It’s not complicated to add ingredients to food. For example, a bag of potato chips with “50% more salt” won’t cause much astonishment. On the other hand, foods and beverages that remove naturally occurring ingredients amaze me. Take decaffeinated coffee — how in the world do they do it? I downed a double espresso with a twist of lemon and set out to find out.
The short answer: Hot water and lots of it. A column from LBC.co.uk explains that when coffee is soaked or steamed, the caffeine goes into the hot water. However, a lot of the flavors also get removed. To get the flavors back, “the water is then returned to the beans for reabsorption of flavors and oils.” The caffeine stays out, but the flavor comes back. Weird.
The site GoAskAlice goes into more detail, but keeps it easy to understand. Apparently, there are several methods for removing the caffeine from coffee. Some are more chemical than others, but all end with the same results — a pleasantly bitter beverage that won’t you keep awake at night.
Interestingly, just because a cup of coffee is classified as “decaf,” that doesn’t mean it’s 100% caffeine free. In order to be called decaffeinated, the coffee has to have caffeine levels of 2.5% or less. Anything more, and the coffee can’t legally be classified as decaf.
Wikipedia details all the various methods one can use to get the caffeine out of coffee, and also notes that “the first commercially successful decaffeination process” was invented by Ludwig Roselius and Karl Wimmer in 1903.” The pair used brine and benzene to remove the caffeine. According to About.com, the process may have been discovered by accident. Kind of like Post-It Notes and penicillin.
Personally, while I love coffee, I’m hardly a connoisseur. Do you guys know how to tell the good stuff from the bad? Is it like wine tasting or do you think all coffee tastes the same? Please leave a comment with your advice below.
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