Decaffeinated Coffee: Introduction
Technology is always trying to give us back the garden without the snake. So you like coffee and not caffeine? Well, then, we will take out the caffeine and leave you your pleasure, intact.
Decaffeinated coffee is indeed without venom. It contains, at most, one fortieth of the amount of caffeine in untreated beans. Nor should the removal of caffeine alter the taste of coffee. Isolated, caffeine is a crystalline substance lacking aroma and possessing only the slightest bitter taste. Its flavor is lost in the heady perfumes of fresh coffee. So if you hear people say, "Coffee doesn't taste like coffee without the caffeine," they are wrong. The only real problem is how to take out the caffeine without ruining the rest of what does influence coffee flavor. But technology has triumphed, more or less. The best decaffeinated coffee, freshly roasted and ground and carefully brewed, can taste so nearly the equal of a similar untreated coffee that only a tasting involving direct comparison reveals the difference.
Unfortunately, fine decaffeinated coffees are the exception rather than the norm. Decaffeinated beans are notoriously difficult to roast, so even the best decaffeinated beans may produce a thin-bodied, half-burned cup once they are roasted. Still, for the coffee devotee even listless decaffeinated coffee is better than mint tea, and you can always compromise and spruce up a caffeine-free coffee by adding a little full-bodied caffeinated coffee before grinding it, or by creating your own low-caffeine blend.
Most caffeine-free coffee sold in specialty stores is shipped from the growing countries to decaffeinating plants in Europe or Canada, treated to remove the caffeine, then re-dried and shipped to the United States.
Coffee is decaffeinated in its green state, before the delicate oils are developed through roasting. Hundreds of patents exist for decaffeination processes, but only a few are actually used. They divide roughly into those that use a solvent to dissolve the caffeine, those that use water and charcoal filters, and those that use a special form of carbon dioxide.
Swiss Water Process
Carbon Dioxide Methods
Decaffeination Methods and Flavor
Click any letter below to view a pop-up list of useful coffee terms and definitions.
Adapted from Coffee: A Guide to Buying, Brewing & Enjoying; Espresso: Ultimate Coffee; and Home Coffee Roasting: Romance & Revival. St. Martin's Press.
Copyright © 1996, 2001 by Kenneth Davids. All Rights Reserved.