A customer came in Saturday asking about our decaf. Said her mother warned her about formaldehyde and that "Starbucks had the only safe decaf."
It's amazing that people still buy into the crap on websites from 'healthfood' charlatans and the ignorant people who parrot them that encourage these myths to continue circulating. Using formaldehyde to decaffeinate coffee was made illegal in the US in 1985. If you're still using coffee roasted pre-1985, you've got bigger issues :0
1) There are four main ways to decaffeinate coffee. All of them are safe. We feature two of them - methleyne chloride (MC) and mountain water process (MWP). The MC coffee is used in our morning airpots of decaf. That decaf is a blend of specialty grade Ethiopia Harrar and Sumatra Mandheling. We use the MC for that drip so we can keep the price the same as caffeinated drip AND it's the one process out of the four used that is most selective in removing caffeine from the bean while retaining all the good stuff that accounts for flavor. The result is a better tasting cup.
It's true that MC is a less expensive way to decaffeinate and that it uses chemical solvents. It's also true that almost all of those solvents have already been eliminated by the time the green beans are shipped and whatever traces are left evaporate during roasting. The boiling point of the solvent is 104 degrees F and it completely dissipates at 170F. Our decaf is roasted to 435F. Any remaining solvent, if there were any, is vaporized during roasting and goes out the exhaust.
We also have two Mountain Water process coffees. The Black Cat decaf espresso and a single origin decaf Honduras. If you're still freaked out about the mere thought of chemical solvents, then order a decaf americano made with the Black Cat (which is the only way we make decaf in the afternoon anyway). If you're buying for home use, then purchase the Honduras coffee. We don't offer the Honduras decaf by the cup because there's not much (er, zero) demand for it. And people seem to like decaf americanos better.
2) Starbucks decaf is primarily (to best of our current knowlege) decaffeinated via MC, not the Swiss Water Process (SWP) and has been for about a year now. So how is it safer? If you want SWP decaf, head to Caribou.
3) Swiss Water Process is a brand that mainstreamed the "water process" method. They did a very nice job of developing their brand while promoting the 'purity' of water process vs. those scary chemicals. When it comes to our society, emotional appeal seems to beat hard science every time.
We wish them continued success. However, of the available water decaf processes, our palates are much more impressed with Mountain Water (MW) Process, which is done in Mexico using glacial waters. ("Mountain water" sounds much better than "Mexican water", doesn't it?). The MW process leaves more coffee taste in the coffee. Period.
4) You want scare tactics, we'll give you some. The chemicals in flavored coffee are what you should be concerned with. Many flavorings contain proplene glycol - same stuff that goes into antifreeze. Workers who handle it are required to wear gloves as it's a skin irritant. We could tell you more, but it's so much more fun to just put the scary stuff out there without the rest of the facts.
Can we move on to more enlightened discussions?