blog from the ceo & superbarista of phoenix coffee, home of the best baristas in cleveland, ohio

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Decaf? Also known as why bother?

This is not an area of coffee knowledge that I tend to dwell on very often, but from time to time, the subject does arise. So I'm weighing in on the subject, recording my opinion for posterity.

Phoenix Coffee tends to carry coffee that has been decaffeinated using the methyl chloride method, as well as some Swiss Water Process decafs. But every coffee "expert" has their opinion on decafs and which method is preferable, and I am no exception. Although the thought of being a coffee "expert" is cause for trepidation in and of itself, but I digress. Let's just pretend I'm an expert because I do have an opinion on this issue. And isn't having opinions at least half of the requirement for being an expert anyway? I prefer the less expensive methyl chloride decafs over the SWPs not only because I feel they possess superior flavor integrity, but also because I think the methyl chloride decaffeinating process is superior. Read on for my reasons...

Here is a 2002 article by Brian Martell that discusses the different types of decaf processes succinctly and accurately.

Last year, I visited a decaf facility in Veracruz, Mexico that utlizes both methyl chloride and ethyl acetate for decaffeinating. I know these sound like scary chemical names, and they are. However, methyl chloride has a redeeming quality, which is that it is volatile at virtually room temperature, so after coffee has been roasted to 400+ degrees, no trace of the chemical is left. Furthermore, methyl chloride is the solvent that is most caffeine-specific. It pulls out the least amount of extraneous flavor, and leaves the bean the most intact. Indeed, when I decaffeinated tea in organic chemistry lab at Rice University, we used methyl chloride as the solvent. And the procedure even worked for me, one of the shall we say less gifted laboratory students.

Some other positive things about methyl chloride decaf process are that it does not have environmentally hazardous by products, since the caffeine that is produced is resold as a commodity to soda companies among others, and the solvent can be re-claimed completely due to its low evaporation point, and then is reused indefinitely. Furthermore, the process does not use a lot of water, which is so important in the often developing countries that also produce coffee.

I assure you that when you purchase decaf coffee from Phoenix, whether it is "natural" decaf (methyl chloride process) or SWP decaf, you are getting a pure cup of coffee with state-of-the-art flavor integrity, that will be free from any hazardous solvent or pollutant.


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