How much caffeine in green coffee bean*

Decaf coffee: the best solvent-free, low-caffeine, full-flavour beans

D ecafhas long been the ugly duckling of the coffee world, denounced for being full of chemicals and derided for tasting awful But decaffeinated coffee is having a new dawn

According to consumer analysts Allegra Strategies, around six per cent of us now regularly order a decaf when we visit a coffee shop

Although the health benefits of moderate coffee consumption are widely recognised, many people don’t get on with caffeine Pregnant and breast-feeding women are advised to limit their intake, while many find that caffeine disrupts sleep, raises blood pressure or makes them anxious

S o the reputation of decaf is on the up Chemical-free decaffeination methods and high quality single-origin beans are being employed more widely to improve the lot of decaf drinkers and win over the naysayers

But how is decaffeinated coffee made and what’s actually in the cup?

D ecaffeination has come a long way since a German, Ludwig Roselius, first discovered how to extract caffeine from beans in 1903 He used benzene, a solvent now known to be a carcinogen, which might explain decaf’s reputation for being riddled with chemicals But benzene hasn’t been used for decades to decaffeinate coffee, and the process is now generally regarded to be safe

T here are four different methods used to extract caffeine from beans Two “direct” methods employ chemical solvents – either ethyl acetate or methylene chloride Green coffee beans are soaked in water to soften them, and then a solvent is added to draw the caffeine out The water is then drained off, and the process repeated until the caffeine content of the beans is at or below 01 per cent – the legal maximum for decaffeinated coffee

The process also ensures that traces of solvent left on the beans are below the safe limits set by European legislationBlend for 30 seconds at least.

According to Roger Cook, science manager for the Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee (ISIC), studies have proven that these solvents are safe to use in decaffeination

But some people still have concerns, and many aficionados believe the process damages the bean and therefore the flavour of the coffee That’s why modern methods that don’t involve chemical solvents are increasingly finding favour

The Swiss Water® process is the best known Green coffee beans are soaked in water, which dissolves the caffeine Natural coffee components are then added to the water to make up for the flavour compounds that leach out of the beans along with the caffeine

The caffeine is then filtered out of the water and the process repeated until the beans are 999 per cent caffeine free

A nother non-chemical process, known as the “sparkling CO2”, “supercritical CO2” or “liquid CO2” method, is also used Green coffee beans are soaked in liquid CO2 – the same gas as used in sparkling water – and under certain conditions the caffeine can be extracted and filtered out, leaving the flavour compounds unaltered

“If we compare decaf back in the Seventies and Eighties to recent years, it’s night and day in quality and taste,” says Guy Wilmot, founder of the Decadent Decaf Coffee Co, an online retailer specialising in single-origin decaf made with the Swiss Water® method “This hasn’t filtered through to the public yet, who still think of decaf as bad-quality muck that’s not good for you”

B ut the quality of decaf has as much to do with the beans as the way the caffeine has been extracted The process has always been expensive and time-consuming, so some coffee manufacturers have used the cheaper, inferior Robusta beans to keep prices low Ironically, Robusta beans, commonly used in freeze-dried coffee and cheap blends, contain twice the caffeine of pricier Arabica beans

James Hoffmann, CEO of Square Mile Coffee Roasters, says he only uses top-quality Arabica beans and the supercritical CO2 method to make the company’s decaffeinated range “We are passionate about decaf,” he says “We buy coffees we love specifically to have them decaffeinated”

But how can consumers find out what they’re buying?

I f you grab a decaf from a specialist coffee shop, the barista might know the method used But this information is harder to come by at the big chains

Starbucks told the Telegraph it uses a blend of 100 per cent Arabica beans and the direct method (methylene chloride) decaffeination process – but this is not publicised in coffee shops or on the company’s website

Costa coffee uses the Mexican Mountain Water process, similar to the Swiss Water® method, while Caffè Nero uses CO2

I t’s also difficult to make an informed choice when buying decaf coffee to make at home Some supermarkets, including Waitrose, sell decaffeinated coffee made without solvents Waitrose 1 Peru decaffeinated and Waitrose 1 Raw Bean decaffeinated, for example, are made with Arabica beans using the Swiss Water® method

“Manufacturers sometimes switch between processes, which is one reason why they don’t specify on packaging,” says Cook “Another is that all processes are perfectly safe, so there’s no reason to specify”

Many people are also unaware that decaf is not caffeine-free Under EU regulations, the caffeine content of decaf cannot exceed 03 per cent for soluble or 01 per cent for roast and ground coffee

Depending on the beans and how the coffee is made, this could equate to as much as 5g of caffeine per cup (compared to 120g for caffeinated coffee) – and again this isn’t always stated on the packet

It pays to ask questions about decaf so you can make an informed choice Delicious decaf that tastes of coffee – made without the use of solvents if this is important to you – is available You just have to hunt it down

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