Decaffeinated Coffee Comes of Age

The history of decaffeinated coffee in the United States is firmly intertwined with Sanka, a brand name that means “without caffeine” in French. Sanka was introduced in New York in 1923 by a German coffee merchant named Ludwig Roselius. Although this was not Roselius’ first foray in the coffee market in America, it was his more successful venture. From two coffee houses in New York City, Sanka, in its unmistakable vivid orange packaging, became a mainstay in grocery shelves all over the country.

The Traditional Decaffeination Process

Although decaffeinated coffee had its loyal followers even during its early years on the market, the chemicals used in extracting the caffeine from the beans prevented many coffee lovers from embracing it as unequivocally as regular coffee. The most common chemical used in the decaffeination process then was benzene.

Today, benzene is no longer used in the decaffeination process due to its potential health hazard. Some modern methods however, still use chemicals such as methyl chloride, which is the main ingredient in paint remover. Residual levels of this chemical in decaffeinated coffee are virtually non-existent, so there really is no harm to the consumer. Still, the thought of starting your day with a cup of joe decaffeinated with methyl chloride may understandably make some people nervous – even without the caffeine in their coffee.

Modern Methods of Decaffeination

There are now chemical-free means to remove caffeine from green coffee beans, thanks to science and big business. Although bringing in only a fraction of regular coffee market revenues (currently touted to be at $20 billion in America alone), the decaffeinated coffee market is still a $2 billion dollar a year industry. That’s a lot of decaffeinated cups of coffee going around the world.

Supercritical fluid extraction uses liquid carbon dioxide to solubilize caffeine as a means of extracting it from the beans. Carbon dioxide is a natural product of the respiration process (we exhale carbon dioxide every time we breathe) and comprises about one percent of the air around us. It is therefore not a harmful substance. Furthermore, as soon as the coffee beans are exposed to outside air, carbon dioxide quickly dissipates.

The patented Swiss Water Process uses pristine water from the coastal mountains of British Columbia to extract the caffeine until the beans are 99.9 percent caffeine-free. This method preserves the distinctive flavor notes of the coffee and results in an aromatic and full-bodied cup of java without the jitters.

Coffee is the world’s most popular beverage with an average of 400 billion cups enjoyed each year. It’s great to have a choice in the way one prefers to enjoy this wonderful and aromatic elixir.


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