Published on August 12, 2021
By The Clean Plates Team
If you knew that your decaf coffee contained chemicals you could find at a hardware store, would you switch brands? As it turns out, a surprising number of decaf coffee brands use chemicals in their decaffeination process. Of note, methylene chloride – an industrial solvent found in paint stripper. And that’s not something you’ll see on the label. The FDA doesn’t currently require coffee brands to disclose their decaffeination methods.
If you find this alarming, there’s good news. Not all decaf brands use chemicals, and many rely on natural methods. The key to being a conscious consumer lies in knowing what you’re drinking.
This has never been easier thanks to the Clean Label Project. The national nonprofit is lifting the curtain on the chemicals found in our food and pushing for greater transparency with consumers. Read on to find out more.
How Decaffeination Works
Let’s back up for a minute. How exactly do they “magic” the caffeine out of coffee beans? There are two main methods: water-based and chemical-based decaffeination.
The water-based method relies on soaking the beans in hot water. Over time, the caffeine separates out, allowing for its removal without the use of harsh chemicals.
The chemical-based method relies on carbon dioxide or a chemical solvent to separate out the caffeine. Once the caffeine and the solvent are removed, a small amount of residue remains behind and, unfortunately, those chemicals might end up in your cup.
The Chemicals in Your Decaf
In lab tests run by the Clean Label Project, many popular brands of decaf coffee contained trace amounts of methylene chloride. Wondering which brands have products that area effects? Amazon Fresh Decaffeinated Colombia and Kirkland Signature Decaffeinated Dark Roast are on the list. Many other fan favorites are on the list too.
It’s worth noting that the EPA recently banned methylene chloride, which is listed as a cancer-causing chemical on California’s Proposition 65 list. One especially concerning fact about methylene chloride is that it can pass from mother to baby during pregnancy. And, pregnant women (as well as the elderly and people with heart disease) tend to drink decaf over regular coffee.
How to Buy Decaf Coffee
To stay on the safe side, shop for brands that de-juice their brew the natural way. At the grocery store, look for the words “solvent-free”, “chemical-free”, “Swiss-water”, or “certified organic”. Or use this easy tool from the Clean Label Project to find out which brands of decaf coffee contain harsh chemicals.
And don’t be shy about speaking up. Brands respond to concerns from consumers like you. Contact your favorite brands and retailers via email, social media, or phone to ask for information about their decaffeination process, or to thank them for using responsible, safe methods.
The more we know, the more we can push for the clean ingredients we want to see in our (well-deserved) daily cup.