This week, Daily Coffee News published a summary of a surprisingly readable white paper by the Clean Label Project about decaffeinated coffee and the dangers of Methylene Chloride (or dichloromethane, CH2Cl2 for the scientists in the room). It circled the office this morning — senior trader Jeri shared the link with a subject line “Industry catching up to Bob” (a reference to Royal Coffee co-founder and president Bob Fulmer) and Director of Ops Jennifer Huber replied “half a decade later, as per usual.”

Royal Coffee discontinued the purchase and sale of MC Decaf in October of 2016. You can read Bob’s statement in full on our blog here

What’s in the Report?

The Clean Label Project’s report is a response to EPA action banning MC for use in paint removers available to consumers as of March 2019. Cited concerns relate to exposure to the chemical resulting in “acute fatalities.”

Per the Clean Label Project, “The methylene chloride tolerance in decaffeinated coffee has not been federally re-evaluated in 35 years.” And thus they undertook the publication of a study exposing a number of roasted brands available to consumers as containing small amounts of MC in their coffees, including some products with concentrations in excess of 90 parts per billion.

Royal remains proud purveyors of decaffeinated coffees via 100% chemical free “water process” as well as plant-based Ethyl Acetate (sometimes known as “sugarcane process”). You might see some extra language on our products: here’s how to decode it. “Royal Select” is water process decaffeination, while “EA Coffein” or “EA Natural” is Ethyl Acetate. 

What should I do?

If you’re currently roasting MC decaf, or drinking it as a consumer, don’t start to panic just yet.

First, you can always switch to Water Process or EA. Probably not a bad idea, and take it from me, the results are usually more delicious and are priced competitively.

Second, direct exposure to MC typically would happen during its manufacture (for industrial application, it is always derived synthetically) and application at the decaffeination plant. As a roaster or consumer, your exposure is very limited.This is because MC has a relatively short half-life and degrades readily when exposed to normal atmospheric conditions. The amounts published in CLP’s report at high levels still represent 100 times lower exposure concentration than the (albeit outdated) EPA limit for decaf coffee of 10 ppm (10,000 ppb). OSHA limits exposure to 125 ppm (125,000 ppb) for no more than 15 minutes. While these upper limits shouldn’t be considered “safe” by any measure, they do underline the very low concentration that appears in roasted coffee.

At any rate, Royal has fully abandoned the product, and even if personal health concerns weren’t a concern, the chemical and its manufacture are unkind to our planet. It’s probably as good a time to make the switch now as it ever was. Feel free to join us.

(If you’d like to learn more about caffeine, MC, and the decaffeination history and process, look no further than my article called “Decaffeination — Stimulating Discussion about Stimulant-Free Coffee” from around the same time as Bob’s announcement).