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27 February 2010

Flying to Futuroscope

For anyone who has not been there Futuroscope is similar to the Epcot centre in Florida, USA.  It comprises of numerous IMAX cinemas in 2D, 3D and 4D as well as various rides and an outdoor water park.  The ticket is all inclusive of rides but don't expect that to be the end of your paying out as food, typically, is expensive inside and not very good plus there are loads of boutiques aimed at selling toys to your kids.  To be honest, although some of the attractions were very good I'm not sure they are worth the cost and certainly not worth the long queues.  We went in the last week of February when some schools were on half term admittedly but the weather was not brilliant. Even so, for some attractions we had to wait 45 minutes in a very boring and uncomfortable queue.  Some attractions only had about a 5 minute running time as well.  I would hate to think what the queues would be like in summer! 
The French, being French, are not very helpful when it comes to people who don't speak their language.  There are audio guides available for English and Spanish speakers but you have to ask for them as they are not well advertised.  If you don't get one you won't have a clue what is going on in the attractions.  Much of the safety advice is also announced on these audio sets and although they are images depicting safety information it is far from comprehensive. 
Accommodation around the park is very formulaic.  The hotels vary in price but all appeared much-over-muchness with buffet style restaurants and little atmosphere.

Travelling to Futuroscope - Poitiers Airport
There are many way to get there but typically for us we flew ourselves.  There is an airport at Poitiers open for general aviation which is about 15 minutes drive from Futuroscope however the taxi fare is around 40 Euros.
If you are thinking of flying yourself to Poitiers there are a few things you might like to know.  There is Avgas available but you really need a Total card.  If you don't have one you have to find the refueller who speaks no English and is hard to find.  It is also difficult to pay landing and parking fees, you have to leave your details and they send you a bill.  As yet we have no idea how much this will be.  Exit and entry is via the flying club but they shut at lunchtime for 2 hours on Sunday.  There is a restaurant available in the main terminal.

19 February 2010

PG Tips Decaffeinated - Not Such a Good Choice

Some of you will know that I had to give up caffeine about a year ago because I discovered I was sensitive to it and it was the cause of chronic indigestion. Having given it up I thought everything was fine, no more indigestion and I had found some decaf products I was perfectly happy with. That is until someone mentioned to me that certain methods of decaffeination were actually harmful to health. I took this initially with a pinch of salt but decided to research it for myself anyway. Wikipedia was most helpful on this listing all the various ways caffeine could be extracted from tea and coffee and true enough there were some very bad ways as well as healthy ways such as the Swiss Water Process.
Next I decided to look at the labels on my products. For instant coffee I use Nescafé Gold Blend Decaf and I was very relieved to see they proudly claim to use the water process for removing the caffeine from their beans. Full marks to Nescafé but I only have one cup a day of that so it wasn't the most important. In the evenings after my main meal I have a cup of ground coffee and for that I use Lavazza Decaffeinated Caffe Espresso. There was nothing on the label about the decaffeination process and nothing on their web site. As there is no e-mail contact information I have had to write to them for details. I'll let you know if they reply.
The most important drink for me however, is tea. I drink 6 mugs of tea a day, two mugs at a time made from 1 bag so 3 tea bags a day. The brand I used was PG Tips Decaf as that had the best flavour, hardly any difference from the non decaf version. Once again there was nothing on the packet to say how the tea was decaffeinated and nothing on their web site. There was a contact form on their web site so I e-mailed them asking about the process. This was the initial response -

Dear Sally,

Thank you for your email.

The solvent extraction process for decaffeination involves the tea leaves being 'washed' in a solvent that removes almost all of the caffeine. The tea leaves are then dried and packed in the ordinary fashion.

If steam treatment is used to remove the caffeine, it is inevitable that some of the other water soluble components will be removed at the same time, notably the water soluble antioxidant flavonoids which contribute to the taste and the leaves' antioxidant activity. We intend that the black tea leaf blend in PG Decaf provides you with a tea infusion that has the taste you would expect to find in cup of standard PG tips tea. Similarly, we intend that PG Decaf continues to give you a brew that is rich in antioxidant flavonoids. While taste is obviously a matter of personal preference, we know we could not make any claim about antioxidant flavonoids if the caffeine had been removed from the leaves using a water based steam treatment.

As I am sure that you will appreciate, the exact process carried out by PG is commercially sensitive but I do hope that this gives you a better understanding of the methodology and our reasoning.

Kind regards,

Zaheed Khan
Careline Advisor

I then e-mailed back asking them which solvent was used in the process and the reply was as follows -

Dear Sally,

Thank you for your continued correspondence.

I can confirm that the the typical solvent of choice for PG tips is Dichloromethane.

If I can be of any further help or assistance, then please do not hesitate to contact me.

Kind regards,

Christopher Fortune
Careline Advisor

Dichloromethane is a carcinogen. There are loads of references to it so it seems strange that they would use it to remove caffeine on the grounds it saved the anti-oxidants when at the same time it could potentially cause cancer itself. I am now searching for a new brew and would welcome any suggestions. In the mean time I will revert to normal tea and try steeping the bags for 30 seconds to remove the caffeine myself, throwing that water away and re-steeping the bags to make my tea.

In fairness, at least PG were honest and did reply; I've yet to hear from Lavazza.

...the list goes on and on.

I tried the seeping method as a DIY method for removing caffeine from normal tea at lunchtime today and so far it seems to have indigestion...yet!

Tuesday 2nd March 2010 - Tetley and Typhoo Decaf Teas
I've been checking around for other brands of decaf tea.  most manufacturers don't say how they process their tea on the packets so it is a matter of contacting the companies concerned and asking them direct.  today I got replies from Tetley and Typho who also both use the same solvent as PG.  Here is their response to my enquiry.

Dear Sally

Thanks for your email.  In answer to your query, we decaffeinate our teas using dichloromethane, which is removed by heating the tea leaves to 40°C.  It's checked by our labs and the level of residue left is well below 5 parts per million, the level required by legislation. We believe this method delivers the best tasting decaf blend.

Dichloromethane is still widely used in the food and drink industry because it can so effectively be removed from products due to its volatile nature. Product safety and consumer concerns are a top priority for us at Tetley and we regularly review our methods and look at alternative processes of decaffeination.

Kind regards

Tetley GB Consumer Services

Dear Ms Turner

I am writing in response to your query regarding the decaffeination method that we use.

Typhoo currently use the widely used method known as Methylene Chloride for decaffeination. During this process the tea is 'washed' with Methylene Chloride, which is highly selective for caffeine, and is therefore thought to give a better flavoured decaffeinated tea than by using some other methods.

The caffeine is dissolved into the solvent. Tea is treated to remove the solvent by gentle heating - Methylene Chloride has a low boiling point of approximately 41 C and is therefore evaporated off and collected separately. Caffeine can be recovered from this solvent and purified for re-use.

All teas are made with hot water (70 C-80 C or more), ensuring that any minute traces of solvent remaining in the decaffeinated tea (normally less than 1 mg per kg of dry tea) will evaporate before the tea is drunk.

Recent research has shown that the healthy antioxidants in tea are not removed during decaffeination using Methylene Chloride.

Kind Regards

Consumer Relations Advisor

N.B. Dichloromethane and Methylene Chloride are the same thing. The references listed above say that this chemical cannot be fully removed from the tea and so will be ingested.

On the plus side I have discovered, but not yet tried, a decaffeinated tea by Taylors of Harrogate who claim their tea is decaffeinated using CO2, perfectly harmless.
I am currently trying Clipper Organic Decaf Tea Having e-mailed them asking about their decaffeination process they informed me they use CO2 aswell. Here is their reply.

Thank you for contacting clipper

It was good to hear that you are interested in our Decaffeinated products and would like to know which process we use to decaffeinate them.

The information is as follows:

How is Clipper tea and coffee decaffeinated?

There are essentially two types of decaffeination process: one that uses solvents such as ethyl acetate, and one that uses harmless carbon dioxide gas and water.  All Clipper decaffeinated products use natural spring water and supercritical Carbon Dioxide (CO2) - the same natural gas used to add bubbles to mineral water, but pressurised.  This method does not use any harmful chemicals and is approved by the Soil Association.

Thank you for contacting us; if you have any further queries, please do not hesitate to contact us again

Kind regards
Penny Knapman
Customer Relations
Tel: 01308 863344
Fax: 01308 861249

Thursday 4th March - Response from Lavazza Coffee

Lavazza got back to me today to say they use the CO2 method of decaffeination. This response was via a scanned document so instead of attaching the e-mail I've inserted an image of the document sent to me here. Just click on it to see it large.