What is Swiss Water Decaf Process Coffee?
Decaffeinated coffee’s origins started in 1903 when the German coffee merchant, Ludwig Roselius, discovered the first ever decaffeination process known as the Roselius Process.
Legend has it that his quest for decaffeinated coffee was guided by his belief that overconsumption of coffee had been the reason for his father’s premature demise. Back then, benzene, a highly dangerous substance to consume, was used to remove caffeine from coffee.
The History of the Swiss Water Decaffeination Process
The Swiss Water Decaffeination process was developed in 1933 and was developed in, you guessed it, Switzerland. For a long time, it was the only decaffeination process that removed caffeine without using any chemicals.
Skip ahead another 50 years to 1980 and the process finally became commercialised. But, even so, the procedure was very inefficient and the result was often inconsistent batches and a coffee that was very difficult to roast.
However, in 2007, the process was redeveloped into what you see today, which means very consistent high quality decaffeinated coffee that tastes pretty much the same as caffeinated coffee, but is 99.9% caffeine free.
A Detailed Explanation of the Swiss Water Decaffeination Process
The key to the Swiss Water Decaf method is essentially: water, temperature and time.
It takes about 10 hours for the process, during which the coffee is monitored to ensure that the flavours remains untouched and a perfect result is achieved every time. But, let’s dive into the nitty gritty of the actual process to get a better understanding of the Swiss Water Decaf Process.
Now before explaining the process of decaffeinating coffee using the Swiss water method, it’s important to understand the elements that take part in the process.
Let’s start with GCE, which is short for Green Coffee Extract. GCE is pure water plus all the water-soluble solids that can be found in green coffee, except for caffeine.
But how do you make GCE?
The GCE is what allows the Swiss Water method to be free from chemicals.
It’s a natural solution, no chemicals involved, that contains all the naturally occurring water-soluble solids found in green coffee.
To explain further, these solids are compounds like chlorogenic acids, amino acids, carbohydrates, and a whole range of other organic compounds and minerals.
The GCE is Made in 3 Steps
First, green coffee is soaked in fresh hot water, which allows the soluble solids to “leech out” of the coffee. Once the solids are all dissolved into the water the coffee is then removed and disposed of.
The third and final step in making GCE, is to take the solution and filter it with the proprietary carbon filter. The brilliant thing with the carbon filters is that they remove only the caffeine and nothing else, all the green coffee solids remain in the water.
We then have the GCE solution. It’s important to note that the GCE is what you would refer to as a “living liquid”. Whilst the decaffeination is taking place the GCE gets refreshed and renewed by the carbon filters.
But, What is the GCE Actually Used For?
Since the GCE contains the same compounds as green coffee, but no caffeine, it’s the perfect medium to diffuse only the caffeine from green coffee. It’s therefor the key to the SWD process.
Does the GCE need to be replaced after every decaffeination?
During the process of decaffeination, the GCE is constantly monitored and tested to make sure that it is operating at its best. Later in this article we will discuss how the GCE is re-set after each use. By doing this it can be used for several rounds of decaffeination until it’s no longer operating at its best and a new batch of GCE needs to be created.
The Other Key Component When Making Swiss Water Decaf: Carbon
Now just GCE isn’t enough to perfect the SWD process, carbon is the other key component. Both are vital in maintaining the coffees quality during the process, and for the process to be successful both the GCE and the carbon need to be operating at their best.
Carbon is defined as a nucleus of neutrons and six protons surrounded by six electrons. Carbon is unique among the elements in its ability to form strongly bonded chains, sealed off by hydrogen atoms, this is one of the reasons why it’s the perfect element to use in the decaffeination process, which will shortly be explained.
Another amazing thing about carbon is that it’s customisable. The proprietary carbon filters that are used for the Swiss water decaffeination process have very specific pore sizes; the pore size is the same size as the caffeine molecule.
This means that when the GCE (still filled with caffeine) passes over the filters, the pores trap only the caffeine and nothing else and since the caffeine and the carbon form a bond. The bond is so strong that any other soluble compound trying to enter the pore will be forced out and back into the GCE.
The only way to break the bond and remove the caffeine is through incinerating it. The carbon is taken to regeneration furnace where the caffeine is incinerated, and the carbon is restored to its “caffeine-specific geometry”. This way the carbon can be reused for further caffeine catching, which means less waste and enhanced quality control as the carbon is monitored to ensure that it performance at its best.
The Swiss Water Decaf Caffeination Process
Now that we have an understanding of the elements involved let’s look at the actual process of decaffeination.
The first step is to clean the green coffee, once that’s done the coffee is pre-soaked to expand the bean.
Next, the caffeine-free GCE is introduced to green coffee. When this happens, the caffeine is transferred from the bean to the GCE; this is called diffusion and is the result of caffeine imbalance.
After roughly ten hours, when the coffee is 99.9% caffeine free, the green beans are sent to the dryer.
After the decaffeinated beans have been removed, the GCE is now saturated in caffeine from the coffee and is therefore sent to carbon filtration which traps the carbon molecules. As mentioned earlier, the only way to break the bond between the caffeine and carbon is through incineration and therefore the carbon is sent to the furnace for the removal of caffeine so the carbon can be re-used.
When the GCE is caffeine-free it is regenerated and reintroduced to green coffee. The GCE can be used to decaffeinate coffee from any origin as all green arabica coffee contain the same water-soluble compounds. The beans that were sent to the dryer, once dry they are bagged and ready to be shipped out to green coffee traders and roasters across the globe.
It is also worth noting that since no chemicals were used during the process, the Swiss Water Decaffeination process is actually certified organic.
Does the Swiss Water Decaffeination Process Have an Impact on Coffee Quality?
When brewing decaf, you might want to use a little more coffee or a finer grind. Perhaps even both. The reason for this is that coffee beans are made up of a large variety of soluble and insoluble matter.
When brewing coffee, the hot water extracts the soluble matter that gives us the flavour and aroma from the beans. One of those soluble compounds is caffeine. And since that compound has been removed from decaffeinated coffee it contains fewer water-soluble compounds then unaltered, caffeinated coffee.
In simpler terms since there are fewer solids to extract in the decaf coffee, if you are using the same scope as for a non-decaf coffee, it will often result in a lower strength cup of coffee.
If you want to look at the finer details, it might be worth mentioning that having fewer soluble solids in a decaf also affects the TDS (total dissolved solids) in water measurements.
Therefore, brilliant tasting decaf might differ somewhat from the “optimal range” of the brewing chart, but that chart wasn’t created with decaf in mind and measuring TDS and extraction yield is a great way of keeping an eye on quality control, but decaf might be an exception. By allowing the numbers to be a bit skewed, the result will probably end up being a brew that tastes amazing.
Health Benefits of Swiss Water Decaf Coffee
Coffee has been said to be one of the healthiest drinks to consume, with a long list of health benefits. But, what about decaffeinated coffee?
There’s a varied list of reasons why people drink decaf coffee, but the top reasons are pregnancy, caffeine sensitivity and to improve sleep quality. Also, consuming decaf won’t dehydrate you. On the contrary, your decaf cup of coffee can be counted towards your daily fluid intake which is probably why decaf drinkers are almost twice as likely to drink more 3 cup of coffee or more per day than a people drinking caffeinated coffee.
Decaf, just like regular coffee, is jam packed with antioxidants which fight free radicals in your body. These free radicals are compounds that could cause harm in your body if we allowed their levels to get too high. High levels of free radicals could lead to cancer, diabetes, heart diseases and other illnesses. Studies show that drinking two cups or more of decaf per day lowers the risk of rectal cancer with almost 50%.
A single cup of decaf coffee contains 4.8% of your daily recommend intake of potassium, 2.4% of magnesium and 2.5% of the Vitamin B3 you should consume every day. Now considering most decaf drinkers get about 3 cups a day in them, those numbers start adding up.
There are also studies showing that drinking decaf is linked to reduced levels of liver enzyme and that decaf may protect neurons in the brain which would help fend of diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
A frequent side effect of drinking caffeinated coffee is heartburn or acid reflux. Many experience that decaf has a much milder effect on the stomach thus causing significantly less acid reflux.
With the Swiss Water Decaf process, you have an organic method that decaffeinates coffee without using any chemicals and yet retaining all the flavours. It’s full of health benefits and doesn’t affect your sleep or gives you heart palpitations even if you’ve had more cups than you can count.
And as they say at the Swiss Water Decaf Company: “What you take out is just as important as what you leave in”, truer words have not been spoken.