Decaf Latte? Maybe Not! - Drink Day with Elizabetta Tekeste

Welcome back everyone! This week, by request, we're discussing caffeine. How do you take the caffeine out of coffee? Is it addictive? Let's shed some light on the number one consumed stimulant in the world.

Defining Caffeine:

Caffeine is a bitter, white crystalline xanthine alkaloid, a psychoactive stimulant drug first discovered in 1820 by German chemist, Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge. Psychoactive simply means it acts on the central nervous system affecting, behavior, mood and perception. It also restores alertness, increases metabolism and acts as a painkiller.

Removing Caffeine

There are several methods for extracting this natural occurring chemical. In the 1970's the method of choice was dichloromethane, a volatile liquid with varied uses, from aerosol propellant to paint thinner to caffeine dissolver. Its use was curtailed when evidence pointed to its carcinogenic properties.

Today, the employed methods for removing caffeine are; water extraction, supercritical fluid extraction and more recently, genetic engineering. Let's have a closer look at each one.

Water Extraction:

With this method the green coffee beans are placed in hot water. The hot water extracts caffeine and flavor from the beans. The extract is then passed through activated charcoal to remove the caffeine. Once most of the caffeine is removed from the solution the original beans are soaked in the solution to restore flavor.

Supercritical Fluid Extraction:

Supercritical carbon dioxide uses equal parts of gaseous and liquid carbon dioxide and traps them in a vial under high pressure. As the temperature rises the liquid begins to evaporate matching the density of the gaseous carbon dioxide. With gas-like and liquid-like properties the carbon dioxide now becomes supercritical (it fills the vial as a gas but can dissolve compounds like a liquid) and is ideal for dissolving caffeine. The gas penetrates the green coffee beans to dissolve up to 99% of caffeine.

Genetic Engineering:

Due to advances in biotechnology this alternative is not only feasible, but also cost effective. Lucky for us (cringe). In both the coffee and tea plant caffeine is catalyzed by an enzyme called caffeine synthas. Science has successfully cloned the gene that codes for caffeine synthas so coffee and tea plants can be grown without caffeine.

Sound good? Not to me personally. Our bodies are terribly forgiving and so they often put up with genetically modified/engineered foods. But I'm not a fan of such foods.

So, Is Caffeine Addictive?

Studies conducted by the American Psychiatric Association support the argument that it is because abstinence from caffeine produces tiredness, fatigue, headaches, moodiness and other undesirable effects anywhere between 2 to 9 days after withdrawal. Those same studies found a correlation between people addicted to caffeine with a history of addiction i.e. alcohol and/or drugs.

There is equal evidence to support that taste, aroma and the socializing aspect of coffee are what people are drawn to, versus a chemical dependency of some sort. My flat mate told me she was addicted to coffee and couldn't function without it. But for an entire week her coffee was replaced with decaf and she didn't notice. So was this a placebo effect?

I'll say this much, people react and form attachments to varies substances. I do believe an addiction can be formed by some people to mood enhancers of any sort i.e. chocolate! I know for myself it's more of a mental game. My "addictions" are based on the perceived emotional comfort "obtained" from a soothing hot beverage of choice whether it be hot cocoa, coffee or herbal tea. If I'm to be brutally honest with myself, I'm probably "addicted" to spending money on myself more than anything else. I can't say I've ever personally felt withdrawal symptoms from the removal of any food/drink from my diet but I have shed a tear on occasion! But I've digressed...

If it's caffeine you're worried about a great cup of coffee doesn't have to have a great deal of caffeine. Take note of whether the beans are Arabica or Robusta, because Arabica beans have half the caffeine content of Robusta. Also dark roasts (beans that have been roasted longer) have less caffeine as the roasting breaks down the caffeine. And finally, if you simply prefer decaf, make sure it is roasted locally so you know it's fresh (decaf isn't a big seller and can sit on shelves for long periods of time) and inform yourself on how the caffeine was removed.

By the way, know what happens to the caffeine that is recovered during extraction? It's re-sold for use in medicine and soft drinks!

Keep your requests and questions coming and I will continue to address the topics you wish to see covered in my blog. Email me no later than 5:00PM EST on Friday, 12th November for my  blog on the Wednesday,17th November.


Until next time, breathe well and be well!