Why do we drink coffee?
It’s full of wonderful complex flavours, aromas and character, sometimes you just need a warm drink on a cold day, and for a lot of us - it’s the caffeine boost. But for those of us who are sensitive to caffeine, or have perhaps gone a little crazy with the coffee already and want to enjoy the taste without the buzz, we turn to decaf.
Decaffeinated coffee has been around since the 1800s. It’s also been very popular… you’d be hard-pressed to find a cafe which didn’t offer decaf as an alternative.
Well, the earliest form of commercial coffee decaffeination, which is still used by large coffee corporations today, involves steaming unroasted (or “green”) coffee with various acids and bases, then using solvents to remove the caffeine.
Earlier methods used chemicals such as benzene, which has since been discovered to be carcinogenic and is no longer used in decaffeination.
The solvents used in this method - called the “direct organic solvent method” - are just as the name suggests, organic and non-toxic. But as science and technology become more advanced, so have the methods of removing caffeine from coffee.
The aptly named “indirect organic solvent method” uses water to soak green coffee beans for many hours.
The beans are then removed, the water is treated with organic solvents to separate the caffeine, and the process is repeated using the same water, which retains some of the coffee’s flavour compounds.
By the end of this process, the coffee beans have maintained most of their flavour composition, but around 97% of caffeine will have been removed. Because of its heavy use of water, beans decaffeinated using this method are sometimes simply called “water processed”.
But we still haven’t rid ourselves of using solvents (which just… doesn’t sound or feel great) -- until now!
Well, actually, since 1988 - when a company based out of Burnaby, BC developed a process based on a then unpopular technique first used in Switzerland in the 1930s.
The Swiss Water Decaffeinated Coffee Company (or simply, “Swiss Water”) introduced what is called the “Swiss water process”. Similar to the “indirect organic solvent method”, green coffee beans are soaked and rinsed in cycles, but without the use of solvents.
Instead, Swiss Water has come up with a solution called “green coffee extract” (or GCE), which is simply water saturated with all of the water-soluble compounds present in coffee, minus the caffeine. While green coffee soaks in the GCE, it retains all of its soluble compounds, rather than having them “reintroduced”, as is done through the indirect organic solvent method.
Only the caffeine migrates from the beans into the extract, which is filtered through a proprietary activated carbon filtration system that separates the caffeine from the GCE. Swiss Water assures that a minimum of 99.9% of caffeine is removed from their coffee beans!
These days, any self-respecting specialty coffee roaster sources their decaf from Swiss Water.
It should also be noted that not only does Swiss Water provide an excellent all-natural decaffeination method, but they source their beans ethically and transparently. This is huge for specialty roasters like us at Road Coffee, who maintain an overall goal of working closely with coffee farmers and ensuring ethical and transparent practices throughout the coffee supply chain.
At Road Coffee, we’re serious about providing our customers with the highest quality coffee available, and that means turning to Swiss Water for all of our decaf coffee. We have found that the flavours retained in decaffeinated green coffee from Swiss Water, stand upright next to our favourite caffeinated coffees.
Decaf shouldn’t be disregarded or dismissed. With the same care and attention
Try out our Colombia Decaf for yourself and enjoy its royal well balanced taste of rose, berry and honey! Enjoy the delicious flavours without the caffeine jitters. Let us know how you like it, we always enjoy hearing about our friends’ coffee adventures, at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook and Instagram @roadcoffee.
Author John Ohrn
Head roaster @RoadCoffee