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Is California Trying to Ban Decaf Made with Chemicals?

As a decaf drinker, we’re always on alert for chemically processed coffee. This is why we recommend coffees that are decaffeinated with chemical-free methods like the Swiss Water Process or the ethyl-acetate process. Not only do these coffees taste better, but they’re free of potentially harmful additives too. 

The state of California seems to be hip to this as well. The Daily Mail reports that Assembleymember Eloise Reyes, responding to activist pressure, has proposed a ban on decaf coffee that uses methylene-chloride. Violators could be subject to a $10,000 fine if they don’t change their decaffeinated method. This has already prompted backlash from at least once coffee industry group, though it could also prove beneficial to the consumer.

What is Methylene-Chloride?

Methylene Chloride is the chemical solvent most commonly used to decaffeinate coffee. It is used in the direct or indirect solvent process. It is sometimes referred to as the European Method, a nod to decaffeination’s European origins. The name might also be used because it sounds better than The Chemical Method.

The FDA declares the amount of methylene-chloride used in decaf to be safe to consume, but this hasn’t stopped it from being a controversial additive. The Clean Label Project, an excellent resource for decaf fans, explains that methylene-chloride is an active ingredient in a paint thinner. Moreover, this paint thinner was recently banned by the EPA. Both the EPA and the International Agency for Research on Cancer contend that methylene-chloride is “possibly carcinogenic”.

One major reason why companies turn to methylene-chloride is because it’s cost effective. Better options like the Swiss Water Process are time consuming and expensive. For a company focused solely on the bottom line, chemical decaffeination is quicker and cheaper. 

What Will this Law Do?

A few outlets have run headlines making it seem like California will ban all decaf coffee, as if a cabal of death-before-decaf drinkers has seized control of the state. This is not true. All the bill would ban is decaf coffees made specifically with methylene-chloride. 

Unsurprisingly, major coffee companies are not thrilled with this development. The National Coffee Association (NCA) put out a strongly worded statement denouncing the proposal. The NCA offers their own claims to methylene-chloride’s safety, though they also subtly present the idea that California is banning all decaf coffee. To read their statement, you’d think that the European Method was the only way to decaffeinate coffee.

Although it remains to be seen how this will play out, it’s important to note that this ban would predominantly affect major coffee roasters, not small craft ones. Most craft roasters that offer decaf use chemical-free decaffeination methods already. Larger companies, on the other hand, can afford to change their method and offer the consumer a better option. 

We’ll be following this story for more updates as it develops. 

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