I love coffee. For me, a cup a day keeps the sluggish feels at bay. But there are definitely days when I want a cup of coffee without the rush of caffeine. Sure, decaffeinated coffee can be ordered from any coffee shop, but the cost of a cup of joe, decaf or not, is a weight my wallet can't handle. Regular coffee beans can be purchased anywhere but how is decaf coffee made?

Decaf Coffee Starts With the Beans

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Amy Cho

Did you know that decaffeinated coffee is required by the FDA to only be 97% caffeine-free in order to be qualified as "decaffeinated?" When the beans are for regular coffee, it is poured into a roasting machine where high heat is applied and then immediately cooled once the desired roast is achieved. Decaffeinated coffee beans, however, undergo a completely different process of either being soaked in liquids or sprayed with a gas. 

How Decaf Coffee Is Made

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The first is the Swiss Water process. The natural green coffee beans are soaked in water for several hours or until the water is rich with the caffeine and flavor extracts from the beans. The water is then passed through a charcoal filter that is specifically designed to capture only the caffeine molecules, letting the flavors pass through. The flavor-filled water is then reintroduced to the beans in a soaking process; once the flavors are restored, the beans are sent to get roasted. 

An alternative to the water-soaking process is the CO2 process. The beans are once again soaked in water but then are sent to a sealed chamber where liquid CO2 gas is pushed throughout at a force powerful enough to remove the caffeine from the beans. The caffeinated CO2 is then sent to a different chamber where the caffeine compound is separated from the CO2 gas, which is reused. 

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Abby Reisinger

A third alternative to decaffeinating coffee beans is by the solvent-based process which covers both the direct and indirect methods. In the direct method, the green coffee beans undergo a steaming process and are then repeatedly soaked for around 10 hours before being steamed once again. 

For the indirect method, the beans are soaked in hot water to extract the caffeine. The water is then mixed with ethyl acetate (a liquid often found in alcoholic beverages), then heated in order for the caffeine and ethyl acetate to evaporate. The remaining liquid, chock full of coffee bean scents and oils, is then used to soak the beans yet again to restore flavors and scent. After soaking, the beans are dried and taken to be roasted. 

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Coffee beans, whether decaf or not, undergo a very detailed process before being grounded. From being grown to being grounded, your daily cup of coffee holds much more than a caffeine boost. Maybe next time you're in a coffee shop, ask your barista how their decaf coffee beans are made. In the meantime, why not figure out what all those coffee-esque words mean?

Gail Rabasca