When it comes to decaffeinated coffee it is pretty much a black and white choice. Most people drink either regular or decaf, and would never consider switching between, but how much difference in taste is there really? Many coffee lovers report the inferior taste of decaf, but is that just because it is something they are not used to, or is there really something in its production that affects the flavor?
A type of coffee plant was recently discovered that produces beans naturally low in caffeine, but until this finds its way into commercial production we will have to rely on more traditional methods of decaf production.
The most common treatment to remove caffeine from coffee beans is to soak them in hot water, or steam them to open the pores, and then rinse them in methylene chloride which bonds with the caffeine, and is washed away. So it may be the difference in taste of decaf is more to do with the remaining chemical in the bean than the actual absence of the bitter caffeine.
There is another method which reduces the amount of the chemical that the beans come into contact with. The beans are soaked for a long period in hot water, which induces the caffeine as well as much of the flavor in the bean to leak out into the water. The beans are removed, and methylene chloride added to bond with the caffeine. This is then filtered off and the beans are replaced in the water to reabsorb some
These methods are relatively inexpensive and so are favored by manufacturers, despite ongoing questions about how the final taste of the coffee is affected. There is another method which is more costly, and seems to have less impact on the taste.
This is known as the Swiss method, and it involves no chemical addition to the beans. The beans are soaked in hot water for a long period of time, and then the whole mixture is filtered through activated charcoal. This is similar to pure carbon and its molecular make up attracts the caffeine particles to bond with it during the filtering process. This is a more expensive process and so is generally used for superior decaf coffees.
If you feel you need to cut down on your caffeine intake, whether for health reasons, or just to get a good night’s sleep, you don’t necessarily have to switch to decaf. Just changing the type of coffee you drink can have an impact. Many darker roasts, such as Italian roast often used in Espresso, naturally have less caffeine because much of it has been burnt off during the roasting process. You can reduce the effects of caffeine without economizing on taste.
Of course it is a matter of personal choice which type of coffee you use in your espresso maker, but if you need to cut down on your caffeine intake there are options, and you do not have to settle for an inferior flavor if you do find that standard decaf produces this.