Decaf coffee is increasingly popular as people reduce their caffeine intake. But is it any good?

In a coffee-obsessed country like Australia, asking for decaf can elicit strange looks — similar to asking for water at a pub.

“When I ran a cafe years ago, I would have laughed at people who requested decaf,” says Sam Demelis, a Melbourne-based coffee expert and barista trainer.

However, times are changing. Decaf coffee is gaining popularity, and many cafes now carry speciality blends.

But what is decaffeinated coffee? And how much caffeine is actually contained in a cup of coffee?

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Caffeine extraction from coffee beans is not an easy task, and there are several different methods.

The direct method extracts caffeine by steaming green coffee beans and then repeatedly rinsing them with a chemical solvent.

“The raw coffee, or cherry, is soaked or sprayed with the solvent, which attaches and binds to the caffeine in the cherry and then extracts it,” explains Peter Wolff, co-owner of a Brisbane speciality roasting business.

After extracting the caffeine, the beans are steamed once more to remove the solvent.

Methylene chloride and ethyl acetate are the most frequently used solvents. These chemicals are found in paint strippers, adhesives, and a variety of other industrial applications.

While these chemicals may sound alarming, they are allowed to be used in accordance with Australian food safety standards.

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