Decaffeinated & Flavored Coffee - Good or Bad?For those of you who drink coffee (most of you), you may find this interesting and scary at the same time. I thought I would add it to my website. You can find more info on Frontier Herb's website athttp://www.frontierherb.com/coffee/cof.gate.html . The article below may even help you "kick the habit". - Brenda
Decaffeination, What have they done to my coffee?
When you want a cup of coffee, but you've already had enough caffeine to jump start a water buffalo, you turn to decaf. Oh sure, there are caffeine free "coffee substitutes" out there. We just don't know what purpose they serve besides tarnishing the good name of coffee since none of them taste even remotely like coffee. Hot, liquid, and brown just doesn't do it.
Unfortunately, sometimes that's all you get with a cup of decaf. Worse yet, the chemicals used in some decaffeination processes raise health and environmental concerns.
There are four major commercial processes used to remove caffeine from coffee. Conventional decaffeination uses the chemical Methylene Chloride, "Natural" decaffeination uses the chemical Ethyl Acetate. Water decaffeination uses water and Carbon Dioxide decaffeination uses, you guessed it, carbon dioxide. Each of these methods does a good job of removing the caffeine from coffee (to sell a coffee as decaffeinated it must be at least 97% caffeine free). However, there are significant differences in the taste of the decaffeinated product, in the residual chemicals remaining in the beans, and in the effect on the environment.
In this process coffee beans are first soaked with water to make them swell, opening pores and hastening the extraction process. It also "presoaks" the caffeine into the water, which facilitates the extraction process. The beans are then immersed in the solvent Methylene Chloride (CH2Cl2), which extracts the caffeine from the coffee beans by bonding to the caffeine molecules. The decaffeinated beans are run through water and steam treatments, evaporating the caffeine laden solvent out of the beans. Since Methylene Chloride actually bonds to the caffeine instead of just dissolving it, the caffeine evaporates with the solvent and doesn't stay on the coffee. The solvent is later processed to extract the caffeine for use in other products. (In decaffeination plants, the sale of the residual caffeine can be a greater source of revenue than the decaffeination fees. Where do you think the cola companies get all that caffeine?)
Although Methylene Chloride levels in the coffee bean are reduced to residual levels that are "legally safe" (the FDA has set a maximum allowable level of 10 parts per million), health conscious consumers, skeptical of government infallibility, consider these residues unacceptable.
The European Community recently banned the use of Methylene Chloride for coffee decaffeination. Although measures are taken to recycle as much of the chemical as possible, the evaporated chemical that escapes into the atmosphere during processing may be harmful to the ozone layer.
Finally, the flavor of coffee decaffeinated with Methylene Chloride is somewhat flat and tasteless.
Ethyl Acetate Decaffeination
Coffee decaffeinated using this process is frequently referred to as "Naturally Decaffeinated" because Ethyl Acetate (CH3CO2C2H5) can occur naturally in orange rinds and other fruits. But because of the cost of using natural extract the Ethyl Acetate used in decaffeination. It is simply a human made chemical. There is some question as to whether it is legal in the United States to call Ethyl Acetate decaffeinated coffee "naturally decaffeinated," but currently that is a common practice.
The decaffeination process is essentially the same as in conventional Methylene Chloride de-caffeination, except Ethyl Acetate replaces Methylene Chloride as the solvent.
While no ozone issues have arisen in relation to this chemical, there are still chemical residues remaining in the coffee beans (10 ppm max). And the taste of the decaffeinated coffee is also mediocre.
Ethylene Acetate is slightly more expensive than Methylene Chloride, which means it would never get used unless 1) Methylene Chloride was illegal, or 2) there was some marketing advantage. The ability to label the beans "naturally decaffeinated" is a powerful incentive.
For most people water decaffeination is synonymous with Swiss Water Process, but of course Swiss Water Process is merely a trademarked name, backed up with plenty of promotional materials and advertising.
A water process decaffeination plant starts by soaking coffee beans in pure water. The liquid is drained off, and the coffee is thrown away, because it is now flavorless. The liquid solution, however, is full of both coffee flavors and caffeine. (Of course caffeine is water soluble otherwise they couldn't put it in your cola.)
The liquid is then passed through a carbon filter, which removes the caffeine but not the flavor components. This flavor-saturated liquid is then poured onto a new batch of coffee.
Because the liquid is already full of coffee flavors, it doesn't extract any additional flavor from the coffee beans. It does, however, extract the caffeine. This cycle of soaking, then filtering out the caffeine, can be repeated indefinitely.
The advantages of the water process over conventional methods is that no chemicals are used, so no residual chemicals are left in the beans. The environment, likewise, remains unaffected. Most people seem to agree that the water process produces a slightly more flavorful cup of coffee.
Unfortunately water process coffee is also more expensive. In fact, Swiss Water Processed coffee is as much as four times as expensive as conventionally decaffeinated. For this reason the only roasters who use it are those whose customers are sensitive to health and environmental issues.
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Decaffeination
CO2 decaffeination is based on the simple principle of "like dissolves like". Pressurized CO2 is a dense fluid with a molecule that (like caffeine) is small and nonpolar (nonpolar molecules have no electrical charge). The flavor components in coffee are a combination of carbohydrates (starches and sugars) and peptides (proteins), both of which are large, polar molecules.
In the CO2 decaffeination process, water soaked coffee beans are placed in a stainless steel container or extractor. The extractor is then sealed and liquid CO2 is injected. The CO2 acts as the solvent to dissolve and draw the caffeine from the coffee beans, leaving the larger-moleculed flavor components behind. The caffeine laden CO2 is then transferred to another container. Here the pressure is released and the CO2 returns to its gaseous state, leaving the caffeine behind. The caffeine free CO2 gas is pumped back into a pressurized container for reuse.
CO2 decaffeination produces the most flavorful decaffeinated coffee. There are no harmful chemicals or by-products of the process.
Unfortunately, the cost of building a CO2 decaffeination plant is quite high, so this process is primarily used to decaffeinate large volumes of commercial grade coffee. Because of the growing market for a safe and flavorful decaffeinated product, CO2 decaffeinated specialty grade coffees are becoming more readily available. There is at least one CO2 decaffeination plant in Germany that has been organically certified and can decaffeinate specialty grade coffees in relatively small container load (38,000 lb) quantities.
Chocolate mint, Irish creme, and hazelnut coffee, what a concept. To a coffee purist these drinks are more than misnomers, they are down right sacrilege. To the coffee retailers they are a constant, (although a very profitable) source of problems and complaints. To the roaster flavored coffee can be viewed either as something they aren't going to mess with, a necessary evil, or, in the worst case, a welcome, (and again very profitable) place to get rid of their cheap beans, floor sweepings, and blown roasts. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your viewpoint, to around 20% of Americans flavored coffees are the drink of choice. Let's take a look at the issues and concerns of flavored whole bean coffee.
The first question that needs to be asked is what goes into these flavors? If it's put on your coffee bean it's going to end up in your body, right? Hazelnut, French vanilla, and Raspberry all sound natural enough. Even Irish creme doesn't conjure up any "unnatural" connotations. In reality there are very few coffee bean flavors that are truly natural. Spectral analysis of a supposed "natural" Irish Creme coffee bean flavor included the following items: Ethyl Alcohol, Dimethylamine-D1, Formamidiniumacetate (I can't even pronounce this one let alone know what it is!), Propylene Glycol, alpha Methyl Benzyl Alcohol, and Heliotropin. Some of these items may be safe enough, but I'm also sure that some of them are not the kind of chemical poisons I want MY liver filtering out of my system. Truly natural flavorings are available, but their cost is so high that the coffee would have to be sold for upwards of $15.00 to $17.00 per lb. I have also been told by flavor manufacturers that nut flavors are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to extract naturally and still get an acceptable taste.
In addition to the chemical and health issues, there is the cross-contamination of flavors problem. Coffee is a product that is very susceptible to aroma contamination. Simply put, coffee will absorb and pass on any odor it is exposed to. This is one of the reasons why flavoring coffee beans works so well. Speciality coffee is like fine wine. Each coffee varietal and each blend has subtle tastes and aromas that make it what it is. Selling "pure" coffee next to flavored coffee in a bulk display exposes those pure coffees to contamination every time the acrylic bin is opened. Some people claim that the flavors will travel through the acrylic and contaminate the closed bins next to them over time. Even taking home a flavored and an unflavored coffee in the same grocery bag can taint the pure coffee.
The two places where contamination most commonly occurs are in the grinder and in the brewing equipment. If a retailer is selling flavored coffees there should be two grinders available for the customer to use. One clearly marked "For Pure Coffee" and one marked "For Flavored Coffee Only". These signs are only generally noticed by the customers and flavored coffee is run through both grinders on a regular basis. Running one batch of flavored coffee through the unflavored or pure coffee grinder will contaminate the taste of at least the next ten to twenty batches of pure coffee that are ground in it. So if you are one of the people who grind your coffee in the store instead of grinding it fresh at home, (remember, fresher is better) unless you personally know the last ten people who used that grinder before you there is a good chance that your breakfast blend will have a faintly bitter aftertaste of Hazelnut or the slightly spicy aroma of cinnamon.
Flavored coffee is an even bigger contaminant in the home and office. Very few people have two home grinders so not only is any pure coffee that is ground contaminated, but if you drink more than one flavor the mix of flavors that builds up in the grinder can be far from desirable. Brewing flavored coffee in the coffee pot guarantees that any other pure coffee that is brewed in that pot will be contaminated. A pure coffee drinker who lives or works with a flavored coffee drinker (it only takes one), has two options, have a separate grinder and brewing equipment or live with "fouled" coffee. The first option is a pain in the neck and the second option is completely unacceptable.
Besides grinder contamination and aroma transfer in the bins, another consideration for the retailer is the mess that flavored coffees make of the acrylic bins, grinder, and bulk display area. Pure roasted coffee sweats oil naturally and the bins need to be cleaned regularly, (every two weeks). The glycerine, sugar, flavor, and coffee oils in flavored coffee combine to make a sticky, unappetizing mess that makes even a clean bin look bad and a dirty flavored coffee bin is much more difficult to clean than a pure coffee bin. Any flavored coffee that is spilled spreads this sticky, oily mess all over the bulk display area. The grinder used for flavored coffee rapidly becomes gummed up and requires much more frequent cleaning.