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How is Coffee Decaffeinated?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Decaffeinated coffee has long been in demand as many people enjoy the taste of coffee, but either can’t or shouldn’t ingest caffeine. There are several processes that can remove the caffeine from coffee. Most today use water decaffeination because it is considered to be the healthiest process.

One of the earliest methods to produce decaffeinated coffee resulted in the coffee brand Sanka. This method, which steams the coffee in brine and then applies benzene to the beans, is now considered highly unsafe. Benzene is a dangerous chemical with one of its other application being its use in early Napalm. Sanka no longer uses this method.

The direct method steams the beans for half an hour and then rinses the coffee beans with ethyl acetate or methylene chloride. After the chemicals are drained, the beans are then steamed again. When this process uses ethyl acetate derived from fruit or vegetables, the coffee is said to be naturally decaffeinated.

Instead of steaming the coffee beans, the water method or the indirect method soaks the beans in water. The water is then drained and either ethyl acetate or methylene chloride is added. These chemicals evaporate as the beans undergo intense heat. The beans then take another bath in water that is reused because it is thought to contain the essential flavor and oils of the coffee. This indirect method is often thought preferable, though coffee enthusiasts argue that the process compromises taste.

A variant of the water method employs a charcoal filter instead of chemicals to produce decaffeinated coffee. The charcoal is normally coated with a carbohydrate solvent, as well as water. This is thought to prevent the charcoal from absorbing not only the caffeine but also the flavor of the coffee.

The carbon dioxide method is thought to be the most effective. The beans are steamed and then soaked in carbonated water. The water is then drained through a charcoal filter. One final process soaks green coffee beans in a water and coffee solution to remove the caffeine.

Many natural food stores now boast naturally decaffeinated coffees that use either the water or charcoal method. For those who must completely avoid caffeine, it is important to note that decaffeinated coffee contains a residual amount of caffeine. Caffeine is about 97% reduced by decaffeination processes, but the coffee is not completely caffeine-free.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon158256 — On Mar 06, 2011

Yeah, I have copies of the audio CD "What's Killing You...Could It Be Your Coffee." Extremely powerful information from a Harvard medical doctor. I'll be happy to share. let me know.

By anon129970 — On Nov 26, 2010

I read another article, "What's killing you... is it your coffee?" written by a Harvard doctor. It was the change in my life. Looking to adding 30 more years to my life-- robusta coffee was not the answer.

By anon116323 — On Oct 06, 2010

so far the best decaf coffee i have found is 8:00 coffee. all of their varieties are awesome though.

By anon107033 — On Aug 28, 2010

So glad to read this article. For years I have avoided decaf coffee because I had been told that the process was bad news. Now I see that the old method has been stopped.

I still would rather have the real thing and limit myself to one good cup of coffee a day. We shouldn't mess with mother nature and her good food.

--panda lady

By CopperPipe — On Aug 19, 2010

I am a long-term coffee addict who is having to switch to decaffeinated coffee because of my blood pressure. Sad, but true.

Can anybody tell me what is the best decaffeinated coffee? I really have no idea how to choose one.

By zenmaster — On Aug 19, 2010

So if this is how they make decaffeinated coffee, then how do they make decaffeinated tea? I know that a lot of places sell naturally decaffeinated tea; I've got some naturally decaffeinated green tea in my cabinet.

But how does it work? Does anybody know how tea is decaffeinated?

By naturesgurl3 — On Aug 19, 2010

They even have decaffeinated espresso, though for the life of me I don't know why. I mean, it's not like it's really tasty -- I think that most people really only drink it for the kick.

And don't even get me started on decaffeinated chocolate...

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia...
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