Decaf is not a dirty word
Decaf is not a dirty word
December 08, 2023
It happens more often than you’d imagine. Someone will come to the roastery and very sheepishly, almost apologetically, ask if we sell decaf, as if even saying it out loud will bring judgement down on them.

So let’s get this out in the open right now - decaf is not a dirty word!

We're not here to judge. We just want to make sure you love every sip of your coffee, whether it's caffeinated or not.

Once the initial embarrassment has faded, the next question is almost always Well how is coffee decaffeinated in the first place?

Let me tell you…

There are various different ways of decaffeinating coffee, but they all involve the same two ingredients; green, unroasted coffee beans, and a solvent to bind the caffeine.

Green beans are heated in the solvent, to open the pores on the bean surface and allow the release of caffeine, which binds to the solvent, removing it from the bean.

Originally, the solvent was always an industrially produced chemical, such as benzene in the early 20th Century, or more recently, ethyl acetate derived from cane sugar.

With specialty coffee such as ours, however, there has been a movement away from chemical decaffeination, toward more natural methods; not only for the obvious safety concerns of using chemicals in food preparation, but also to minimise the impact of decaffeination on the intrinsic flavour, aroma and mouthfeel of the coffee.

The simplest to use, and most abundant, natural solvent of caffeine is water. Heat your green beans in water, and it will bind almost all the caffeine, removing it from the beans, and creating a saturated green coffee extract. Unfortunately, it will also bind all the acids, sugars, alkaloids and aromatic compounds which give the coffee its flavour, leaving that first batch of beans dull and tasteless. However, if the extract is passed through a charcoal filter, the caffeine can be selectively removed, leaving a solution of flavour compounds which, if used with the next batch of greens beans, will remove only the caffeine, the beans decaffeinated but full of flavour. By continuing to filter and reuse the extract, the same solvent can be used for multiple batches, with the only by-product being caffeine, which can be reused in the food and pharmaceutical industries. The Swiss Water and Mexican Mountain Water processes are both examples of this method of decaffeination.

The other decaffeination process you may see on our labels uses Carbon Dioxide. Whilst a gas at normal atmospheric conditions, CO₂ enters a fluid state with the application of heat and pressure. Because CO₂ is highly selective to caffeine molecules, it binds only caffeine, leaving the remaining chemical composition of the beans intact, so that the inherent flavour, aroma and mouthfeel of the coffee are unaffected. Once the caffeine has been dissolved, the beans are removed and the pressure is released, reverting the CO₂ to a gaseous state, and releasing the caffeine for other uses.

Totally natural, and absolutely delicious, we roast coffees which have been decaffeinated by both of these processes, and we love them as much as we love their caffeinated cousins.

So don’t ever feel shy asking about our coffee. We love to talk through the process and we want you to find the best coffee for you!