Decaffeination with E.A - Sugar Cane - Behind the doors of Descafecol plant

In the lab

Decaffeination with E.A - Sugar Cane - Behind the doors of Descafecol plant

César MAGAÑA | 2019-10-28

Decaffeination plant report (3/4). We continue our field visits with Descafecol plant in Colombia. The aim of those visits is to stress the idea on which we base our research: decaffeination processes must be synonymous with good quality coffee. We have decided to arrange this tour of plant visits in the spirit of providing an enriching experience that will allow us to communicate more and better on the coffees with which Belco works as well as about the partners or players together with whom we are responsible of ensuring traceability and quality in the coffee that arrives at the roasters’.
Descafecol is located in Manizales, one of the main special coffees region in Colombia. It was created in 1988 and is the only decaffeination plant in Colombia.

Photo 1: Inside Descafecol

Decaffeination with Ethyl Acetate, derived from sugar cane

During the plant visit, Mauricio Jaramillo -Commercial Director- and Sven Dabelstein -General Manager- explained the way in which Ethyl acetate (EA) acts, adding that it is a natural component present in some fruits, especially in ripe fruit.

What is EA?

Ethyl acetate (EA) as is a solvent derived from sugar cane which, used in proper conditions and in adequate amounts, is an excellent selective remover of caffeine.

Decaffeination with EA follows a 6-step process:

1. Expansion: The first stage of the process consists of exposing the bean to a steam treatment with the purpose of opening the pores and expanding the bean.
2. Removal: The bean is then immersed into EA, whereby the caffeine present in the coffee bean adheres to the liquid. This process shall be repeated 6 successive times with fresh fluid, free from caffeine.
3. Pure caffeine
4. Drying: the drying process is performed in vacuum dryers, which allows for quick and homogeneous drying.
5. Cooling: the beans are then cooled in a ventilated silo in order to lower their temperature and to keep them from continuing to lose moisture
6. Polishing

Figure 1: Process

In addition to the decaffeination treatment, two types of quality control are undertaken in Descafecol’s laboratory. The first is a physical and chemical analysis of the bean that seeks to measure the residual amount of caffeine, which must not exceed 0.1%, and the residual EA, which must amount to a maximum of 20ppm.

The second analysis measures the organoleptic properties of the coffee, comparing its profiles before and after the decaffeination process.

Photo 2 : Quality control 

Some data from the extraction

It should also be noted that these stages are defined based on time, caffeine saturation, and waxes in the liquid (EA). However, the reusage of the EA will have its limitations, given that DESCAFECOL will analyze in its laboratory the deterioration of the EA’s chemical structure and, based on the results, will define whether it is to be reused or discarded.

What happens with the residual caffeine?

The caffeine recovered from the process is of great value in the pharmaceutical industry, for energy drinks, and even as a natural insecticide. We are told that Descafecol recovers the NATURAL RAW CAFFEINE from the decaffeination process.

Organic coffee & E.A decaffeination

The issue of using EA to produce organic coffee has been discussed at length in the industry. Descafecol firmly states that EA is a completely natural component.

Report: Belco field study of decaffeination processes

Decaffeinated coffees are attracting interest from a new public, more mindful of cup quality, which is something that many decaffeination professionals have clearly understood. At Belco, we place a high priority on integrity, and are firmly commited to supplying quality green coffees. This is why we chose to study the different decaffeination technologies more closely, in order to choose the one that best meets our quality standards. As a result of this research, we are today able to answer many questions and concerns and put paid to some preconceived ideas about “decaf” coffee.

We currently work with four partners, who decaffeinate our coffees using three different processes. César, our quality manager, has travelled the world to find out exactly what each decaffeination process involves. From Canada to Germany, via Colombia and Mexico, click on the links below to read our reports :
  1. Espresso or Filter - Which hides the most caffeine ?

  2. CO2 decaffeination - Behind the doors of the CR3 plant (Germany)

  3. Water decaffeination - Visit of the Mountain Water plant (Mexico)

  4. Sugar cane decaffeination - Visit of the Descafecol plant (Colombia)

  5. Water decaffeination - Interview with Erin Reed, Director of marketing at Swiss Water (Canada)

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