Decaffeination Analysis

Application Summary

Analysis Point Analyte Typ. Range Suitable Analyzer
Decaffeinated Coffee C8H10N4O2 (caffeine) 0-1% OMA Process Analyzer

Measuring Caffeine in Decaffeination Process

While it may mystify those of us that need strong coffee to get through the workday, some people actually drink decaf (decaffeinated coffee), whether for health reasons (high blood pressure, hypertension, sleep difficulties), pregnancy cautions, or personal preference.

In lieu of more firm legal standards, decaf is supposed to have its caffeine content reduced by no less than 97.5% of the source coffee (USDA guideline). Accurate validation of the caffeine levels in decaffeinated coffee bean batches would reduce sensitive consumers' health risks by preventing the wildly inconsistent caffeine levels among available "decaf" blends (as documented by the Journal of Analytical Toxicology). Moreover, producers can use real-time caffeine monitoring to conclude the decaffeination cycle as soon as the specified caffeine threshold is achieved, thus wasting no more caffeine solvent or production time than absolutely necessary.

An online analysis solution would provide continuous, live caffeine measurement in an automated fashion. The High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) methods currently used in some caffeine applications is quite costly to own and maintain while delivering slow response.

While certain selective solvents are extremely effective at removing caffeine from coffee beans, many of these chemicals have been classified as carcinogenic or toxic. Though less powerful, the supercritical CO2 extraction method is a harmless decaffeination process common in large-scale operations.

Supercritical CO2 fluid is a hybrid gaseous/liquid resource maintained by exceeding the critical temperature (31 °C) and pressure (73 atm) of CO2; for the supercritical CO2 to act as an effective solvent for caffeine molecules, it actually has to be kept at more extreme conditions (around 94 °C and 225 atm). These conditions are expensive to maintain, and the 10-hour process cycle is time-consuming. The caffeine extract is sold off to pharmaceutical and soft drink companies, but this only partially alleviates process cost.

With real-time caffeine monitoring at ±1 ppm accuracy, the OMA Caffeine Analyzer allows decaf coffee producers to automatically end an extraction cycle when the specified caffeine maximum is reached. Doing away with the preset 10-hour cycle, this method banishes both overprocessing (which wastes production resources) and underprocessing (which upsets customers).

While highly suitable for monitoring the 0-1,000 ppm caffeine range established by international standards as "legally" decaf, the OMA Caffeine Analyzer's UV-Vis spectrophotometer has a true detection limit of 2 ppm caffeine, thus theoretically capable of validating a cup of perfect decaf.