Coffee is one of the world’s most popular drinks but in reality, it’s much more than that. It can help with productivity, focus and lift your mood and even give you an energy boost. But, is decaf coffee good for you?
We pretty much all know that a few slugs of coffee can re-energise us pretty much instantly and this is all down to a key ingredient in coffee beans, caffeine, a natural stimulant with a reputation as a serious ‘pick-me-up’.
In this article we’re going to de-mystify decaf and answer the common questions that people ask about our favourite night cap.
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WHAT IS CAFFEINE?
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Caffeine it’s a naturally occurring chemical found in leaves and berries of a number of plants, which performs a function as nature’s pesticide for these particular plants preventing insects from feeding on them by either paralysing or in some cases, killing them.
COFFEE BEAN TYPE AFFECTS THE CAFFEINE CONTENT
As we’ve previously mentioned there are two main types of coffee bean, Arabica and Robusta, which have differing amounts of caffeine in them.
Arabica is grown at high altitude, has relatively low caffeine content and is grown at high altitude.
Whilst Robusta is grown in lowland areas, has double the caffeine content of Arabica and is perceived to be a poor-quality coffee.
But the simple reason for the huge difference in caffeine content is pretty simple… it’s down to the fact that there are fewer insects at higher altitudes, so Arabica coffee beans contain less caffeine as a result.
SO, WHAT FUNCTION DOES CAFFEINE PERFORM I THE HUMAN BODY?
Caffeine is broken down by your body and converted into a chemical called paraxanthine, which blocks the nerve receptors in your body and brain.
Your body produces a chemical called adenosine, which it releases during the day and attaches itself to your nerve receptors, which in turn makes you feel sleepy. However, when the receptors are blocked by caffeine, adenosine can’t latch on and you won’t feel tired and your body produces epinephrine (aka adrenaline) in response and you wake up and feel energised.
WHAT IS DECAF?
Decaffeinated coffee is simply coffee that has had nearly all of its caffeine content removed from the beans before roasting and grinding, whilst retaining all of the delicious flavours and aromas you would expect to find in a brew.
There are two modern methods used in to decaffeinate coffee, which despite being relatively new have replaced the old chemical processes, which involved soaking the beans in solvents either directly or indirectly to strip out the caffeine, which inevitably the beans absorbed to some degree.
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The first process is known as the CO2 Process, its technical name, however, is the supercritical fluid extraction process.
In other words, the beans are immersed in carbon dioxide for about 10 hours, after which the pressurised CO2 is removed returning the processing chamber to atmospheric pressure therefore allowing the CO2 to evaporate through a series of charcoal filters and thereby remove the caffeine.
SWISS WATER PROCESS
The second process is known as the Swiss Water Process, which is an entirely chemical free process, was developed in Switzerland in the 1930s but for a number of reasons it wasn’t used commercially until the 1980s.
Essentially coffee beans are immersed in very hot water to extract the caffeine, the liquid is then passed through a series of special charcoal filters designed to trap caffeine molecules and allow coffee oils and flavour molecules to pass through to and be collected. This residual water is known as Green Coffee Extract (GCE), this liquid rich in coffee oils and flavour molecules is kept and used to wash a new batch of beans. As the new batch of beans passes through the GCE they can’t lose their oils or flavour molecules as the liquid is already totally saturated and can’t absorb any more.
The result is beans that have been decaffeinated but remain rich in flavour and coffee oils, which can then be dried and then sent to be roasted and ground.
IS DECAF COFFEE GOOD FOR YOU?
THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF DECAFFEINATED COFFEE
Caffeine does have quite a few positive benefits to the human body; however, decaffeinated coffee also has a number of benefits too including reduced anxiety and better quality of sleep due to the caffeine being removed.
Decaffeinated coffee retains high levels of antioxidants, which can help in preventing ageing, regulates blood glucose levels and therefore helps prevent diabetes and the onset of a number of cancers. Decaffeinated coffee can also lead to a reduction in several conditions associated with high levels of caffeine consumption chiefly irregular palpitations, heart attacks, and strokes.
Usefully decaf is a fat free and sugar free drink, which means decaf coffee is good for you.
Handily the myth that coffee is a diuretic has been totally disproven, which means that it’s actually a great way to hydrate.
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IS DECAF CAFFEINE FREE?
One of the common misconceptions of decaf is that it’s completely free of caffeine. While decaffeination removes the majority of caffeine a 240ml cup of decaf coffee will typically contain 2 – 3mg of caffeine. You can read up on how much caffeine is in your cup of coffee here.