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What’s the difference between Swiss Water Decaf and MC Decaf?

With many people increasingly conscious of their diet – and their consumption of substances like caffeine and alcohol, for example – there is an ever-rising demand for decaffeinated coffee beans that match up to the flavour and quality of fully-caffeinated ones.

Research commissioned by herbal sleep remedy A Vogel Dormeasan showed that four in ten Brits struggle to get to sleep at night. Concerns about money and work topped the reasons for this; however, a sixth of respondents blamed eating late and too much caffeine for stopping them drifting off.

A typical 12 oz cup of coffee will contain anywhere between around 120 to 180 milligrams of caffeine, yet a decaf brew will only have between two and six milligrams. 

Writing in Barista Magazine, customer relationship manager at Swiss water (the organisation which carries out the process described in this article) Andrea Piccolo says: "One-third of the total volume of decaf is consumed by people who only drink decaf." Accordingly, being able to offer consumers quality decaffeinated coffee is an advisable – if not essential – move for roasters. 

European law states that the caffeine content of coffee beans must be 0.1 per cent or lower in order to be stamped with being a decaf variety. However, it is the method by which processors achieve this level which differs – so what exactly are Swiss Water and MC Decaf beans?

MC Decaff

MC Decaff beans have been through a process that uses a solvent methylene chloride – hence the MC in the name – to strip the naturally-occurring caffeine from the bean.

At the start, the beans are soaked in water in order to soften them and expand their cell structure. After this, they are soaked in a solution with the solvent, following which it is drained off leaving decaffeinated beans behind. This is repeated several times in order to achieve the required level of decaffeination.

This is the cheaper, more cost effective method.

Were a coffee bean originally stamped with an organic certification, this will be stripped from it – along with the caffeine! – should it be treated with methylene chloride, even though the FDA has confirmed that the solvent is safe for use in this way.

Swiss Water decaffeination 

This method is a completely chemical-free – and patented – process that uses water from the mountains in British Columbia, Canada and proprietary caffeine-specific regeneration technology to extract the caffeine, as opposed to chemicals as in the above process.

Rather like the assurances that organic or Fairtrade certification afford the buyer in terms of where their coffee has come from and how it was grown, processed and traded, the Swiss Water registered trademark assures the buyer that the green beans were decaffeinated in a way in which absolutely no chemicals were used.

In fact, Swiss Water decaffeination not only has the organic and Fairtrade seals of approval, but also that of the Rainforest Alliance.

As Ms Piccolo confirms: "When decaf coffee is sourced from quality green coffee and roasted with care, there is wonderful potential to serve delicious coffee without caffeine."