Paging Rosie: Decaf Facts
So when I’m not pregnant I do like to indulge in coffee, especially a fun latte or cappuccino! I go cold turkey when I get pregnant but I have to admit while I find cutting caffeine out only a little tricky at first it is more the ritual of going to the coffee place and ordering something exciting mid-afternoon, perhaps with something tasty on the side, that I miss. This is why I started considering a decaf latte here and there to have the indulgence without the guilt of the caffeine. What I found though was quiet alarming some decaffeinated coffee has not been decaffeinated in a safe way. Let me summarize what I’ve discovered so that if you do choose to indulge you can find out what is safe and what is not.
In order for coffee to qualify as decaffeinated, it must have at least 97 percent of its caffeine removed. A few different techniques are available to do this, some are safe and some are not. Knowing which method your favorite coffee house uses is imperative.
Coffee beans are decaffeinated by softening the beans with water and using a substance to extract the caffeine. Water alone cannot be used because it strips away too much of the flavor. Substances used to remove the caffeine may directly or indirectly come in contact with the beans, and so the processes are referred to as direct or indirect decaffeination.
In “Indirect decaffeination”, green (unroasted) coffee beans are soaked in water to soften them and extract the caffeine. Then the water containing the caffeine is treated with a solvent. This is then heated to extract the caffeine from the solvent, and then the water (with essential coffee bean oils and other flavors) is returned to the beans. The flavors in the water are reabsorbed by the beans. This process repeats several times until the beans contain the rich coffee flavors and essential oils without the caffeine at which point they are dried and roasted. This process is called “indirect decaffeination” because the beans never touch the solvent themselves.
The most widely used solvent today is ethyl acetate, a substance found in many fruits. When your coffee label states that the beans are “naturally decaffeinated,” it is referring to this process, specifically using ethyl acetate. Although it doesn’t sound like a natural process, it can be labeled as such because the solvent occurs in nature. Other solvents have been used, some of which have been shown to be harmful. One, methylene chloride, has been alleged to cause cancer in humans and therefore is not often used. Back in the 1970s, another solvent, trichloroethylene, was found to be carcinogenic and is no longer used.
Another indirect method soaks the green coffee beans in water to soften them and remove the caffeine, and then runs the liquid through activated charcoal or carbon filters to decaffeinate it. Then the flavor containing fluid is returned to the beans to be dried and roasted. This charcoal or carbon process is often called “Swiss water process“.
A direct decaffeination process involves the use of carbon dioxide as a solvent. The coffee beans are soaked in compressed CO2, which removes 97 percent of the caffeine. The solvent containing the extracted caffeine evaporates when the beans return to room temperature.
Concern over the safety of decaffeinated coffee stems from solvents used in the processes, particularly in the past. If your coffee is labeled naturally decaffeinated or Swiss water processed, you can be assured that no harmful chemicals are used. If your coffee is labeled differently or your favorite barista has no idea what you are talking about, it’s best to skip the afternoon break and just go with a muffin!
I am now the crazy lady that runs around town quizzing every barista I can get my hands on “Is your decaffeinated coffee Swiss water processed or naturally decaffeinated? What? You don’t know, well young man it’s about time I educate you on why this is important for one to know”.
I think it drives my husband bonkers but I can feel safe and secure indulging in a nice warm brew knowing that my baby is completely safe from harm….and that my lovelies is worth some bonkers!