There are a few methods for decaffeinating coffee and most people know the Swiss Water Method due to their great job at branding their process. However, there are other methods outside of chemically decaffeinating coffee that are often better for the earth and the environment in which they're created.
Here's a rundown of the top process and the pros and cons to each:
Swiss Water Decaffeination
The Swiss Water Decaf process is a proprietary process that uses water to decaffeinate beans. It uses diffusion (a process similar to osmosis) to decaffeinate them. Green coffee beans are cleaned and hydrated and the caffeine is extracted. The caffeinated water is run through carbon filters until the caffeine is trapped and removed from the water, which is then reintroduced to the green bean.
PROS: It tastes super clean and has a very consistent flavor profile between the original green bean to its decaffeinated counterpart.
CONS: It uses a lot of water and it can be very wasteful and impactful to the environment.
Sugar Cane Process
Sugar Cane processing is often overlooked and can be more environmentally friendly than other decaffeination methods. Sugar Cane Decaf processing, also commonly referred to as “natural decaffeination,” starts by fermenting molasses derived from sugar cane to create ethanol. This alcohol is then mixed with acetic acid, to create the compound ethyl acetate. Ethyl acetate can be found in wine, beer, vinegar, fruit, vegetables, and other foods and is really common in foods and drinks we consume often.
In Colombia, where sugar cane is readily available and abundant, it makes great economic sense to use this resource. The coffee is added to a mixture of water and steam. This brings the moisture up and swells the bean in order to facilitate the extraction of caffeine. It is at this point that the bean experiences an ethyl acetate wash, which dissolves the caffeine. The beans are then cleaned with water, followed by steam, to clean the inner parts of the bean. Finally, the beans are dried.
PROS: This method avoids excessive heat or pressure, which can radically disrupt a green bean's cellular structure and quality. It also tends to taste sweeter than the other processes.
CONS: Though this process is natural, it can't be certified organic. This is because there is still a chemical reaction that takes place which violates the organic certification.
Mountain Water Decaf:
Lastly, we have the Mountain Water Decaf, another proprietary method that uses glacier water to extract caffeine. Descamex explains that the company uses a “special filter” to remove caffeine.The resulting caffeine-free water-based solution is saturated with solid coffee solubles from the beans and this water is used again in the extraction process.
PROS: It tastes very similar to its original flavor profile after it has been decaffeinated.
CONS: It also uses a lot of water which negatively impacts the environment.
At Velty, we use a mix of Swiss Water and Sugar Cane Decaffeination on our beans, depending on the farm and environment it grows in. We're dedicated to bringing the best quality product to our customers and support the environment in the process.