Sugarcane Decaffeination
Enjoying Specialty Coffee, Anytime

Sugarcane Decaffeination <br>Enjoying Specialty Coffee, Anytime

For many coffee lovers, the afternoon pick-me-up or the late-night coffee ritual can be a bittersweet experience. The rich aroma, the complex flavours, the invigorating caffeine boost – all undeniably delightful. But for some, the caffeine content can be a deterrent, causing jitters, anxiety, or disrupted sleep. This is where decaf coffee steps in, offering a solution for those who want to enjoy the taste of specialty coffee without the buzz.

However, not all decaf coffees are created equal. Traditional decaffeination methods often involve harsh chemicals or compromise the delicate flavours of the beans. This is where sugarcane decaffeination emerges as a game-changer for the specialty coffee industry.

The Drawbacks of Traditional Decaffeination Methods

For decades, decaffeinated coffee has been a staple for those who love the taste of coffee but want to avoid the stimulating effects of caffeine. However, traditional decaffeination methods often come with drawbacks that can impact the quality of the final product. The decaf market relied on two main methods:

Direct Solvent: This method utilises chemical solvents like methylene chloride to extract caffeine from the beans. While effective, these chemicals can leave behind residual flavours and raise health concerns for some consumers.

Swiss Water: This process utilises water filtration to remove caffeine. While considered a safer option, it can also remove some of the desirable flavour components of the coffee bean, resulting in a flat and less nuanced taste.

Introducing Sugarcane Decaffeination: A Natural Approach

Sugarcane decaffeination, also known as Ethyl Acetate (EA) decaffeination, offers a natural and flavour-preserving alternative. This method uses a naturally occurring compound called ethyl acetate (EA), derived from fermented sugarcane. 

In the early 1900s, German merchant Ludwig Roselius accidentally discovered decaffeination when a shipment of coffee was soaked in seawater. This led him to explore ways to remove caffeine while preserving flavour. Roselius developed the first commercial decaffeination process using the super harsh chemical benzene. His company, Kaffee HAG, produced the first instant decaffeinated coffee under the brand name Sanka.

For several decades, chemical decaffeination methods were standard practice. However, concerns about the use of harsh chemicals and their impact on coffee flavour led to producers exploring alternative methods. Though the discovery isn’t attributed to one particular person, the sugarcane decaffeination process was developed as a more natural approach.

The process gained popularity because EA is naturally occurring in fruits and other foods, making it a more appealing option for health-conscious consumers. Currently, there is a facility in Colombia called Descafecol that uses naturally derived EA from locally grown sugarcane. This facility is believed to be the only one in the world using natural sugarcane for decaffeination.

The sugarcane process has become favoured by many in the specialty coffee industry because it preserves more of the coffee's original flavours compared to other decaffeination methods. It also creates a mini circular economy, as the byproducts of sugarcane are used to decaffeinate coffee, and the extracted caffeine is sold for use in other products

Here's a breakdown of the process:

  1. Steaming and Hydration: The green beans are gently steamed to open up their pores and increase their permeability.
  2. EA Extraction:The hydrated beans are then bathed in a solution of water and EA. The EA selectively binds to the caffeine molecules in the beans, drawing them out.
  3. Separation and Evaporation: The coffee beans and the caffeine-laden EA solution are separated. The EA then evaporates at low temperatures, leaving behind the decaffeinated beans.
  4. Drying: The decaffeinated beans are meticulously dried to their original moisture content and are then ready for roasting.

Why Sugarcane Decaffeination Wins

There are several reasons why sugarcane decaffeination is gaining popularity among specialty coffee roasters and coffee enthusiasts:

Natural Process: Using a naturally occurring compound like EA eliminates concerns about chemical residues in the decaf coffee.

Flavour Preservation: The low-pressure and low-temperature extraction process minimises the impact on the coffee's delicate flavour profile. Sugarcane decaf is known to retain the origin characteristics and subtle notes of the beans, offering a more nuanced and enjoyable coffee experience.

Not as Sustainable as Most Think

While sugarcane decaffeination is often hailed as the most environmentally friendly choice in removing caffeine, it isn’t actually entirely true. Yes, using molasses to create ethyl acetate, you get rid of a byproduct of the sugar production, but growing sugarcane itself is terrible for the environment. It uses a lot of water throughout the whole production cycle and if not managed properly, it can deplete the soil for nutrients.

Colombia is one of the few countries that has the ideal conditions and infrastructure to decaffeinate greens efficiently and effectively at origin. So, what is great about this kind of decaffeination is that when using a coffee from Colombia - like we currently are in Sans - it is decaffeinated locally instead of being shipped around the world like you would if you were using the CO2 or Swiss water methods. This extra journey adds to the further carbon footprint, and it also degrades the overall quality of the coffee.

The ability to perform decaffeination at origin offers several benefits, including reduced transportation costs, fresher coffee, and better quality control throughout the process. This has contributed to Colombia's reputation as a leader in sugarcane decaffeination, but it doesn't necessarily mean it's the only place where this can be done

The Future of Decaf: A Brighter Brew for All

Sugarcane decaffeination represents a significant step forward for the decaf coffee market. Specialty coffee roasters can offer decaf options that truly reflect the unique flavours of their high-quality beans, catering to a wider audience. This allows coffee enthusiasts, regardless of caffeine sensitivity, to enjoy the full spectrum of what specialty coffee has to offer.

So next time you're looking for a delicious and guilt-free way to unwind with a cup of coffee, consider reaching for a sugarcane decaf option, like our decaf option Sans. You might be surprised at just how good decaf coffee can be.

You can also read more about the CO2 decaffeination process here.


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