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 mugs of tea a day, two mugs at a time made from bag so 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 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 worked...no indigestion...yet!
Tuesday nd 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 °C. It's checked by our labs and the level of residue left is well below 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 Sue 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 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 ( C- 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 Lynsey 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 CO, perfectly harmless.
I am currently trying Clipper Organic Decaf Tea Having e-mailed them asking about their decaffeination process they informed me they use CO 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 (CO) - 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: Fax:
Thursday 4th March - Response from Lavazza Coffee
Lavazza got back to me today to say they use the CO 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.