We sell two types of decaffeinated green coffee beans, the most interesting of which, in terms of production, is Swiss Water and when it comes to questions about how coffee’s produced, the process method is often at the top of the list.
So, if you’re curious about the Swiss Water process and what our traders think of the results, here’s an explanation of how the caffeine’s extracted.
Decaffeinated coffee was first developed in 1903 by Ludwig Roselius in Bremen, Germany and sold in Germany and many other European countries in 1905–1906 under the name Kaffee HAG and was then brought to the United States in 1909–1910.
Various methods have been used over the years, generally employing solvents that remove the caffeine. The process performed on green coffee beans starts with steaming of the beans to open their pores. They are then rinsed with a solvent that dissolves/extracts the caffeine while leaving the other essential elements in the coffee beans. The process is repeated numerous times until sufficient levels of caffeine have been removed: either 97% caffeine removal or 99.9% caffeine free. On average green coffee beans contain over 400 chemicals important to the taste and aroma of the final drink and the biggest challenge in the decaffeination process is removing the caffeine without stripping the green coffee bean of its inherent aromas and flavour profile.
The Swiss Water process was originally developed in Switzerland in the 1930s and the patented process is now used by The Swiss Water Decaffeinated Coffee Company in British Columbia, Canada. The Swiss Water process method overcomes the problem of extracting desirable oils and other solids from the bean (which results in a less flavourful brewed coffee) by using processing water saturated with these desirable coffee components thus reducing or eliminating their extraction during the decaffeination process. Water saturated in this way is referred to as green coffee extract or GCE. It is created using a separate batch of green coffee beans that are immersed in water and then discarded. The GCE is then filtered to remove only the caffeine from it. A fresh batch of green coffee beans is then immersed in the GCE, which can only absorb the caffeine because it is already saturated with the other matter that would dissolve in the water. The process of filtering the GCE to remove caffeine and immersing the beans is repeated until the beans are 99.9% caffeine free by mass.
When we visited Swiss Water in BC to learn more about their process and the appreciation of decaffeinated coffee, their response was full of positive facts and good news:
1. Swiss Water® Process is the world’s only consumer branded method to remove caffeine from green coffee beans.
2. Swiss Water Process is 100% free from chemicals and chlorinated solvents. The Process is Organic certified.
3. Cup results after the Swiss Water® Process are extraordinary since the original beans maintain their cup profile.
4. Swiss Water® Process is technologically advanced. They have a proprietary carbon management technology that enables a higher retention of chlorogenic and amino acids, that at the end allow them to offer a great cup of coffee.
5. Using global best practice in the form of Six Sigma over the last four years, they have realised substantial quality improvement, that has allowed for consistently excellent coffee that roasts reliably every time.
6. The Swiss Water® Process is a premium process and managed as such: they carefully select the beans to be decaffeinated; cautiously control the flow of the process and only use virgin carbon so that they do not compromise the integrity of their Process.
7. They continually invest in R&D to gain insights into the effects of decaffeination on coffees.
8. Due to high levels of satisfaction with the Swiss Water ®Process, specialty coffee roasters are demanding more and more SWP.
And our traders had similarly positive things to say:
Jay Baxter comments that his experience of decaf was something that people bought because they had to and always as an after thought… “You could identify decaffeinated green coffees beans because they turned brown in colour and smelt of baked beans. However, now there is a product out there that tastes just as good as a caffeinated coffee – that can give you the full coffee experience – without the caffeine. What Swiss Water has also done really well is to find the best origins suited to the process and worked with those to produce really excellent coffee.”
Santiago Barahona appreciates what it has done for the coffee industry: “I don’t drink decaf personally but I could drink anything, as long as it tasted like coffee! For me, it’s not about the caffeine – it’s about the flavour. Decaf still does not have the broadest range of options… but what has changed is that you can now get more options like certified coffees that are decaf e.g. Rainforest Alliance, Organic, Fairtrade… And what’s great about Swiss Water Decaf is that the value of coffee is maintained – it’s unique and special qualities. Previously this was all but impossible.”
Speaking to Priscilla Daniel, she echoes the positive impact on the industry: “Swiss Water has brought a huge change to our industry because it allows people who do not drink caffeinated coffee to experience the coffee for what it is – not just the processed taste. It’s also made it possible to bring a huge range of coffees from different origins to the decaf market allowing for traceability, which is especially important for fairtrade and organic coffees. With Swiss Water we can even control the quality from the beginning to the end – we can select the coffee ourselves and send it to Swiss Water to process it for us – we did it with Honduras – it allows us to ensure we can get a coffee from a farmer we know and trust and can offer it as decaf. We cup before and after the processing to check the cup profile and ensure it is not compromised. One thing to remember is that the roast for decaf is important as it does not roast in quite the same way as green beans, so getting the best from the coffee takes more care.”