The Sugarcane Decaf Process Explained

History of Decaffeinating Coffee 

Have you wondered about how it was discovered that you could remove the caffeine from coffee since you can't grow caffeine-free coffee beans? A German merchant Ludwig Roselius is credited with the discovery of how to decaffeinate coffee. It's believed that he received a shipment of coffee that was accidentally soaked in seawater. Instead of throwing it away he decided to process and test it. He discovered that the water had stripped away the caffeine. But it was far from perfect. The caffeine was gone, but the coffee tasted salty. But now, he wanted to know how he could decaffeinate coffee without sacrificing flavor. He figured out he could use benzene to remove the caffeine. It was widely used for paint strippers and other products. His company, known as Kaffee HAG, was the first to produce instant decaffeinated coffee. Their coffee was sold under the brand of Sanka, which would gain popularity among those who were looking for a decaffeinated option for coffee. During the 1940s, it was common to see Sanka in advertisements, movies, or even used in quotes in television shows. 

Decaffeinating using chemicals was a standard and common practice. But, as people have become more conscious of how foods are processed, greater awareness has resulted in a lot of change when it comes to processing food. Decaffeinating coffee is no exception. Not to mention that using harsh chemicals can often change the flavor of coffee in a negative way. I know I stayed away from decaf for a long time because I never liked the flavor. Producers work hard to provide great-tasting coffee and want to produce great-tasting decaf. We've seen things open in the way coffee is decaffeinated. One of those processes is the sugarcane process. This process inches closer to a more natural way of decaffeinating. 

Process of Decaffeination Using Ethyl Acetate (EA) 

The sugarcane process gets its name because EA is used to decaffeinate and EA is derived from cane sugar. EA is a natural compound found in some fruits and other foods that can be used to decaffeinate drinks. EA is derived from fermented sugar and bonds to chlorogenic acids found in caffeine. When EA bonds to chlorogenic acids, the separation of the caffeine from the coffee bean begins. 

Here's the step by step process: 

  1. Coffee is delivered green and unroasted to be decaffeinated. 
  2. It's steamed for 30 minutes before the decaffeination process starts. 
  3. The steaming process is low-pressure, so the pores of the coffee can be opened, allowing for the extraction of the caffeine. 
  4. Once the coffee is ready, it's placed and submerged into the EA solution for a specific amount of time. 
  5. Beans will reach a level of saturation that requires the tank to be emptied and refilled with fresh solution. This process repeats and continues for about 8 hours or until the coffee has been sufficiently decaffeinated. 
  6. Once all the caffeine is removed, the beans are prepped to be steamed again. Steaming them again removes all traces of EA. 
  7. Once the decaf coffee is dried, it's polished to ensure it stays clean and then packaged and distributed.  

If you roast coffee beans, you can see the difference in unroasted beans right away. They're usually much darker than beans that have not undergone decaffeination. Ethyl acetate sounds like a chemical. To get it, you have to go through a chemical process. Something else to note is that it can be synthetically created in a lab and can be packaged and distributed to decaffeinate other drinks. Ethyl acetate is only harmful to humans in large quantities. But for our coffee purposes, we love the Sugarcane process because the EA used is derived from sugar cane, and it doesn't sacrifice the flavor of the coffee. It still showcases the hard work of producers, making it a product we are proud to offer to our customers. 

Shop Our Decaffeinated Offerings 

As a home roaster, I generally stay away from decaf and usually only have some available if I know I will be hosting friends and want to provide an alternative. I have roasted beans decaffeinated using the Swiss Water Process (SWP) and the Sugarcane Process. The flavor of the Sugarcane process is the one I prefer, but SWP was pretty good too. The main difference between these two processes is that with Sugarcane, you will still have some caffeine. It's a small amount, so it's not caffeine-free. Completely removing caffeine is very difficult, but with SWP, coffee is 99.9% decaffeinated. Both options offer great flavor, but the Sugarcane process is my favorite.