What happens to the caffeine removed from coffee?

March 10, 2016 4 min read

What happens to the caffeine removed from coffee?

People on social media make fun of decaffeinated coffee. Here’s a tweet from @ISurvivalist, for example:

And here’s a funny one from a user named @MrCoffee:

https://twitter.com/mrcoffee/status/702891822108975104

But some people get sour stomach or the jitters, they may be pregnant, or they just don’t want the bother of being addicted to caffeine. So they drink decaffeinated coffee, tea or sodas that have no caffeine.

Your loss is my gain

One person’s demerit is another person’s benefit. The caffeine removed from coffee and tea—at least 97 percent—ends up in products that would not otherwise have it—energy drinks or soda pop, for instance, or mints or gum.

Where do the beverage producers get the caffeine they put in their products? It has to come from somewhere.

U.S. National Public Radio had a February 2016 storytitled “Caffeine for Sale: The Hidden Trade of the World’s Favorite Stimulant” about how caffeine is removed from coffee beans and then where it goes after the decaf coffee is made.

Coffee Solutions

The writer Dan Charles bought a 4-ounce bag of caffeine and said it had as much caffeine as 1,000 tall Starbucks lattes. He said this caffeine was created in coffee beans on a hillside in the tropics. “Slowly and quietly, driven by the energy of sunlight, it formed inside coffee beans hanging on thousands of trees, most likely in Brazil or Vietnam,” Charles wrote.

“Those beans were harvested, loaded on ships bound for the port of Houston, Texas, and ended up at a factory within sight of downtown Houston: Atlantic Coffee Solutions. It’s owned by one of the world’s largest coffee traders, ECOM Agroindustrial Corp., which is based in Switzerland.”

The Houston factory creates several coffee products, including packaged ground coffee, whole roasted beans and instant coffee. They are sold to other coffee companies, including top American coffee brands, which package and resell them.

“But a third of the beans — tens of millions of pounds each year — come to this plant to be separated from their caffeine,” he wrote.

At the plant are three silos that hold green coffee. Throughout the day batches of green coffee beans drop into stainless steel cylinders beneath the silos. The cylinders are 60 feet tall and have walls 6 inches thick to hold up under immense pressure.

For 10 hours the beds of coffee beans have a chemical called supercritical carbon dioxide that forms under high pressure pumped through them, penetrating the beans and removing the caffeine.

The decaffeinated coffee is sent to another part of the plant for more processing. Left behind is the caffeine, which is worth money, and which must sprayed out of the CO2 with water. The water evaporates and leaves behind the crude caffeine, a brown powder with an odor that Charles describes as “badly burnt coffee with a perhaps a note of brown sugar.” Refiners remove the impurities to make the caffeine into white, odorless crystals.

Carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen

At other plants, the caffeine is removed with water or with ethyl acetate. Germany has several coffee bean decaffeination plants. In China, manufacturers produce caffeine by combining carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and hydrogen to make the stimulant.

Then other companies, such as Coke and Pepsi, Viter Energy Mints and energy drink companies buy the chemical for infusion into their products.


Another company that includes caffeine in its product is No-Doz. Now cosmetics products and diet pills also have caffeine. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Editor182)

Of course, coffee is not the only source of caffeine. Another big product on the market is decaffeinated tea. The Arbor Teas website has an articleabout the decaffeination of tea that says:

Decaffeinated tea is a great option for tea lovers who wish to avoid much of the caffeine naturally found in the tea leaf. All forms of tea (black, oolong, green, white, and pu-erh) can be decaffeinated, but only black and green tea are regularly decaffeinated. It must be noted that decaffeinated tea is NOT caffeine-free. The decaffeination process leaves a minute amount of caffeine in the leaf. By law, tea labeled as “decaffeinated” must have less than 2.5 percent of its original caffeine level, which usually equates to less than 2 mg per cup. Currently, there are four methods of decaffeination: methylene chloride, ethyl acetate, carbon dioxide and water processing. In the United States, ethyl acetate is the most widely used decaffeination method.

Arbor Teas uses the CO2 method, a natural process.

Tea makers also sell the caffeine to other companies, of course.

What happens to the caffeine removed from coffee?

An articleat the site Tea & Coffee Trade Online says two big caffeine customers are diet pill companies and cosmetic companies. The article states:

The recent trend in caffeine-enhanced cosmetics has been getting international recognition … Beauty companies use caffeine that has properties believed to do everything from reduce cellulite to enhance lips, but the three main ways caffeine is said to work on the skin is: as a vasoconstrictor, an antioxidant and a diuretic. Because of this, caffeine can be found in body wash, soap, lip balm, facial scrubs and several other products such as caffeine lipstick. Caffeine is also found in sprays and facial toners, de-puffing eye creams and gels and in hundreds of face and body creams, which claim to give bodies a lift, or improve our contours.

The article states that demand for caffeine, especially now with its use in cosmetics, exceeds what is produced from coffee beans and tea leaves, so other companies produce it artificially, like the ones in China.

A storyat Fox News says the trace inorganic chemicals that remain in decaf coffee and tea are below levels considered unsafe:

Methyl chloride, used in the Direct Process, is listed as a possible carcinogen by the National Cancer Institute, but FDA regulations consider up to 10 parts per million (ppm) to be safe for consumption. Trace amounts of the chemical have been found in decaf coffee brews, but most blends have a concentration at or below 1 ppm.
Decaffeinated products made from the Water Process and the CO2 process can be considered organic, Fox News says.

 

Mark Miller
Mark Miller


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