Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Make Mine Sanka

Somewhere back in the mists of time past hovers an image of me sitting on the brown tiled floor with my dog, Sabre, while parents and friends squabbled at a nearby card table over a game of bridge, a card game that I didn’t understand. I remember my mother saying that she was going to make a pot of coffee and Aunt Sadie calling out, “I can’t have any coffee this late, Annice Loyd, but I’ll take a cup of Sanka?”

Don’t drink Sanka, never did, but it’s a name that has stuck with me over a lifetime. Clearly another of those brand names that advertising engraved into the longterm memory of an impressionable child. Other Sanka memories include the Sunday after church lunches that our family enjoyed at the Piccadilly, which always included passing the tall stack of little orange Sanka packets arrayed beside the coffee urn just before reaching the cashier at the end of the line, a woman with a giant frilly handkerchief artfully folded and draped over one side of her blouse.

Sanka is one of the earliest brands of instant decaffeinated coffee. The story began in Bremen, Germany in 1903 with Dr Ludwig Roselius. Roselius searched for a way to remove caffeine from coffee without diluting the flavorful taste and aroma. With an odd-sounding technique of using brine-soaked coffee beans, he plunged them into the sea during a storm and ended up with beans that reacted differently to roasting. By 1906 he had developed a patented technique that removed ninety-seven percent of the caffeine without removing the flavor. Roselius started a coffee company called Kaffee HAG and introduced his new product in Europe. In France, the brand name became “Sanka,” derived from the French words sans caféine or ‘without caffeine.’ In 1923, Roselius introduced the product in the United States as Sanka coffee, founding the Sanka Coffee Corporation in New York. It was first offered in only two Sanka Coffee Houses in New York, but not long after made available for retail sale. Five years later, General Foods Corporation began distributing Sanka coffee and in 1932, purchased the Sanka Coffee Corporation.

In an intensive American advertising campaign in 1927 Sanka sponsored the Sanka After-Dinner Hour broadcasts heard on Tuesdays on New York’s WEAF. During the 1950s and early 60s Sanka was a sponsor of I Love Lucy and The Andy Griffith Show on CBS television. It was also a sponsor of the The Goldbergs, where on many episodes Mrs Goldberg addressed the camera and speaking directly to the studio audience sang the praises of Sanka coffee. After her sales pitch she walked away from the window, and started the show.

With such promotion, Sanka became a nationwide sales success. The easily recognized bright orange label found its way into coffee shops around the country in the form of the decaf coffee pot. Coffee pots with a bright orange handle are a direct result of the American public’s association of the color orange with Sanka, regardless of the brand of decaf served.


  1. Aaahh, goodness. You just returned me to those days of thrills and adventures (as they use to say on the radio). I was instantly transported to the days when Sanka was so much a part of everyday life. Interesting always how one word can conjure up so much. As always a peek into specifics and then some history. Well done.

  2. I remember when Sanka first came out and being from Louisiana I wasn't about to drink instant coffee, much less instant decaf! Of course I was young then and didn't really need a decaf coffee. In years since I have switched to decaf after noon, but I always want it brewed. To this day I have never by choice had a cup of Sanka. The post did stir memories of years past and it was nice to hear the history of it.

  3. I also wear my pearls while drinking Sanka. But seriously, I love the stuff, made strong,with muscle,and steaming hot. Tastes great and it doesn't make my head spin around like the caffeinated kind.

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America