Origin of decaffeinated coffee

Decaffeinated coffee is a relatively new way to enjoy a cup of hot java. The first commercial process to decaffeinate coffee beans was developed by Ludwig Roselius. He was a German coffee merchant and his partner Karl Wimmer in 1903. They created a system to steam the unroasted coffee beans (or green beans) with a salt water solution (brine) then they used benzene as a solvent to rinse the beans, extracting the caffeine. The rinse process was usually done 8-10 times and sometimes up to 15 times in order to meet certain standards set for level of decaffeination (i.e. 97% or 99%).

Across Europe decaffeinated Kaffee (Koffie) and Coffee Hag began to appear in the early 1900’s. The decaf coffee first arrived on the American scene around 1909 -1910 and was marketed as “Dekafa”.

Roselius opened a coffee company in New York City in 1914, called Kaffee Hag Corporation and began to produce decaf coffee. When World War I broke out, Roselius lost his company, when it was confiscated under the Alien Property Custodian division or the US government. The business and US- trademark were sold to an American, but Roselius was not defeated. The resilient entrepreneur started over again after the war and opened another decaf coffee business he named Sanka (French for “without caffeine”).

Sanka emerged upon the American market in 1923, served in two “Sanka Coffee Houses” in New York City. It was so popular that the demand for a retail product brought it to store shelves quickly. Packaged in a vivid orange label Sanka became a focal point on the coffee shelf. General Foods began distributing Sanka in 1928 and decaf coffee went nationwide with smashing success. America fell in love with decaf coffee.

The only obstacle to the acceptance of decaf coffee growing in popularity and use were the chemicals used in extracting the caffeine from the coffee beans.Today the chemical benzene is no longer used in the modern process of decaffeinization, because of health concerns about its use. Yet, chemicals are still used to decaffeinate coffee beans and it is the use of these chemicals, such as methyl chloride and dichloromethane (commonly called DCM), to decaffeinate coffee beans that have lead nutritionists and other health experts to question how safe decaf coffee products are?

There are three methods of decaffeination that have evolved which use no harmful chemicals:

The CO2/O2 process, also referred to as the “supercritical fluid extraction” process. The coffee beans are soaked in liquid CO2 in a pressurized containment vat, as the pressure is reduced CO2 evaporates and run through charcoal or water filters that remove the caffeine. Liquid Oxygen can be used the same way to decaffeinate the coffee beans. No harsh or toxic chemicals used in this process.

Triglyceride process takes green coffee beans and soaks them in a very hot water/coffee solution that extracts the caffeine from the beans. The half cooked beans are moved to a vat with coffee oil that came from used coffee ground. Now the beans are super heated again and the triglycerides in the oil remove the caffeine, but not the java flavor. The beans are heat dried now decaffeinated and ready to make coffee.

The Swiss Water process is a relatively simple system where water, pressure and time remove the caffeine from the green coffee beans.

The history of decaffeinated coffee is forever entwined with the story of Sanka, as this short survey on decaf coffee explains. Decaf coffee now comprises a huge segment of the international coffee market, especially for health conscious folk who love their Java in the morning.

It has been said that in America Sanka and decaffeinated coffee have become synonymous in the public subconscious and this is in part, probably due to the fact that several Television shows promoted Sanka and decaf coffee for years. Sanka was one of the “I Love Lucy” TV Show’s major sponsors for years in the 1950’s.

Then the popular TV Doctor of the 1970’s (“Marcus Welby, M.D.”) Robert Young did commercials for Sanka, which promoted it would bring down blood pressure, decrease jitteriness and not keep you awake at night!


  1. Decaffeination
  2. Imagine a Bread-Free Diet
  3. Illumin – Where Does My Decaf Come From?

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