One step closer to growing naturally decaffeinated coffee beans

"The results we had so far look promising, we are upbeat," said the coffee researcher.
Sejal Sharma
Representational image
Representational image

FSTOPLIGHT/iStock 

Who doesn’t like a cold or a hot cup of joe in the morning? Probably people who have a caffeine sensitivity. But for regular drinkers of bean juice, it can spell the difference between a good day and a bad day.

Decaf iced vanilla latte! Decaf espresso! shout the Starbucks baristas as they take customers’ orders. Because coffee can lead to issues like anxiety and high blood pressure, a lot of people opt for decaffeinated options. Decaffeination removes about 97 percent of the caffeine from the coffee beans and is more expensive to produce than regular coffee, according to data from the National Coffee Association (NCA).

Researchers at Instituto Agronomico de Campinas (IAC), a Brazilian coffee research institute, have been working on growing coffee beans that are naturally decaffeinated. The researchers involved in the project think this could have significant commercial potential.

Coffee is not just a drink, but an economy

The researchers have started a decisive stage in a 20-year-long project to develop arabica coffee varieties, said a Reuters report. Arabica coffee beans contain almost 1.2 percent caffeine, whose main physiological effect on humans is the stimulation of the central nervous system.

In order to be considered decaffeinated, coffee beans must contain up to 0.10 percent caffeine. Coffee can be decaffeinated using four techniques: using water alone, using a mixture of water and solvents (most commonly methylene chloride or ethyl acetate) applied either directly or indirectly, or using water and “supercritical carbon dioxide,” as per the data from the NCA.

Genetic improvement is a relevant alternative to making genetically decaffeinated coffee available. This is what researchers at the IAC are doing, according to a study published by one of the researchers, Julio Cesar Mistro, involved in the project.

In 2004, IAC carried out artificial hybridizations, a process in which two genetically diverse plants were crossed. The cross was between Ethiopian plants, with 0.10 percent of caffeine, taken from the germplasm bank, and elite cultivars with normal contents of caffeine. From the plants created in the cross, individual plants with 0.10 to 0.30 percent caffeine were selected.

After studying and experimenting with the cross breeds over the years, the researchers will now select individuals, with caffeine contents up to 0.10 percent and commercially acceptable productivities, for cloning by somatic embryogenesis.

The goal of the project is to “make a new clonal cultivar of arabica coffee available to coffee growers in the State of Sao Paulo, Brazil, whose main characteristic is that of being genetically decaffeinated.”

"The results we had so far look promising, we are upbeat," said Mistro to Reuters.

It’s not just the most popular beverage in the world but also one of the key commercial products which are exported by developed economies. The house is divided when it comes to the health benefits of coffee. If taken in the right amounts, coffee can be beneficial in boosting energy levels and other heart- and liver-related benefits since it’s high in antioxidants.

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