For decaffeination, international standards demand that at least 97% caffeine must be removed from the coffee in order for it to be called ‘decaffeinated’. Decaf K-cups also meet this criterion, with some having even less than 3% caffeine. Basically, a decaf cup of coffee, per 8 ounces, will have anywhere between 2 to 4 milligrams of caffeine.
Some brewers don’t accept some K-cups, which is kind of problematic. However, manufacturers have understood the demands of consumers and now the market is flooded with K-cups that are compatible with all single-serve coffee brewers. When Keurig 2.0 was launched, it created compatibility issues for a lot of people as it wasn’t compatible with a lot of the K-cups out there. Since then, K-cups have been tweaked in terms of design and now brewer compatibility is not much of a problem.
All things decaf
Since we are talking about decaf K-cups, it’s a good idea to take a closer look at decaffeination: the process, health concerns, etc. Health concerns are important, as many people are advised by their doctors to cut back on caffeine due to certain health problems.
The decaffeination process of coffee needs a ‘solvent’, something to which the caffeine binds itself as soon as it leaves the beans. Now, caffeine is a water-soluble substance and it can be argued that why does one need a chemical solvent if something as pure and natural like water can be used. The answer to that is that water takes in others of the around-100 chemicals present in coffee, in addition to caffeine. This makes the coffee weak, flat and undrinkable. For this reason, a chemical solvent must be employed to get the caffeine out of the beans.
Coffee is decaffeinated through 4 methods, two of which are solvent-based while the other two are non-solvent based. The solvent-based methods can be classified as direct and indirect. The beans come in direct contact with the solvent in the former, and there is no direct beans-to-solvent contact in the latter.
The non-solvent based methods can be classified into two types, namely the Swiss Water Process and the CO2 process. The Swiss Water Process involves soaking the beans in very hot water and then using the water containing all the chemicals and caffeine from the coffee to extract caffeine from a fresh batch of beans. This way, the already saturated water will not leach out flavors from the coffee, just the caffeine. This process yields coffee that is 99.9% decaffeinated.
Another, more costly process is the CO2 process. This process binds CO2 to caffeine under high pressure, without bonding with the flavor molecules. The caffeine-rich gas is then pumped out, and pumped back into the system after being decaffeinated.