Does Coffee Have Sulfite? (Revealed)

Short answer: Coffee is naturally sulfite-free, but some coffees have sulfite either due to their roasting process or packaging.

In this fast-paced era, with foods manufacturers pumping out large quantities of edible items in one go, they use a chemical to prevent food from turning stale. This chemical additive is known as sulfite.

Whenever food or nutrition is being talked about on any platform, preservatives and additives are a pre-requisite debate.

With almost all of us depending on coffee to get going, the production of coffee has also expanded tenth fold in the last decade. The increased production calls for the need for preservatives and sulfites.

While sipping on our cup of happiness, many of us don’t think about if our coffee contains those preservatives and sulfites.

Let’s dig in deeper to find out everything you need to know about coffee and sulfites. Keep reading!

What Do Sulfites Do To Your Body?

Sulfites are safe for most people. However, they can have harmful effects on people who have sulfite sensitivity, and they can trigger asthma too.

Depending on the severity, exposure to sulfites can cause mild to life-threatening reactions. Generally, if there is mild skin irritation, a topical medication would be enough to treat it. But in cases where packs begin to appear, immediate medical attention would be required.

Exposure to this chemical also triggers asthma. Its severity may range from mild to severe asthma attacks. Apart from that, sulfites may also cause abdominal pain, chronic fatigue, racing heartbeat, low blood pressure, and flushing.

However, in most cases, these reactions can be controlled by appropriate medical attention. It is very uncommon that the reactions may cause near-death conditions.

Nevertheless, those who have a sensitivity for sulfites should be very careful and have EpiPens with them all the time.

The following video might be helpful to learn the risks associated with sulfites consumption and how to spot them on products labels.

Sulfites in food: Risks and how to spot them on labels

Does Coffee Have Sulfite?

Some coffees do contain sulfites, but not naturally.

Sulfite occurs naturally in some foods and is commonly found in plant-based items.

Coffee is a plant-based product that is produced all over the world. Coffee protein includes sulfur due to the amino acids methionine and cysteine present in it.

This compound plays a vital role in developing the taste and aroma of the beans.

In simple words, this sulfur acts as a parent chemical, and sulfite is its oxy-ion compound.

This suggests that given the right condition this sulfur changes into sulfite. Just as carbon makes a diamond if provided with the right conditions whereas in other cases it makes coal.  

How Do Coffee Get Sulfites?

Roasted coffee beans in a skillet.
The roasting process adds sulfur to the beans

Though most coffees are sulfite-free, some of them are high in sulfites.

Green beans which are the raw form of coffee do not contain sulfite. However, the roasting process adds sulfur to the beans.

When this sulfur breaks down with oxygen, it becomes sulfite.

Though roasting the coffee beans result in the making of sulfite inevitably, the strength or degree can vary.

It all depends on the origin of the beans, time duration, temperature, and the type of roasting. All these factors combined cause the formation of sulfite.

Sulfite is also added to edible items to prevent them from going stale.

If you want to avoid sulfite-containing coffee, go for slow-roasted coffee beans that have not been roasted at higher temperatures such as Arabica beans. They do not carry a robust flavor like Robusta and are not quite acidic.

Does Starbucks Coffee Have Sulfites?

A Starbucks barista preparing a coffee drink.
Many of the Starbucks coffee variants contain sulfites

Though not all of the Starbucks coffee variants contain sulfites, many of them do.

Being an all-over coffee shop, Starbucks does not have any corporate policies about serving customers with food allergies. 

Baristas at Starbucks are not trained to accommodate any allergy persisting food item or cross-contact among allergen units of equipment.

So, those having sulfites sensitivity should be a bit careful before sipping any coffee or buying any treats from there.

To name a few sulfite-free options for coffee at Starbucks are Strawberry Frappuccino, Mocha with soy milk, and Café Latte.

Does Instant Coffee Have Sulfite?

Instant coffee does contain sulfites, but only to a certain degree.

Usually, our first cup of coffee is made from the Nescafe Instant Coffee jar, right?

Instant coffee is an easy way of preparing a fresh brew at home at any time. They are made of dried coffee bean extracts that are brewed in high concentrations. These are then ground up and packaged.

We all are very much familiar with instant coffee. Though instant coffee chemistry does include several sulfur compounds such as sulfite, it is weakened in the procedure of making it soluble.

Confined by what flavor profile is expected in the final product, sulfur compounds such as 2-methyl butane and 4-methoxy are added to enhance the taste and aroma of the coffee.

This improves the overall flavor profile and aroma of the instant coffee powder. Even flavorings such as cinnamon or hazelnut are also added at this phase of processing.

Does Decaf Coffee Contain Sulfites?

A black ceramic cup with black decaf coffee.
Decaf coffee has a negligible amount of sulfite

Decaf coffee does contain sulfites but mostly it gets flushed out while brewing.

Decaffeinated coffee is good for people who want to cut down on their intake of caffeine. People need to avoid caffeine if they are going through any health issues that can worsen with the consumption of caffeine.

With less than 3% of caffeine present in the decaf coffee, it wouldn’t be incorrect to say that there would be a very small amount of sulfur compounds present in it.

The decaf coffee is created by a decaffeination process that takes place on green coffee beans. By going through this process, the caffeine and all the chemicals drain out of the coffee beans, leaving them weak and flat.

Now since sulfur enhances the coffee’s flavor and aroma, when the quantity of sulfite is decreased greatly, it results in an aroma-less and flavor-less bean.

The following table contains the top 5 decaf coffee beans brand with the caffeine amount present in them. But make sure to scan the label for sulfite before you buy them.

Decaf Coffee BrandsType of RoastAmount of Caffeine
LifeBoost Organic DecafMedium0%
Koa Coffee Swiss Water Decafe Whole BeanMedium0%
Koffee Kult Colombian DecafMedium0.1%
Kicking Horse Coffee DecafDark0%
No Fun Jo DecafeDark0%
The top 5 decaf coffee beans brand with their caffeine content

What Coffee Doesn’t Have Sulfites?

If you’re after coffee that does not contain any amount of sulfites, chances are most ground coffee that you can buy from a coffee shop will not have any.

If you buy bags of coffee, you can also check for a “sulfite-free” or “contains no sulfites” label on the packaging.

Something that should be noted is that manufacturers are only legally obliged to put a sulfite-free label if the amount is below 10 ppm (parts per million).

In other words, coffee manufacturers must declare on the label if the sulfite content is about 0.001% or more. If it is lower than that amount then it can be considered insignificant and will not be required to be put on the label.

To Sum It All Up

The ever-growing food industry requires to cater to the rising demands. Therefore they use mass-production methods and products need to be safeguarded to use for the long term. This becomes possible with the aid of sulfites.

Almost every food contains a certain amount of sulfites. This substance occurs naturally or is added afterward to preserve food.

Though this additive tends to be safe for most people, asthma patients or allergic people are at a higher risk of getting severe reactions. It is a bit difficult to avoid every sulfite-containing food product but gradually you can adjust to it.

It’s best to try and avoid consuming new foods which might have sulfite if you are allergic to them. Also, keep a journal to note down everything you have eaten in a day to see if any reaction flares up.

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Marty Spargo

Caffeine aficionado and coffee student (if there's such a thing!). I've come to love coffee in recent years and share what I learn along the way on this website.

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