26th
Feb
2014

Posted in Kafevend Blog

Many of us rely on our first coffee of the day as an essential wake up tool and subsequent cups as a top up buzz. Nevertheless, fewer people are able to deal with caffeine later in the day. So, when you need to wind down in the evening but still crave that coffee taste, you probably reach for a jar of decaffeinated.

Decaffeinated coffee comes with its own set of issues though. It is achieved through chemical processing, or by a carbon dioxide method which is heavy on electricity usage, or by the non-chemical Swiss water process, not widely used because of the excess coffee bean wastage involved. The real holy grail is a caffeine-free coffee plant.

Coffee plant breeders and genetic modification scientists have been working to this end for years and years, but always with limited success. Coffee consists of around two thousand chemical compounds. Thus, isolating the one responsible for caffeine and taking care to do nothing detrimental to all the rest is a complicated business. Reducing caffeine content without compromising taste has proved a tricky balancing act in itself, but the need to produce plants that are also commercially viable is an ongoing challenge.

You might be surprised to hear that caffeine-free coffee species do already exist naturally . One that came to light a few years back in Cameroon is coffea charrieriana, more commonly known as Charrier coffee and named for Professor André Charrier, an expert in coffee at the Institute of Research for Development in France. So why bother with all this time consuming and resource heavy decaffeination processing? Why not just ramp up the Charrier coffee planting? Unfortunately, caffeine-free and low caffeine coffee species also tend to be the ones that produce few beans and can often be on the bitter side too. Thus, while they tend to be good starting points for breeders, they don't provide an overnight commercial solution in themselves. Patience is a virtue, as they say!

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