Caffeinated or Decaffeinated Coffee


Caffeine is a tiny, white, bitter-tasting crystal found mainly in coffee in the bean, although small quantities exist in the flowers, leaves, stems, and gummy pulp that surround the cherry. Caffeine is a xanthine, a mood-altering chemical compound that dilates the blood vessels, accelerates the heart beat, eliminates mental and muscular fatigue, stimulates digestion, fosters insomnia, acts as a diuretic, and promotes mental acuity.

Pound for pound, tea actually contains more caffeine than coffee, but less tea than coffee is used to brew a cup. The average cup of tea contains less caffeine than a cup of coffee, roughly 40 to 100 milligrams in a 6-ounce cup of black tea compared to 100 milligrams in a 6-ounce cup of coffee. Arabica contains 1.1 percent caffeine, while robusta has a caffeine content of 2.2 percent. Instant coffee contains less caffeine than regular coffee, approximately 70 milligrams in a 6-ounce cup.

Instant coffee is a powdered substance invented in Guatemala by an En­glishman who noticed the coffee in his coffeepot left a fine condensation of powder on the end of the spout. Powdered coffee was first marketed in 1909 as a convenience food. The beans are roasted, ground, percolated in huge filtered urns, and rapidly dehydrated. Although dehydration reduces the taste and aroma of coffee, instant coffee offers instant solubility and the measurement can easily be adjusted.

Decaffeination removes 97 to 99.9 percent of the caffeine from coffee. Depend­ing on the measurement, one cup of decaf contains 1 to 5 milligrams of caffeine. Decaffeination involves up to twenty-four labor-intensive steps, a procedure that is reflected in decaf's higher cost.

Coffee beans are decaffeinated by the water process or the solvent method. In the water process, also known as the European or traditional methbod, unroasted coffee beans are steamed and soaked in hot-water vats to soften them and bring the caffeine and soluble solids to the surface. The solution is drained into another tank and the caffeine is removed. The liquid containing the soluble solids is returned to the beans for absorption. The Swiss water process takes the method a step further: the coffee is percolated through a bed of activated charcoal, a technique similar to water purification. Because chemicals are not used in the water process, some afficianados believe the method is the most healthful way to decaffeinate coffee. Others feel the water process removes too many oils and soluble components and produces coffee with less taste than the solvent method.

The solvent method incorporates methylene chloride and ethyl acetate. Methylene chloride is a chemical solvent approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Ethyl acetate is a diluent derived from fruit, such as bananas and apples. Both solvents come in direct contact with the beans, circulate through them, bind with the caffeine, and remove it without a loss of oils. To remove any residual sol­vents, the beans are steamed or rinsed, then dried. Any trace solvents that remain are eliminated when the beans are roasted. Some coffee devotees fear that the solvent method promotes ingestion. However, as methylene chloride evaporates at 170°F (77°C), and coffee is roasted at 450°F (232°C), this is unlikely. Moreover, the solvent method is faster and less costly to execute than the water process.

Flavored coffee is made by spraying or mixing freshly roasted coffee beans with liquid flavorings, such as chocolate, cardamom, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, orange zest, and chicory. Coffee may also be flavored with wines and spirits, such as marsala, frangelico, sarnbuca, curacao, brandy, rum, Irish whiskey, and bourbon. The result is coffee with a special taste: Irish cream, amaretto, french vanilla.

Blended coffee is a mix of two or more straight coffees grown in different parts of the world. Blended coffee is named for the dominant coffee in the blend, for example, Jamaica Blue Mountain blend. Often, the taste of blended coffee is more balanced than straight coffee. For example, breakfast coffee is an equal mix of mild-flavored arabica coffee from Santos blended with acidic arabica from Africa; New Orleans is a pungent mix of three parts Brazilian arabica to one part chicory; mocha-java, the oldest coffee blend, is one part arabica mocha from Yemen to two parts arabica from Java.