How a Spoiled Shipment Transformed a Popular Beverage

Ludwig Roselius was not at all happy. He paid good money to have his shipment sent to Europe, but when it arrived, it was ruined. He looked at the spoiled shipment and wondered if there was any way to prevent it all from going to waste.

It was 1903, so the only way to send goods across the Atlantic was by ship. There are always perils in such ventures. In this case, the ship that carried Roselius’ valuable goods ran into a violent storm. It survived the tempest, but the ocean’s mighty waves flooded the upper deck with harsh seawater. That is how Roselius’ shipment was damaged.

Ludwig Roselius (1874-1943)

When the businessman inspected the shipment, he was relieved to learn that not all of it was ruined. He had ordered such a quantity of goods that some of it had to be secured to the upper deck. Most of his order was in the cargo hold down below and remained safe and dry during the storm. It was only that portion of the order that was topside that got drenched and spoiled.

Roselius oversaw the unloading of the good cargo. What should be done with the spoiled portion? He loathed wasting anything. Perhaps something could be done with it so it wouldn’t be a total loss. He ordered the sea-soaked crates to be sent back to the company so his researchers could look at them. He didn’t get his hopes up, but what could it hurt?

Much to his surprise and utter delight, the supposedly-spoiled portion of the shipment turned out to be the most valuable. Roselius was in the coffee business. He wanted to expand his operations to be able to offer a different kind of coffee. For many people, it’s what you add to coffee that makes the drink special. Cream, frothed milk, sugar, and flavoring can during a simple drink into an expensive culinary experience. Roselius had a different vision. Instead of adding to coffee, he wanted to subtract.

Roselius had inherited his coffee business from his father. He blamed his father’s caffeine addiction for his untimely death. For that reason, Roselius employed the best researchers to find a way to remove caffeine from the finished product. Despite their best efforts, there was no way to accomplish this without also stripping away the coffee’s flavor.

By happy accident, that all changed when the supposedly-spoiled shipment arrived. Company researchers discovered that the coffee beans, once treated with salt water, would give up their caffeine while retaining their flavor.

Ludwig Roselius had inadvertently found a commercially-viable way to create decaffeinated coffee. He made it available for sale and discovered that the public was just as eager for a decaffeinated coffee fix as he hoped. He came up with a brand name from the French words sans caféine, meaning “without caffeine.” That name is Sanka.

For most of the millions who continue to enjoy the fruits of Roselius’ efforts, they have no idea that it is possible because of a spoiled shipment and a frugal businessman who didn’t want anything to be wasted.

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