When a customer comes into one of our cafes looking for coffee beans to brew at home, they usually know exactly which coffees they want to purchase. We do have a few regular customers who come in each week and ask for suggestions on a new coffee.
However, there is the occasional new customer who is buying for the first time. The question I am asked the most from them is, “What do you recommend?”
My answer and I can say it is hard for me to admit this publicly, is, try our Decaf Original Blend Coffee.
Presently, life is really stressful. I live and work in San Francisco, which is a city that is rife with issues, of drug addiction and homelessness, juxtaposed against a slew of techie brilliance and wealth. The pandemic has changed things for everyone, and hopefully, kindness will prevail, but in times of stress, I find myself reaching for decaf coffee.
Living in a bustling city like San Francisco sometimes feels like a wild roller coaster ride, we usually have multiple events in neighboring Mission Dolores Park or a conference downtown on top of the regular hustle and bustle of normal life. These things have changed now, with the worldwide pandemic, but customers still clamor for their Weaver’s Coffee & Tea.
While I love our Weaver’s Legacy Blend Coffee, I had to start drinking decaffeinated coffee to help me lower my anxiety. Mind you, I have been a Barista for seven years, and a Store Manager for three of those years, and I still drink a lot of caffeinated coffee. Decaf has never been part of my vocabulary. Yes, we sell a lot of Weaver’s Decaf Original Blend because we start with the absolute best Arabica Decaf Coffee Beans from along the equatorial belt.
Before working at Weaver’s Coffee & Tea, I shrugged off decaf coffee like everyone else, and frankly never considered drinking it at all until Renee mentioned I try the decaf. Most of the decaf coffee I tasted before I started working at Weaver’s Coffee & Tea was weak and watery, or bitter and acidic as a decaf espresso drink or decaf espresso shot. When I tried our Decaf Original Blend Coffee, I was shocked at how deep and flavorful, yet smooth and sweet it tasted. Today, my go-to drink is an iced decaf americano. I just can't get enough of them!
The reason our decaf so delicious compared to other decaf coffees is the quality of the decaf green coffee beans and the way the coffee is processed to make it decaf. I did some research found that the history and process of creating decaf to be quite interesting.
Decaffeinated Coffee History
In the early 1900s, German coffee merchant Ludwig Roselius discovered decaf coffee by accident. He was looking for an alternative for his father who was having too much caffeine (I think we can all relate to this part of the story). After a shipment of coffee beans was soaked in seawater during transit, the caffeine was naturally extracted from the coffee beans.
Ludwig Roselius went on to patent the first commercially successful means of decaffeinating coffee. But saltwater was not enough, and he added a more potent chemical solvent called benzene to remove even more of the caffeine from the green coffee beans.
Image Courtesy of Laguna Design
Benzene can cause drowsiness, dizziness, and headaches, as well as eye, skin, and respiratory tract irritation when inhaled. Over the long term and in high doses, benzene has been linked to cancer, blood disorders, and fetal development issues in pregnant women.
Swiss Water Process and the Modern Decaf
It is no surprise that the use of chemical solvents as a method for creating decaf coffee by Ludwig Roselius patented was not going to last and the search was on for other ways of making green coffee beans into decaf green coffee beans.
One of the most common ways to remove caffeine from coffee is still solvent-based. Ethyl acetate and/or Methylene chloride solvents are applied directly or indirectly to green coffee beans to dissolve the caffeine.
Ethyl acetate has a sweet, fruity smell, and is often used in the process of making candy, extracting tobacco from cigarettes, and an artificial flavor in ice cream. The US F.D.A. has approved of both of these solvents as safe to consume, but some coffee professionals find that coffee decaffeinated with a solvent-based method has less flavor and depth than coffee decaffeinated by other means. Plus, I am not sure about you, but I really do not want to be drinking chemicals given the history of decaf coffee so far!
“Naturally decaffeinated” is misleading – it is likely that decaf coffee with this phrasing was decaffeinated using Ethyl acetate.
If you are looking for a naturally decaffeinated coffee, then make sure you are buying decaf coffee that has been decaffeinated through the Swiss Water Process (or the lesser-known Mountain Water Process).
Image Courtesy of Swiss Water Coffee
Coffee Roaster working at the Sample Roaster
The Swiss Water Process was created in the early 1930s in Switzerland and was then used in commercial settings in the 1980s.
The Swiss Water Process is as follows:
- Green coffee beans are soaked in hot water from the coast mountains of British Columbia to start dissolving the caffeine.
- The coffee is passed through a charcoal filter so the caffeine molecule is trapped but the natural sugar and oil that are important for flavor and aroma pass through to form the Green Coffee Extract.
- The Green Coffee Extract is then used to soak the next batch of beans until over 99% of the caffeine has been removed from the coffee.
- The coffee is then sent to dry where it is then packed and ready to be sold to coffee roasters
Check out the video below for a visual of the Swiss Water Process.
So, is decaf coffee bad for you? Is decaf coffee healthy? We talked to experts including William D. Ristenpart, Ph.D., a professor of chemical engineering at the University of California, Davis, and director of the UC Davis Coffee Center, to understand the facts about how decaf coffee is made and its health benefits.
HOW DECAF COFFEE IS MADE
There are three key methods for removing caffeine from regular coffee beans: The most common is a chemical solvent, another uses liquid carbon dioxide (CO2), and the last simply use water.
They take green coffee beans, soak or steam them until the caffeine is dissolved or their pores are opened, and then extract the caffeine from the green coffee beans.
While the CO2 and water methods are considered chemical-free, the solvent method relies on synthetic chemicals such as ethyl acetate (naturally found in some fruits) and methylene chloride (commonly used in industrial applications such as in adhesives, paints, and pharmaceuticals).
The Swiss Water Process used to make the best decaf coffee, tends to produce the most flavorful coffee, Ristenpart says, because it’s good at removing caffeine and without stripping other flavorful compounds from the green coffee beans. But it’s also more expensive to use the Swiss Water Process of to remove caffeine from coffee beans, and the process is difficult to produce at scale.
How much caffeine in decaf coffee is a question we are asked, and none of these methods scrubs the bean of caffeine completely? While the Food and Drug Administration requires that at least 97 percent of caffeine be removed from coffee beans, some decaffeinated coffees can still contain between 3 and 12 mg of caffeine per cup of coffee.
DOES DECAFFEINATED COFFEE HAVE RISKS?
While experts agree that the Swiss Water Process and liquid carbon dioxide don’t introduce any health risks, methylene chloride is controversial in some coffee circles.
When inhaled in small doses it can cause coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. At higher doses, it can cause headache, confusion, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and fatigue, and has been found to cause liver and lung cancer in animals.
In 1999, however, the FDA concluded that the trace amounts you get in decaf coffee are too minuscule to affect your health. The agency strictly limits its presence to no more than 10 parts per million, or 0.001 percent, of the final product.
Coffee producers will sometimes say that beans decaffeinated with ethyl acetate are “naturally decaffeinated” because the compound is naturally found in some produce. But as with methylene chloride, ethyl acetate is typically produced synthetically and carries some risks at high doses.
The bottom line, Ristenpart says, is that the solvents used in the decaffeination of coffee processes today are much safer than they used to be, and they are generally found on coffee beans in only trace amounts.
WHICH DECAF COFFEE SHOULD YOU CHOOSE?
Experts say you shouldn’t be concerned about the chemicals used in the decaffeination process. But if you are looking to minimize your exposure, you might want to know which decaffeination method was used on a particular bag of coffee beans.
This may be more challenging to find out than you think, Ristenpart says because there are no specific labeling rules that require disclosing exactly how coffee was decaffeinated.
IS DECAFFEINATED COFFEE AS HEALTHY AS REGULAR COFFEE?
Because decaffeination itself is generally considered safe, the bigger question is whether decaf coffee has the same health benefits as regular coffee.
This is a tough question to answer, says Angela M. Zivkovic, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the department of nutrition at the University of California, Davis, and we don’t yet have a firm answer.
A 2014 meta-analysis published in the journal Diabetes Care and led by researchers from Harvard found that those who drank six cups of coffee per day had a 33 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who drank no coffee. The reduced risk was seen for both decaf coffee and regular coffee.
Another study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2008 found that coffee-drinking, in general, was not associated with a higher risk of dying from any cause, and even further, those who drank decaf coffee were slightly less likely than those who drank regular coffee to die from any cause.
Zivkovic says, however, that we should interpret such results with caution because “it is very possible and likely that people who choose decaf coffee are also making other ‘healthy’ lifestyle choices.”
In short, though some studies suggest that decaf coffee is linked to health benefits, more research is needed.
BEST DECAF COFFEE?
We still don’t know whether it’s the caffeine, or one of the thousands of other biologically active compounds and antioxidants (which decaf coffee seem to have, too, albeit at slightly lower levels), that may be responsible for coffee’s many health perks. What’s really clear, however, is that for people who experience insomnia, irritability, headaches, nausea, anxiety, jitters, and increased blood pressure after drinking too much caffeine, switching to decaf coffee may be a healthy option, says Edward Giovannucci, M.D., Ph.D., a researcher, and professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Decaf Coffee + Food Recipes
All-Purpose Coffee Rub
Recipe by Joyce / Pups with Chopsticks
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons Weaver’s Decaf French Roast ground coffee
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoon cayenne
- Combine all the ingredients together and store in a cool, dark place.
This rub is used best for grilled steak and pork, but try it on slow-roasted potatoes for your vegetarian friends!
Image Courtesy of Real Simple Good / Justin + Erica Winn
Almond Butter Decaf Espresso Bars
Recipe by Annie Holmes
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup coconut sugar
2 teaspoons Weaver’s Decaf Original Blend coffee grounds
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 cup almond butter (NOT the kind that separates. Barney's is my favorite)
1/2 cup coconut oil
1 cup dark chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- In a mixing bowl combine all of the ingredients except the chocolate chips until a thick brownie-like batter forms.
- Fold in half the chocolate chips.
- Place lightly greased parchment paper in an 8x8 baking pan and spread the batter evenly in the pan. Sprinkle with the remaining chocolate chips.
- Bake 20-22 minutes.
- When you remove them from the oven allow them to cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes so they set. Remove bars by lifting parchment paper, allow them to cool completely before cutting.