No, decaf coffee is not made from dirt

No, decaf coffee is not made from dirt

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The claim: Decaffeinated coffee is made from the dirt of the coffee plant

For a drink sometimes jokingly called “depresso” or “‘grounds’ for divorce,” it’s safe to say decaffeinated coffee isn’t a widely beloved drink. But a viral meme suggests the drink’s claimed origin may have to do with its unpopularity.

“What’s the difference between regular and decaf coffee? All coffee is made by harvesting the coffee plant. Caffeinated coffee is made from the coffee bean. Decaffeinated coffee is made from the dirt,” a July 22 post to the Facebook group “I Love Coffee” reads. 

Commenters on the post, which has been shared nearly 150 times, had mixed reactions to the claim, some immediately flagging it as a joke and others taking it more seriously.

“Decaf comes from dirt no wonder its so nasty,” one commenter wrote.

“And dirt from that close to a coffee bean plant, huh? I’d have thought closer to a barnyard or corral,” another wrote.

The post’s creator told USA TODAY the post is “just a joke meme because decaf coffee is gross.”

More: Does coffee help you lose weight? Stunt your growth? Here’s the truth behind coffee myths

Caffeine removed from coffee beans to make decaf coffee

The effort to remove caffeine from coffee dates back to 1819, according to the Max Planck Institute, a research center in Germany. 

The poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe reportedly brought chemist Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge a small package of coffee beans in hopes that Runge would discover what in the coffee beans caused his insomnia. Runge identified caffeine two years later, according to the institute. 

In 1905, German coffee merchant Ludwig Roselius invented the first commercially successful decaffeination method, according to Live Science. Some accounts claim Roselius received a shipment of coffee beans soaked in seawater, at which point he processed and tested them, determining they had been stripped of their caffeine content but tasted almost the same as regular coffee – though a bit salty. 

Today, there are three main decaffeination processes used to strip coffee beans of their buzz: water processing, the direct solvent method, and supercritical carbon dioxide decaffeination, according to Fergus Clydesdale, head of the Food Science Department at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, via Scientific American. 

The water processing method utilizes a mix of water and green-coffee extract and circulates it around coffee beans in an extraction battery, Clydesdale said. It removes 94% to 96% of the beans’ caffeine. 

The direct solvent method uses methylene chloride, coffee oil or ethyl acetate to dissolve the caffeine in the beans and extract it from the coffee, according to Clydesdale. It can extract 96% to 97% of caffeine.

The supercritical carbon dioxide decaffeination method is similar to the direct solvent method except carbon dioxide is used as the solvent in this case, Clydesdale said. It removes 96% to 98% of caffeine.

All the processes are typically completed while the coffee beans are green, Chris Stemman, executive director of the British Coffee Association, told the BBC.

“If you were to try and decaffeinate roasted coffee, you’d end up making something that tastes a bit like straw,” Stemman said. 

According to the National Coffee Association, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “rigorous standard” for the decaffeination processes ensures they’re all safe.  

Our rating: Satire

We rate the claim that decaffeinated coffee is made from the dirt of the coffee plant as SATIRE. While some online commenters took the claim seriously, it was intended as a joke – and isn’t true. There are three main decaffeination processes used to strip coffee beans of their buzz: water processing, the direct solvent method, and supercritical carbon dioxide decaffeination. None involve dirt.

Our fact-check sources:

  • Facebook, July 22, post to “I Love Coffee” group
  • Max Planck Institute, Aug. 13, 2014, Coffee withdrawal
  • Live Science, April 21, 2019, How Is Decaf Coffee Made?
  • Atlas Obscura, Nov. 15, 2017, Why the Nazi Party Loved Decaf Coffee
  • Scientific American, Oct. 21, 1999, How is caffeine removed to produce decaffeinated coffee?
  • BBC, Sept. 18, 2018, How do you decaffeinate coffee?
  • National Coffee Association, All About Decaffeinated Coffee

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Our fact-check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.


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