Back to all articles

The History of Decaf Coffee

Coffee is a surprisingly ancient drink. In fact, many historians think the use of coffee as a stimulant originated all the way back in ancient Abyssinia (Ethiopia). In modern times, it is widely understood that caffeine is the component of coffee responsible for its stimulant qualities; most 6 oz. cups of coffee contain 50 – 75mg of caffeine, although that amount can vary greatly based on the brewing process and the type of coffee beans used. (For example, Robusta coffee has almost double the amount of caffeine that Arabica coffee does.) Interestingly, it is generally accepted that even just 10mg of caffeine can cause discomfort for people who are sensitive to it, so nearly all modern-day decaf coffees contain less than that amount of caffeine (in fact, most contain just 2 – 5 mg of caffeine per serving). Ludwig Roselius created the first process for decaffeinating coffee in 1905. It relied on benzene, a potentially toxic hydrocarbon. As demand for decaffeinated coffee grew, new (and thankfully gentler) methods for decaffeinating coffee beans were created. Today, there are 3 main methods used: water processing; the direct solvent method, which typically relies on methylene chloride (used predominately in Europe), coffee oil, or ethyl acetate as the solvent; and supercritical carbon dioxide decaffeination, which is similar to the direct solvent method but relies on carbon dioxide. In the modern world, approximately 1 billion pounds of decaffeinated coffee are consumed each year. In fact, decaffeinated coffee accounts for roughly 12% of the world’s yearly coffee consumption and today, most cafés, coffee shops, and grocery stores offer multiple decaf options for customers to choose from.

Share this article

card showing the history of rocking chairs

Your go-to guide for weird history facts

Subscribe to the FREE daily email that makes learning about history fun.