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What is the Ethyl-Acetate Process (Sugarcane)?

The Ethyl-Acetate Process is a version of the Direct-Solvent Process that uses Ethyl-Acetate as its solvent. Ethyl-Acetate, while it may sound scary, is an all-natural chemical that is found in places including fermented sugarcane and ripe fruit. Because of this, it is sometimes referred to as the Sugarcane Process. Sugarcane is common in many Latin and South American countries that grow coffee.

As with any Direct-Solvent Method, the Ethyl-Acetate Process  involves steaming unroasted coffee beans to open their pores. The beans are then repeatedly rinsed with a solvent (in this case Ethyl-Acetate) that specifically targets and dissolves caffeine. 

There are several advantages to this process. First and foremost, it is very effective at preserving the flavor of coffee beans. Coffees treated with Ethyl-Acetate tend to retain their natural acidity and sweetness, making it a great choice for light roasts. Water-processed decafs, as much as we love them, tend to come out as less acidic in comparison. 

The EA process is also much faster than any of the water processing methods. The Ethyl-Acetate Process is also more environmentally friendly, as it is based on a naturally-derived compound and uses comparatively less water. 

Sounds perfect, no? Well, while we love Ethyl-Acetate decafs, it is important to note that the chemical may not always be as all-natural as it would appear. This is because synthetically-derived Ethyl Acetate is often used due to the high costs of gathering natural Ethyl Acetate. 

Because the FDA does not enforce regulations on how roasters report their decaffeination methods, it can be hard to tell when an Ethyl-Acetate coffee is using a natural or synthetic compound. Whether this poses a problem to decaf drinkers, however, is less clear. The FDA declares Ethyl-Acetate to be safe for consumption. It also appears naturally in many wines

There are also ways to tell if the Ethyl-Acetate processed coffee you’re drinking used a natural or synthetic compound. At the Descafecol facility in Colombia, for example, coffees are decaffeinated using Ethyl-Acetate derived from 100% natural Colombian sugarcane. It also exclusively uses pure water from the snow-capped Navado del Ruis volcano. If you see a coffee labeled with Colombian Sugarcane Byproduct Method, chances are it came out of this facility.

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