Sunday, August 1, 2010

The power of the word - what decaf method is it?

Here's another rave related to Coffee Review's July article on decaf coffees. I appreciate the non-inflammatory language the author found to use when he had to describe the different decaffeination processes. Given that there are basically four different decaffeination processes in use today (water, super-critical CO2, methylene chloride and ethyl acetate), and all of them are allowed by the FDA with no controversy, it seems safe to say that none of the four are "unhealthy." So it's helpful that Ken Davids uses the term "synthetic solvent" instead of "chemical" to describe the methylene chloride processed coffees. It seems obvious to me that when the water (and CO2) process marketers were designing their campaigns, they cleverly chose a word that had some negative baggage, "chemical", to describe their competition. Over the years, they and many others have used this term a lot and it's been successful. Three cheers for marketing! One should never underestimate the power of it.

But when others who are not marketers for the water-process brands use the term "chemical process" to describe methylene chloride and ethyl acetate processes, it irks me. A more objective, less negatively charged term, such as synthetic solvent, should become the norm and the standard amongst specialty coffee professionals.

Not only that, I propose that the industry move away from defining the decaffeination processes by the solvent used, to something that helps the consumer understand how brutal the process is on the coffee bean. When brevity and amount of material that remains in tact are the focus of the descriptor, the potential for negative baggage quickly shifts to the other foot. The most "precision" process is the super-critical CO2, followed by a tie between methylene chloride and ethyl acetate. The water processes could be described as "brutal to bean and very long" (sometimes days, I understand). So "soaked" might be the appropriate term, versus "precision."

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