The secret behind amazing decaf. Caffeine-free, chemical-free Swiss Water® Process.
A History of Swiss Water Decaf
The process was conceived of and first used in Switzerland in the 1930’s. 50 years after its creation, in 1980, the Swiss Water caffeine extraction method went commercial. The recent trend towards speciality hipster coffee snobbery around the world helped to push sales of decaf coffees that carry the Swiss Water process seal, as it is an organic, sustainable practice, which offers an improved taste and the peace of mind of knowing that no chemicals or toxic ingredients touched your decaf java.
The Swiss Water Process Explained
The way the Swiss Water decaf extraction works is actually quite complex. There is a video with a visual walk-through of the entire process, and it looks like an adult chemistry set. To summarise, It’s all about the GCE, or Green Coffee Extract. Using water, the green coffee cherries are soaked and washed, which starts to remove caffeine molecules from the beans. The problem is, the caffeine compounds aren’t the only thing that is being isolated during the extraction. Other important water soluble compounds like sugars, oils, and nutrients, all of which compose elements of the coffee’s characteristic aroma and flavour are being leached out of the coffee right along with the caffeine. In the majority of mass market decaf coffees, the caffeine removal process does nothing to try to replace these beneficial compounds, or do anything to try to make up for the loss, and the result is noticeably bad.
The Swiss Water process, however, extracts these compounds as well as the targeted caffeine molecules, isolating them and separating them from the beans in a liquid form, as caffeine is completely water soluble. The result is fully decaffeinated coffee beans, as well as a liquid concentrate of all the water soluble elements that were extracted from them as they soaked. That liquid is the GCE we mentioned earlier.
After the 99.9 percent of caffeine is removed from the coffee beans and the extraction process is finished, the caffeine is then removed from the GCE entirely, and the newly decaffeinated beans are then soaked in the caffeine-free GCE to replenish the characteristics of the roast that were originally washed out during extraction. Whether solvents, chemicals, gasses, or (preferably) just water is being used, a lot of the coffee’s unique flavour and aroma can be lost or badly damaged by the decaffeination process. However, the Swiss Water method revitalise the decaf beans by reintroducing the water soluble elements by soaking the decaffeinated beans in water.
First, the Swiss Water team creates the GCE. Green Coffee Extract is made by soaking the coffee beans in water, which effectively removes all of the water soluble molecules in the coffee beans. Next, the green coffee beans are re-hydrated, to prepare them for the decaffeination process. It is important that the beans be very moisturised before the extraction begins so that they are primed for the process, and cleaned of any dirt, dust particles, and silverskin.
Then, the coffee beans are soaked in the GCE solution for eight to 10 hours, or until 99.9% of the caffeine has been removed from the beans. It is important to use a previously made GCE solution for the soaking process, so that the water the beans are processed in is already high in the compounds that are easily removed with water. When the beans are soaking in the same molecules it is capable of releasing, a much smaller amount of compounds are lost in the wash. As the beans simply don’t release their water solubles at nearly the same rates when they are submerged in the GCE.
Once the caffeine has been removed and absorbed into the GCE, a carbon filtration system is used to draw out the caffeine from the GCE so that it can be reused again and again. The carbon filters are taken to a furnace to dispose of the caffeine that was removed from the extract. The GCE is consistently maintained and reinvigorated so that it is not required for a new batch to be made for each extraction.
How the Swiss Decaf Method works, Summarised
The best of these processes is the Swiss Water decaffeination method, which uses only water, temperature, and time to gently remove 99.9 percent of the caffeine from coffee beans while carefully taking measures to maintain the coffee’s natural flavour, aroma, and health benefits. When purchasing decaf coffee, look for the blue Swiss Water process seal to be sure you get an expertly crafted decaffeinated coffee that was made without chemicals or solvents