Bring Up Coffee—What Is In Besides Caffeine

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Coffee is such a morning staple that I cannot remember a morning without it. For instance, my parents always consumed a cup of coffee as soon as they were up. However, they never grab their daily cup from a coffee maker nor an espresso machine. They instead preferred using instant coffee powder. My parents were not too keen on us drinking coffee too young as they have heard that it can disrupt our growth. So, as I reached my 16th birthday, I was then allowed to drink coffee. At first, I found the taste of coffee to be too bitter for my taste. I would typically add an equal amount of coffee powder and sugar to my mug. My parents interpreted this particularity as an undeniable reflection of my disdain for coffee. Believing that I dreaded coffee, they often tried to dissuade me from drinking it. However, I knew something that seemed to escape their understanding. I had come to realize that once my coffee got spiked with abundant amounts of sugars, the taste became fantastic. Yet, it still took me years to grasp the difference between the taste of instant and filtered coffee. And oh boy, it’s weird how distinct it can be.

Once I started dating my fiancé and moved in together, we had to acquire a coffee maker. Manuel was used to the taste of filtered coffee, and even though he constantly assured me that instant coffee was fine, I wanted to please him. It turns out that filtered coffee became my preferred sort of coffee. I was now able to reduce the amount of sugar I had to put in. Now, I don’t even need any. Sometimes when I feel like spicing things up, I add a little something along with my freshly ground coffee beans, like cinnamon. It supplements the taste by inserting an extra layer, or a new dimension, to it. I have also read that some also like adding cardamom to their coffee, and I have tried. Although I like it very much, my fiancé isn’t exactly interested in its taste.

Despite my clear preference for filtered coffee, I find myself now routinely rejecting it. My sudden bouts of insomnia have recently justified my self-restraint toward its consumption. To reduce the gravity of this drastic and sudden change, I decided to replace my cup of filtered coffee with a cup of instant decaffeinated coffee. It is not quite the same, but it does the trick. Although, when you look back at the making of instant coffee, it doesn’t explain the noticeable taste difference between both coffee preparations. Its manufacturing process starts by brewing the coffee beans and then pouring the liquid through a filter to produce filtered coffee. So both instant and filtered coffee are brewed first. If there would be no other steps, then instant coffee and filtered coffee would be synonyms of each other, but this sadly is not the case. Contrary to instant coffee, we can serve filtered coffee immediately after brewing. As for instant coffee, it will need further processing of the brewed mixture to produce the soluble solid that is so characteristic of its instant nature.

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To produce instant coffee, we need to collect the brewed coffee and then desiccate (aka dry) it. We can do this dehydration step using two very different techniques: freeze-drying or spray drying. Freeze-drying or cryodesiccation is very expensive but is the best method to preserve the molecules’ structure and integrity. In other words, it is better at conserving the flavours and aromas of the coffee. This technique involves bringing the temperature of the brewed coffee below the water’s triple point. The triple point corresponds to the lowest temperature at which gas, liquid, and solid can coexist. For water, this triple point is near 0℃. After we reach the ideal temperature, we reduce the internal pressure of the container. The pressure drop allows the frozen water (solid form) to sublimate (straight to gas, bypassing its liquid form). We subsequently remove the water (gas form) to leave the final product devoid of water. 

Compared to freeze-drying, spray drying is much cheaper. The resulting savings can explain why a lot of food manufacturers will opt for this drying method. However, by choosing spray drying, they also sacrifice some of the flavours we can find in our dearly beloved filtered coffee. Instead of making use of cold temperature, spray drying involves the presence of heating. For spray drying, we atomize brewed coffee into a drying chamber which creates tiny droplets. Some heated gas is also projected into this chamber to evaporate any water present in the droplets. Since the droplets are not very large, the water inside them vaporizes almost instantaneously.

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The dried particles form what we know as instant coffee. After the particles are thoroughly devoid of any water, the final product is collected and packaged. Generally speaking, spray drying will produce more fine and round particles than freeze-drying, which typically makes larger fragments. The larger coffee flakes tend to be preferred since it is easier to use. Even though both these methods have their distinctions, they both have the same objectives. Instant coffee prolongs shelf life, doesn’t require any additional tools, and it’s super quick to make. Although these characteristics are certainly enough to justify their popularity, there have been recent claims that could motivate us further to switch products. Indeed, eco-friendly groups are insisting that instant coffee has a lower carbon footprint. This implication resides in the notion that instant coffee uses less space and is significantly lighter than its counterpart, the coffee beans. These characteristics would also indicate that shipping would require less gasoline consumption which means less carbon dioxide emission. Furthermore, not needing a processing machine to make our daily cup of coffee would also reduce our carbon footprint by reducing our waste. 

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Now that we know more about instant coffee, we can maybe investigate the secrets behind decaffeinated coffee. Essentially, we all know that coffee beans contain caffeine. Yet, before the beans get roasted, we can expose them to many processes which remove their caffeine content. Some methods require exposing the beans many times to an organic solvent like dichloromethane to extract the caffeine, and others will use water. In some cases, manufacturers will even utilize carbon dioxide at high temperatures and pressure to remove caffeine. Carbon dioxide is a fascinating gas as it allows for caffeine to dissolve in it, yet it won’t allow the same for the compound responsible for flavours and aromas. This gas is thus an efficient solvent that can surprisingly conserve both of these desirable attributes. Yet, even though all these methods adequately remove most of the caffeine content, the result is still imperfect. Most decaffeinated coffee brands can accept the presence of up to 3% caffeine, depending on the country’s legal standards. Here in Canada, we tolerate no more than 0.3% of caffeine left in the final decaffeinated product.

So even though the concentration is so minute that you may even consider it null, it’s still not a great idea to consume it late at night. This statement is especially true if you suspect yourself of being highly sensitive to caffeine. During the past weeks, I found myself experiencing some sleep disturbances. These events seemed to correlate with my coffee consumption. And even though my coffees were decaffeinated, I decided to purge myself of it entirely. Surprisingly, I seem to experience fewer of these events than in the past months. Yet, I don’t really know if it is a coincidence or if there truly is a link. A way to find out would be to resume drinking coffee for a couple of days and then stop. Maybe my insomnia would have resolved itself on its own; we don’t know. 

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Drinking coffee is undoubtedly something that I miss and would unquestionably like to reintegrate into my routine. Not only did the taste feel incredible, but just a sip of it seemed sufficient to keep going. Being an entrepreneur in charge of writing, reading, and researching makes me desperately crave my daily cup of coffee. Nonetheless, until I can unquestionably revoke all my suspicion towards it, I must resist the temptation to succumb to its striking appeal.

I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer as soon as humanly possible.

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