Fellow Brew Buddies,
This week, we take a detour from the coffee bean's journey from field and fen to cup and carafe in order to explore one of life's greatest mysteries: decaf coffee.
Yes, decaffeinated coffee is a source of great discord in the coffee-loving, sleep-fearing world. For those with serious love for the jolt, there is a lot of disdain for the "weaker" brother, and the jokes of late have begun to run rampant.
There's this brash admonition of decaf...
...and this excellent slow play:
But, we only hate that which we do not understand, right John?
Old News on Decaf
Every year or so, an online news outlet has a slow cycle, and the result is an article on the "shocking truth" or "new scientific study" about decaffeinated coffee. The bottom line is always the same: decaf coffee has caffeine in it. Whoa. Sound the alarm - take us to DEFCON 1.
More or less, this is common sense. No process to decaffeinate coffee, or de-alcoholize beer, or un-whatever anything, is perfect. To produce a completely alcohol-free beer would be to create something that, chemically, isn't beer. Same goes for coffee. In fact, non-alcoholic beer is more properly called low-alcohol beer. So, we should probably call it low-caffeine coffee.
But, let's back up for a minute. To understand decaf, we must explore a dark, mysterious past...
The History of Decaf
How the decaffeination process eventually came about is a bit of a murky subject. There are several versions of the story, and not all of them necessarily preclude the others. The problem is that most secondary sources on the matter are not too particular about citations, so it is hard to tell what is truth and what is creative invention. Luckily, we are an espresso bar, not a research library, so we're going to let you all sort it out for yourselves.
Theory 1: Revenge Is a Dish Best Served Decaffeinated - According to the SCAA, who cite the late Michael Sivetz, a chemical engineer and coffee consultant, decaf coffee was invented through pure anger. When Ludwig Roselius' father suffered an early death after a life of coffee drinking, he incorrectly attributed the tragedy to caffeine poisoning. He then began a life-long journey to decaffeinate coffee. To Be Continued.
Theory 2: POISON - This one is short, and I can't find much evidence on it. A lot of people think that some, if not many, companies use or used formaldehyde as an initial form of decaffeination. Trichloroethylene, chloroform, acetone, and methanol are other poisonous substances it was believed were used at one point. This is probably true, but these chemical were banned for use in decaffeination many years ago in the U.S.
Theory 3: Back to Roselius - Okay, this one isn't much of a theory. We dug up the original patent letter from Ludwig Roselius describing the original process he cooked up. Basically, wet the beans, dunk them in benzene and booze, and dry them off. That's pretty reductive, so here part of the patent letter. Click on the image to get to the full letter.
Theory 4: Everything Else - Again, not much of a theory. Before submitting this patent, Roselius started Kaffe Hag (1906), a German company that led the expedition to decaf coffee. After burning through more poisonous options, they pioneered the Supercritical CO2 decaffeination method, which alongside the Swiss Water Process, became the two natural (and favored) decaffeination methods.
You know, things are getting heavy. Let's take a break! Next week, we'll touch on all the different decaffeination processes and what Brew Ha Ha has to offer!
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