Who Made the First Decaf Coffee?
The first decaffeinated coffee was made by Ludwig Roselius, a German chemist. He invented the first decaffeination process in 1905.
Roselius was the first person to extract caffeine from coffee beans and he did so with the help of benzene (a chemical solvent). Though this method worked, the benzene used has a toxic nature to it and could be harmful if consumed in the right quantities.
Decaffeination Methods for Coffee
There are three modern ways of decaffeinating coffee. These are all safe methods that remove between 93% to 98% of the caffeine content in coffee.
Method 1 – Water Processing
This is the most manual way to process green coffee beans. Water is used as a solvent to extract the caffeine from the coffee beans. A rig is set up in an array that passes the coffee beans from stage to stage. The coffee goes through the same process multiple times as it is rid of caffeine. Some green-coffee extract is also in the mix with the water. The added oils (which have already been reduced in their caffeine content) further help to release caffeine from the coffee beans. After this multi-staged process, the coffee beans are rinsed and dried. At this point, the coffee beans are ready to be sold as decaf.
Water processing may strip more than just caffeine from the coffee. It is the most ‘natural’ way of processing decaf coffee, but it isn’t the most efficient way.
Method 2 – Methylene Chloride
Methylene Chloride is commonly used to decaffeinate green coffee beans. Chemical solvents are much more specific and efficient for decaffeinating coffee. Whereas water sort of washes every bit of the bean (and removes caffeine), chemical solvents are able to pinpoint the caffeine specifically to remove it. Light water processing happens at the beginning. The solvent is added to the green coffee beans and starts to extract the caffeine. At the end of each cycle, the solvent is taken away and new solvent is added to continue the process. This happens until the desired decaffeination level is reached. Finally, the beans are washed at the end to remove trace solvent.
Method 3 – Carbon Dioxide
This method, using carbon dioxide, is actually very similar to the method using methylene chloride. The difference is in the solvent used. To use carbon dioxide, the drums where the green coffee beans and solvent are mixed must be air-tight and pressurized. Carbon dioxide is circulated several times to reach the desired decaffeination level. Old CO2 is evaporated out with the caffeine as new CO2 is pumped in.
The Carbon Dioxide method gets 96% to 98% of caffeine out of coffee—being the most efficient at it.
Does Decaf Coffee Taste Different? Is it Bad for You?
Decaffeinated coffee or caffeine-free coffee is not harmful to humans. Original ways of decaffeinating coffee, with benzene, were potentially harmful. Modern decaffeination is not bad for you, but it does taste different than regularly caffeinated coffee.
This is simply because of the added steps in processing decaf coffee. Just like different washing, filtering, and processing methods used for normal coffee change the taste, so does the decaffeination process. But this does not mean that decaf coffee tastes bad. It might be a bit more washed with a little less flavor, but decaf coffee still can taste great. But it will taste different than its cohort of still-caffeinated coffee.
If you have caffeine sensitivity or are trying to reduce your caffeine intake, decaf coffee is a phenomenal way of going about it. The decaffeination process takes out over 94% of the caffeine that naturally occurs in coffee and should make it much more enjoyable for you.