No matter how much you love coffee, there can be situations when it’s healthier or more appropriate to choose decaf. Unfortunately, decaf coffee is often associated with thin, weak, and otherwise unpleasant coffee flavor. Part of this may be due to the processed used to remove caffeine from the beans.
What is Swiss Water Process?
The Swiss water process method of decaffeinating coffee began in Switzerland in the 1930s and is a chemical-free way to remove caffeine from coffee beans. To remove the caffeine, unroasted beans are soaked in hot water. Then the initial batch of beans is discarded and the resulting solution is strained through carbon filters to remove the caffeine. This “green coffee extract” is subsequently used to decaffeinate further batches of beans, since it contains all of the flavor compounds and other essential coffee characteristics that were lost in the initial decaffeination process. The result is decaffeinated beans that retain the natural flavor of the coffee without necessitating exposure to harsh solvents.
Other Processing Methods
In other decaffeination processes, beans are soaked in water or steamed, and then treated with either ethyl acetate or methylene chloride. Although ethyl acetate can be derived from plant sources, the chemicals used in these processes are most often synthetic. Another method exposes soaked or steamed beans to compressed carbon dioxide. All three processes have a final step in which the beans are soaked or steamed again to remove the solvents and attempt to replace any flavor that was lost during decaffeination.
The method in which beans are soaked before being exposed to solvents is sometimes referred to as “water-processed.” Be careful to distinguish this chemical process from the water-only Swiss water process.
Taste the Difference
When you switch to a decaf coffee or just want to avoid caffeine so you’re not up all night, you don’t have to be relegated to a tasteless brew. In fact, the flavor of Swiss water processed coffee is barely any different from that of caffeinated coffee. Use your favorite brewing method and you’ll see that you can get a full-bodied, delicious cup of coffee that won’t give you the jitters.
After drinking Swiss water processed decaf, you may be able to notice a difference if you try other decaf coffees. Decaf processed with chemical solvents has a distinctive aftertaste, which may be part of what gives decaf a bad reputation. Ultimately it’s up to you whether or not you wish to consume chemically-processed decaf, but it’s worth it to try both in order to see how you react to the difference in flavor.
Since organic coffees are grown and processed without chemicals, choosing a good organic decaf pretty much guarantees that you’re getting one that was Swiss water processed. However, it’s always best to double-check before making a purchase. The Swiss water process website allows you to search for retailers and cafés in your area that sell coffee processed with this method.
Decaffeination on Wikipedia
WiseGeek’s How Is Coffee Decaffeinated?
Decaffeinated Coffee Beans on Coffee Search