There is still a stereotype among some people that decaffeinated is not “safe” and we often get this question: “what decaffeinated coffee is safe?”
The simple answer is that all decaffeinated coffees are broadly safe.
Indeed, if you compare calorie-laden fast food or alcoholic drinks, it’s safe to say that decaffeinated coffee has been unfairly discriminated against and we at Decadent Decaf are here to dispel the myth that decaf coffee is not safe.
The more complex answer is that there are different types of decaffeinated coffee and here is our summary of decaffeination processes:
Swiss Water Decaf Process
Decadent Decaf only uses Swiss Water Process decaffeinated coffee beans, which are certified 99.9% caffeine free and uses water (no chemicals whatsoever) to decaffeinate the beans.
Developed in Switzerland in the 1980s, the Swiss Water Process is a chemical free process. The green (raw) coffee beans are immersed in water to extract the caffeine using water saturated with desirable coffee components, thereby reducing the extraction of coffee oils and flavours during the decaffeination process.
This means the caffeine is extracted, but not the flavour. This steaming process takes 8 to 10 hours and involves moving the decaf batch into various baths of steam. Currently, Decadent Decaf only uses premium, high-grade coffee beans decaffeinated using the Swiss Water Process.
CO2 Decaf Process
The CO2 method was developed by Dr. Kurt Zosel of the Max Planck Institute and in science-speak, this is called supercritical fluid extraction.
Basically, the process starts with the beans being immersed in carbon dioxide (same gas as in sparkling water) for around 10 hours.
Some roasters call it the Sparkling Water Decaf Process, but we think that this is not accurate and they should use the correct term CO2 Process.
In environmental terms, the CO2 used is in a permanent cycle, rather than vented to atmosphere – there will be some further off-gassing when the beans are removed from the system (no process being perfect), but for the most part, it’s a closed system, which is good news for the environment.
Methylene Chloride Decaf Process (MCP)
Methylene Chloride solvent decaffeination is the old fashioned way to decaffeinate coffee and it's still how the vast majority of coffee is decaffeinated globally. If there's no mention of how the roast coffee was decaffeinated on the packet, again, it's almost certain to be MCP.
Methylene Chloride is a colourless chemical solvent in liquid form with a slightly sweet aroma with a a boiling point of 104°F. It is a chemical solvent with multiple uses including paint remover and hair spray.
First, the coffee beans are treated with steam to draw the caffeine from the inner coffee bean to the outer surface area of the bean. Then, Methylene Chloride is applied directly to the beans. As a chemical solvent, MC removes the caffeine. Then steam is applied to the coffee beans again to drive out residual solvent. Finally, the beans are dried and roasted, which removes any further residues of the chemical solvent.
Any amounts of methylene chloride left in brewed coffee would be less than one part per million.
Ethyl Acetate Decaf Process (EA)
An increasingly popular newish decaffeination process is the Ethyl Acetate (EA) decaf process, often called "Sugar Cane Decaf", and, simply put, the Ethyl Acetate decaf method uses a natural solvent - Ethyl Acetate - to decaffeinate the coffee beans.
Therefore, since this solvent occurs in nature, it's often marketed as “naturally” decaffeinated or as "Sugar Cane Decaf" since Ethyl Acetate is usually sourced as a by-product from the fermentation of sugar cane during the manufacture of processed sugar.
First, the green beans are first soaked in water and then steamed in order to expand the cells of the bean. Then, the green beans are then soaked and washed in Ethyl Acetate solution, which attracts and removes the caffeine. Finally, after the Ethyl Acetate wash, the coffee is then rinsed, dried and packed for shipping.