem to be mostly psychological.

How Is Coffee Stripped of Its Caffeine?

Although there are numerous methods for decaffeinating coffee beans, two are preferred. In one case, chemicals are used, in the other, water. In both cases, the beans are first warmed in steam to open their pores, which allows the caffeine to escape. The chemical treatment involves soaking the beans in a methylene chloride solution, which bonds with the caffeine and extracts it.

The water treatment involves soaking the beans in hot water, during which time the caffeine seeps into the water. The beans are then removed from the water. The solution is then added to it and bonds with the caffeine. Both are then removed, leaving the water and the natural flavor to be absorbed again by the beans.

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