Decaf Coffee: We Remove Caffeine, Not Flavor

A cup of decaf coffee with a napkin and spoon

Experimenting with ways to eliminate those too-much-coffee jitters or sleep better at night? You don’t necessarily need to give up coffee. Decaf can be a satisfying substitute — especially when you choose a decaf made through an all-natural process that leaves the flavor intact.

What is Caffeine, Anyway?

Go-juice. Caffeine fix. Jolt of joe. Day-starter. Jet fuel. All these nicknames for a cup of coffee refer to properties that come from caffeine. But what is caffeine? It’s a substance that naturally occurs in coffee beans — likely the reason why humans domesticated the coffee plant in the first place. Speaking more precisely, caffeine is an organic compound, a stimulant chemically derived from xanthine. It temporarily blocks adenosine receptors in the brain and stimulates parts of the central nervous system.

So, caffeine is a drug — a legal and popular one. It wakes you up, makes you feel more alert. It keeps you up, staving off drowsiness. But what if you don’t want that?

If you’re trying to cut out caffeine, one option would be to simply stop drinking coffee.  But if you’ve come to truly love the taste and smell of coffee, the way I do? If you appreciate the feel of a warm mug in the hand? If you look forward to the morning ritual of brewing a pot at home or sipping a cup in a cafe with a friend? Well, quitting can be hard to do.

A better option: you could switch to decaf.

Why Try Decaf? (Or the True Story of a New Decaf Drinker)

Decaf gets a bad rap. Before I ever tried it, I heard lots of negative things about how it tasted. But when I decided to switch to decaf, I was pleasantly surprised. True confession time: I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between my old regular coffee and the new decaf varieties I tried.

One explanation for this is that the decaf I was drinking was high-quality coffee — 100% organic Arabica beans, sourced from farmer co-ops in direct trading relationships. It had been roasted by people who really knew what they were doing and it was freshly ground. The all-natural decaffeination process probably also helped. Still, I was surprised how little I missed what I’d always thought was an essential component to coffee.

When you think about it, though, there are all kinds of ways people modify coffee already. Many of us add milk or sweeteners or both. We serve it over ice. We experiment with different brewing methods. And we all have different sensory equipment — different taste buds, different receptors. Why not give decaf a spin and see what YOU think?

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Equal Exchange’s Decaffeination Process

Equal Exchange’s decaf coffee is decaffeinated with a process called CR3 Natural Liquid Carbon Dioxide Decaffeination, first patented in Germany in 1970. Here’s how it works:

  1. Unroasted (green) coffee beans are moistened with water and pressurized in a chamber with liquid carbon dioxide, which draws the caffeine out of the bean.
  2. The CO2 is circulated through an evaporator to separate the caffeine from the CO2.
  3. The CO2 is then recondensed and recirculated through the coffee. This cycle repeats until the decaffeination is complete.
  4. The coffee is dried to return it to its original moisture content.

The use of carbon dioxide and water poses no risk to your health (think of carbonated water – it contains the same natural liquid carbon dioxide). This process removes 99.9% of the caffeine, yet leaves the bean and its natural oils intact.. These are the two reasons why Equal Exchange switched from offering Swiss Water Process in 1996 to the CO2 process — more caffeine is removed and the taste is fantastic!

About The Author

Kate Chess


  1. Claire | 11th May 20

    Hi, are your teas also decaffeinated through the CO2 process? Thank you!

    • Kate Chess | 11th May 20

      Thanks for asking, Claire! Equal Exchange Herbal Teas are naturally caffeine-free — no process necessary. Equal Exchange Organic Decaf English Breakfast is decaffeinated by our partners in India through the CO2 process, regarded as the best process for caffeine removal in the industry. Unlike other methods, this process maintains levels of antioxidants, healthy nutrients, and the flavor of pure tea. The process is pretty similar to the decaf coffee process described in this blog post. Here’s how it works: the tea leaves are cleaned and dust is removed. They are soaked in water, and then placed in a pressurized chamber, where CO2 locks onto and removes the caffeine. The leaves are then dried and ground to size. Ta-dah!

  2. yuki | 12th Oct 19

    Hello Kate,
    It’s cool to know about this decaf process. Could you please offer more information about the water and CO2 used in this process? Does this process rely on a closed water system? And are there any emissions or substances created? I’m interested in learning about how you deal with the used water and CO2 in an eco-friendly way.
    Thank you!

  3. Janet | 31st May 19

    Do you use organically grown coffee beans for your flavored (hazelnut) decaf coffee. Is it just the flavoring that is not organic?

    • Kate Chess | 31st May 19

      Hi Janet. Nope — the Hazelnut Creme Decaf is one of the few coffees we still offer that’s not certified organic. We have many organic options — and you can always add the flavored syrup of your choice.

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