History of Decaf Coffee
Unfortunately, caffeine-free coffee doesn’t grow on trees. There are a few processes used to remove the caffeine from green coffee beans. Some beans are directly treated with harmful chemicals to remove caffeine. We opt for a more natural process: water and Swiss Water processes.
In the 1900’s, German merchant Ludwig Roselius received a shipment of coffee beans that had been flooded in seawater. He discovered that much of the caffeine was removed from the beans, but the taste remained. In 1906, he and some co-workers developed a method of extracting caffeine from coffee beans based on this discovery. Their process involved steaming the beans with acids or bases and then using benzene as a solvent to remove most of the caffeine. His company still operates as a worldwide brand of Kraft Foods. Benzene has been replaced with safer solvents as it was discovered to be a carcinogen.
Today, there are multiple processes used to remove caffeine from green coffee beans. Though benzene and other chemicals have been removed from the process, we procure beans that have been processed using either an indirect organic solvent method (water process,) or the patented Swiss Water process. Both processes steam the beans first to open their pores, then use water to extract caffeine from the beans.
In water processed coffee, small amounts of natural solvents are added to the water to aid in the caffeine extraction process without losing coffee’s characteristic flavors. In the Swiss Water process, one batch of beans is soaked in water until all water-soluble compounds have been removed, and then the flavorless beans are discarded and the leftover water, called green coffee extract, or GCE, is used to decaffeinate the next batch. The result of both processes are beans that are, at miminum, 97% caffeine free, and retain discernible tasting notes.
Our Swiss Water processed decaf Colombia has notes of cocoa powder and malt and a creamy body.
Image Credit: McKay Savage