For many of us, it's the highly-caffeinated cup of joe that gets our mornings underway or rejuvenates our afternoon slump. Still, there are many that prefer it's less jittery cousin, commonly known as decaf. While its existence is commonplace, few stop to think about how we get to the decaffeinated version.
There are several methods used in reducing or eliminating the caffeine content of the coffee bean, but they are all pretty similar. First, processors use water or steam to swell the green beans, then they extract the caffeine using a solvent. Water, ethyl acetate, methylene chloride, or highly pressurized carbon dioxide strip the caffeine away from the beans, which are then steamed to remove any solvent residues and dried.
These practices do not completely eliminate the bean's caffeine content, but the majority of it has been stripped away. U.S. law mandates that any decaffeinated coffee must retain less than 2.5% of its caffeine, while in the EU only 0.1% of decaf beans' dry weight can be caffeine. According to the International Coffee Organization, a cup of decaf has around 3 mg of caffeine in it, while the average 5 oz. cup of drip coffee contains 115 mg.
So, what is done with all that concentrated caffeine? Pharmaceutical companies and soft drink makers are the big customers for the extracts; although the kola nut provides a bit of a jolt for your cola, the majority of the caffeine in your soda comes from the addition of caffeine extracted from coffee beans during decaffeination.