How Decaf Coffee Is Made

crazy by Editorial Staff | Updated on April 1st, 2023

Decaf coffee is the perfect choice if you’re looking for a way to enjoy the taste without all the caffeine. But how is decaf made?

In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at how decaf coffee beans are processed and prepared – so you can feel confident in your cup of joe.

How Decaf Coffee Is Made

How decaf got started

Decaffeination started in 1820 when Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge made the first attempt. Later, in 1903, the first commercially successful decaffeination process was patented by Ludwig Roselius.

And while it wasn’t exactly futile, it proved borderline fatal as the scientist used benzene, notorious for its poisonous nature, in separating caffeine from the coffee beans.

How Ludwig came up with the idea of soaking the coffee beans in brine before applying benzene is beyond most nutritionists of that era.

How many people drink decaf coffee in the USA?

united states

According to the National Coffee Association (NCA), in 2018, the U.S. per capita coffee consumption of decaffeinated coffee was 0.24 cups daily. The same survey further reveals that 72% of consumers aged 60 years old are coffee lovers.

A look at the roasters and cafes also reveals they also focus on caffeinated varieties, just like decaf coffee. But, again, this is because of the lower supply and demand for decaf coffee.

How does the decaf process work?

Back to the methods, it might interest you to know that once the coffee has been decaffeinated, it tastes better. Caffeine, which these processes tend to remove, gives your coffee its bitter and sleep-negating effects.

These caffeine decanting methods revolve around Ludwig’s approach without benzene or brine.

Extremely hot water is used to soak green coffee beans. Typical of chemical reactions, this puts the coffee beans in the right frame of mind for what’s to come.

Caffeine is hydrophilic, so water is the preferred solvent. But since several other compounds usually dissolve in water, specific chemicals to which caffeine alone has an affinity are introduced.

With the coffee beans engaged in a losing battle with the hot water, a solvent is thrown into the ring to pull out the notorious caffeine. Solvents often considered could range from activated charcoal (the jack of all trades) to methylene chloride or pleasant-smelling esters.

The problem with decaf coffee

The problem with this approach is that the first set of coffee beans immersed in hot water becomes redundant. These are the sacrificial beans that paid the ultimate price for your decaffeination to occur. What do I mean?

These beans lose everything to the hot water, saturating it in the process, making it possible for the next batch of beans to come out swelling with flavors. Yes, even coffee beans are known for their unquantifiable love for their kind.

It’s not uncommon to attempt to recoup these lost flavors by re-immersing the sacrificial beans into the dripping hot water. While this is plausible, there’s always the likelihood of such an attempt ending in futility as the anticipated absorption process might not occur.

Solvent-based process

A more contemporary approach that doesn’t require any sacrificial coffee beans entails having the beans brought in contact with steam for about thirty minutes. Afterward, the beans are sprayed with solvents like the pleasant smelling esters, resulting in the removal of caffeine.

For a thoroughly decaffeinated coffee, the solvent is collected through relevant means and reused several times while the coffee beans are steamed in between sessions. This method is generally more economically viable and efficient.

Methylene chloride, mentioned previously, can be deployed for the task, but the esters remain the preferred choice as they absorb mostly caffeine, unlike other solvents.

The swiss water process

The Swiss water process is a prominent decaffeinating method that sees the excellent absorption capacity of the charcoal filter being deployed. While the filter would result in a massive exodus of flavors from the coffee beans, compressed CO2 limits this to only the caffeine.

swiss water process
image source by reddingroasters

Similar to the first method, this method also witnesses the sacrificial coffee beans as the hot water is soaked with the beans and saturated in the process. What’s unusual is the ease of removal of caffeine by the charcoal filter.

Carbon dioxide process

Usually, the efficiency of this process is top-notch as the sacrificed coffee beans are reintroduced to recoup their lost flavors, excluding caffeine. It might be weird to see compressed CO2 acting as a solvent in this reaction, but when you notice the abysmal pressure critical point associated with it, the use of compressed CO2 makes sense.

Another method rejigs the Swiss water process and introduces sparkling water. This method works on basically the same principle, albeit with a twist. However, the same reagents are used.

For the twist, this process doesn’t separate caffeine through the absorption tendencies of the charcoal filter. Instead, sparkling water removes the caffeine by rinsing the compressed CO2 within a distinct tank. Here, the solvent is largely compressed carbon dioxide with a mix of water.

Ethyl Acetate process

The steaming helps break down the coffee bean’s protective walls, making it easier for the ethyl acetate to penetrate and bond with the caffeine molecules. The beans are soaked in a water and ethyl acetate solution, allowing the caffeine to bond with the solvent.

After several hours, depending on how much caffeine needs to be removed from the beans, they are filtered out of the solution and placed into another tank filled with hot clean water. This final step removes any remaining traces of ethyl acetate. The beans are then dried and ready to roast!

This method is considered one of the most popular ways to decaffeinate coffee because it is natural and doesn’t require any additional chemicals or solvents that could affect its taste or quality. It’s also relatively gentle on both environment and taste buds, providing a delicious cup of decaf without sacrificing flavor or aroma.

Additional information

Decaffeinated coffee isn’t free from caffeine. But the amount of the sleep-negating stimulant is largely negligible.

It might interest you that the United States has a booming coffee industry worth billions of dollars, with an annual gross of around $19 billion. Considering Americans are the biggest consumers of coffee worldwide, this might not surprise many.

Caffeine, the focal point of the decaffeination process, makes up less than 0.1% of the coffee bean. However, this figure would typically alternate with the coffee variety and how it’s prepared.

Coffee is a perennial crop with a maturation period of 5 years, but flowering occurs from the 3rd year.

Once matured, a coffee tree could produce as much as 2 pounds throughout the year. While it’s not a seasonal crop, most of the harvest occurs within the October to March timeline.

Coffee owes its luxurious flavor to many components, not just its caffeine content.

Pros and Cons of the Different Decaf Processes

Three main decaffeination processes are used today – the Swiss Water Process, the Mountain Water Process, and the CO2 process. Each of these processes has its pros and cons.

The Swiss Water Process is chemical-free and is a great choice for those who prefer their coffee to be free of added chemicals. The downside is that it can take up to 10 hours to complete, making it more expensive than other methods.

The Mountain Water Process uses hot water, steam, and solvents to remove caffeine from coffee beans without affecting flavor or aroma. This method is fast and effective but also uses chemicals that can leave a residual taste in some coffees.

The CO2 process uses pressurized carbon dioxide to extract caffeine from coffee beans. It’s considered one of the most effective methods, as it preserves flavor and aroma while removing all the caffeine from the beans. The downside is that it’s an expensive process that does not work well with lighter roasted or specialty coffees.

Each method has pros and cons depending on your preferences regarding taste, cost, speed, and chemical content in your decaf coffee!


The most popular method of decaffeinating coffee is the Direct-Solvent Process, which involves immersing green coffee beans in solvent to extract the caffeine. This process works quickly and efficiently and results in a cup of decaf that tastes almost identical to its caffeinated counterpart.

The Swiss Water Decaf Process is another popular method for producing decaffeinated coffee without chemicals. This technique uses pure water to remove the caffeine from green coffee beans, resulting in a cup of decaf that still carries some of the original flavors and aromas associated with regular coffee.

Lastly, there is carbon dioxide processing, which uses pressurized carbon dioxide to extract caffeine from green beans.

In conclusion, Decaf Coffee can be made using either of these three methods: direct solvent process, Swiss Water Method, or Carbon Dioxide Processing. Each process has its benefits and drawbacks regarding flavor and aroma preservation and cost-effectiveness.

Regardless of which method you choose, Decaf Coffee can be consumed knowing that 97-99% of the caffeine has been removed!


Is decaffeinated coffee bad for you?

No verifiable information suggests decaffeinated coffee has any negative effect on your health. The absence of caffeine alone gives you all the goodness of coffee without being excited by caffeine.

Can you decaf your coffee?

Of course, you can. As highlighted in the article, this can be achieved in different ways. Usually, the most popular entails soaking the coffee beans in hot water and introducing solvents like ethyl acetate to remove their caffeine content.

What do they do with the caffeine from decaf coffee?

Due to governing laws, decaf coffee must contain less than 0.1℅ of the bean, higher than ground decaf coffee. As for the rest, those cardboard totes with thousands of pounds of caffeine go to refiners who eliminate all the impurities, then to beverage companies — like Coca-Cola or Pepsi — incorporating caffeine into their beverages.

Does decaffeinated coffee have caffeine in it?

Those desirous of limiting their caffeine consumption without giving up the delightful flavors inherent in coffee usually opt for decaf coffee. Unfortunately, much of the decaf coffee available for sale has a small amount of caffeine, as decaffeination decants up to 96% of caffeine.  

Studies show that decaf coffee does contain coffee. On average, an 8-ounce (236-ml) cup of decaf coffee contains up to 7 mg of caffeine, whereas a regular coffee provides 70–140 mg.

Is decaf coffee healthier?

The general belief is that decaf coffee is closer to the ideal for your well-being due to the absence of caffeine, which is notorious for its side effects. Decaf coffee is considered a better alternative as it possesses the healthy benefits of coffee – antioxidants – without its supposedly negative component – caffeine.

Is decaf coffee beneficial to your health?

If you’re a coffee connoisseur, switching to decaf has probably never occurred. Coffee without the caffeine spike many of us are accustomed to is difficult to imagine. Numerous research has linked decaf coffee to some unexpected health benefits. 

According to this research, decaf coffee may lower your risk of some cancers. People who drink decaf coffee have been demonstrated to have a lower risk of acquiring Type 2 Diabetes, which reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Decaf coffee has also been shown to reduce the risk of inflammation and depression.

Can I have a cup of decaf coffee before going to bed?

You can drink decaf coffee before night because the caffeine concentration is quite low. It will have no impact on your sleep. If you are caffeine-sensitive, though, I do not recommend it.

Is decaffeinated coffee harmful to your kidneys?

The evidence is contradictory. If you don’t have underlying renal problems (stage 3 and beyond), consuming coffee, especially decaf, is generally good. It’s possible that the issue isn’t with the coffee itself but with what comes with it. It may, for example, raise your potassium levels above the recommended level, or your kidneys may have to work harder to process the flavored syrup and creamer (which may include gluten!).

Is decaf coffee chemical-rich?

To extract caffeine from coffee beans, modern processors employ safe processes. There are various decaf methods in use, and none of them are known to harm the consumer’s health. Ethyl acetate and methylene chloride-based processes may leave trace amounts behind, but not enough to harm users. Furthermore, ethyl acetate is frequently derived from organic materials for this method.

The Swiss Water Process, which uses heated water and specific beans to remove caffeine from target beans, is becoming increasingly popular. If you’re still worried about chemicals, try decaf coffee prepared this way.

Why do people drink decaf coffee?

There are many reasons why decaf coffee’s popularity is soaring, including the absence of bitter and sleep-negating caffeine. Also, people tend to consume decaf coffee to lower the risk of disease conditions that affect the brain and the muscular system, like Alzheimer’s disease. Pregnant women are also switching to decaf due to the verified connection of a miscarriage with caffeine.


Editorial Staff

The editorial staff at Crazy Coffee Crave is a team of coffee enthusiasts & Baristas who enjoy the one thing we all think about as soon as we get up in the morning. Trusted by thousands of readers worldwide.