Newly Discovered Decaf Charrier Coffee Plant Might Replace Chemical Extraction of Caffeine

Coffee Arabica (pictured here) is the most commonly consumed coffee - for buzzingly obvious reasons.
Coffee Arabica (pictured here) is the most commonly consumed coffee – for buzzingly obvious reasons.

Coffea charrieriana, one of 2008’s “most interesting new species discovered by scientists”, is the first known coffee plant that contains no caffeine. It was discovered in Cameroon, where an extremely wide variety of coffee plants exist.

Under the common name Charrier coffee, the plant was named after a scientist who managed coffee breeding research in central Africa’s diverse jungles for 30 years. Scientists posit that the new species could be used for breeding naturally caffeine-free coffees.

There is potential for this plant to replace the methylene chloride chemical extraction process used in most coffee production to remove caffeine (methylene chloride is a potential carcinogen and pollutant). How big is the market for decaf coffee?

Author and coffee broker Tim Castle says that demand for decaf coffee will continue to grow in the U.S. as the baby boomers still want to enjoy the taste of coffee but want to reduce their intake of caffeine.
Caffeine is usually chemically removed from beans during the green bean stage, so that the effect on flavor is minimized. It then must be washed several times to remove most of the methylene chloride chemical residue. An alternative used by some very sustainable coffee roasters is a Swiss Water decaf process, which is chemical free, but which requires excess usage of other coffee beans that end up as waste. Sometimes, roasters attempt to reinject ‘flavor’ into their beans after the decaffeination. The entire process is not very sustainable, no matter how you slice it.

Nature has provided. The potential to eliminate all that waste is inherent in Coffea charrieriana. So when will we see the product come to market?

Scott Cooney is the author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and hopes that someday, the green economy will simply be referred to as…the economy.
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Image source: Wikimedia

Scott Cooney, Principal of and author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill, November 2008), is also a serial ecopreneur who has started and grown several green businesses and consulted several other green startups. He co-founded the ReDirect Guide, a green business directory, in Salt Lake City, UT. He greened his home in Salt Lake City, including xeriscaping, an organic orchard, extra natural fiber insulation, a 1.8kW solar PV array, on-demand hot water, energy star appliances, and natural paints. He is a vegetarian, an avid cyclist, ultimate frisbee player, and surfer, and currently lives in the sunny Mission district of San Francisco. Scott is working on his second book, a look at microeconomics in the green sector.In June 2010, Scott launched, a sustainability consulting firm dedicated to providing solutions to common business problems by leveraging the power of the triple bottom line. Focused exclusively on small business, GBO's mission is to facilitate the creation and success of small, green businesses.

13 responses

  1. I had no idea drinking decaf coffee was so “un-green.” My morning cup will never taste the same again…
    I’m seriously upset by this :(
    Any recommendations for the most sustainable decaf brands to buy? At least until this new plant comes out?

  2. Caffe Ibis has a Swiss water decaf. The process uses no chemicals, but still produces a lot of waste in terms of beans and water that may be completely unnecessary if this new plant does what it could.

  3. This isn’t the first coffee species, or the first plant to be found without caffeine.
    There have been individual Coffea Arabica plants reported by a group of Brazilian scientists to have no caffeine (2004), and apparently there have also been wild species in Madagascar that have been found to contain no caffeine.
    The Brazilians expected back then to have commercially available varieties by 2009, by breeding them with Coffea Arabica.
    Would be interesting to know if they ever made any progress.
    I’ve also read reports from 2003 of Japanese Researchers genetically modifying Coffea Canefora to lack the enzyme required to produce caffeine.

  4. Swiss Water is not the only process for decaffeination that is free of chemicals. Another method, one which in my humble opinion as a coffee roaster is better than Swiss Water, is the CO2 method. This is also a “natural” method, as there are no chemicals added to the coffee or water used to remove the caffeine from the coffee beans.

    As an industry professional, I have tasted coffees treated by each method quite thoroughly, and can say with certainty that the CO2 method retains more of the original flavor of the coffee bean.

    Please do not be misled, as coffee roasters of any quality, that have pride in what they do, are more likely to use CO2 or Swiss Water for their decaf. It is the big supermarket and retail coffee chains that are most likely to use the harsh and toxic Methylene Chloride system of caffeine removal.

    So for all you decaf lovers out there, don’t fret. It is quite easy to research and order from small high-quality roasting companies that offer “natural” process decafs!!


  5. TH’s comments jive with what I’d heard years ago (and I found this blog following up on that information from 2004). The story at the time was that there should be enough plants by 2009/2010 that it would be commercially viable to produce un-caffeinated coffee. Sadly, this has not materialized, and most of what I’ve read in this hunt are stories from 2009 about the “new” discover of the Charrier Coffee bean, adn it should be available in a few years… -sigh-

    I love coffee, but would love to get off of the caffeine.

    Coffee good; addiction bad.

  6. Just a note…..i am avid coffee drinker…and take alot of kidding about my motor oil!……i am 46 years old and have given up sodas. Coffee or water so i would be interested in trying the coffee for you….sincerely memorie

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