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A new invention could mean the end of those orange-capped glass coffee pots. The DeCaf Co., a San Francisco startup, has come up with a wand-like instrument that bears a resemblance to a tongue depressor and lets the holder literally "stir" the caffeine out of drinks such as coffee, tea or sodas. One spin around the cup is all that's needed for half-caf, or another to take out more -- up to 70 percent, according to the company's research.
Caffeine-hungry polymers coat the stick, grabbing and pulling the hyped-up molecules out of the drink, according to a report by BusinessWeek Online.
Biochemist Anna Leone came up with the idea of do-it-yourself decaf while slogging through research about molecular polymers on a trans-Atlantic flight. After having to settle for regular coffee when the plane ran out of decaf, she had a "what if" moment. What if those molecular polymers she was reading about, called MIPs, could pull caffeine out of regular coffee without affecting its taste or smell?
Though it may sound implausible, MIPs experts, who typically seek to apply this type of technology to more sober matters like disease discovery, say it's very possible.
"Molecularly imprinted polymers have been used to selectively remove or concentrate specific compounds from complex mixtures," Ken Shea, a professor of chemistry at University of California, Irvine, told BusinessWeek Online. "MIPs are not a universal solution to all problems of this type, but there is no fundamental reason why this would not be successful for decaffeination."
It's not even an entirely new idea. Klaus Mosbach, founder of the Center for Molecular Imprinting in Lund, Sweden, is one of the creators of the technology and holds several patents for it. Several years ago, he did research for Unilever on using the technology to take the caffeine out of Lipton tea (Unilever owns Lipton). At that time, it took the form of a powder added to the mixture and was never marketed because it couldn't remove enough caffeine to make a difference, according to the report.
The DeCaf Co. has patented its technology and Leone is hoping the innovation will soon be available in restaurants far and wide, right next to creamers and sugar bowls.
When it comes to coffee, the U.S. is an addicted nation. Some 82 percent of Americans drink the stuff, and the numbers are ticking up nearly every year, according to the National Coffee Association. More than half of those surveyed by the trade group drink coffee every day, BusinessWeek Online reported. A quarter of those surveyed drank decaf in 2004. The percentage slipped to 21 percent this year.