Decaffeinated Coffee

Decaffeinated Coffee

Decaffeinated Coffee

It is a fairly accurate statement that, although decaffeinated coffee has been produced since the early years of the 20th century, most of it was rather tasteless, at best, before about 1980. During the mid-80s, most likely due to numerous unfounded health scares about caffeine, there was an unprecedented interest in decaffeinated coffee. Almost immediately the flavor of decaffeinated coffee improved immensely, and all the major brands of supermarket coffee offered such a version. The decaffeination processes were changed very little, if at all.

 

The Swiss Water Process, patented by Coffex SA in 1979, needed several years to acquire a wide following, and many coffee companies are still producing decaffeinated beans that are not water-processed. So why did decaffeinated coffee start tasting good? The answer is that suddenly there was a market for it. For years only the very committed health enthusiast had drunk decaffeinated coffee, and coffee companies did not bother to use good beans for such a low-profile product.

 

By about 1987, when decaffeinated sales represented around 25 per cent of the massive United States coffee market, coffee companies, in order to cash in on the phenomenal demand, started using higher quality beans for decaf products, and the flavor improved as quickly as the market grew.


Since caffeine is almost tasteless, except for a slight bitterness, its removal should not interfere with the coffee flavor at all, unless the decaffeination process inadvertently extracts flavor compounds as well as the caffeine. The goal of all decaf processors has been to remove only the caffeine, not the flavor. It is the quality of the beans that will ultimately determine the flavor of the coffee.


For around 200 years it has been known that, while caffeine survives roasting, retaining its properties through temperatures as high as 240C/475F, it is completely vulnerable to liquid, and will pass from green (unroasted) coffee beans into any liquid in which they are soaked. Some liquids extract the caffeine faster than others.

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