How Chemical Free Decaf Coffee is Made - The Swiss Water® Process

How Chemical Free Decaf Coffee is Made - The Swiss Water® Process

Caffeine is a naturally occurring stimulant found in the leaves, seeds, and fruit of many plant species including coffee beans, tea leaves, and cacao seeds. If you're a part of the 83% of US adults that enjoy starting the day with a comforting cup of coffee but want to reduce your daily intake of caffeine due to personal preference, sensitivity, or pregnancy, decaffeinated coffee may be an excellent choice for you. This guide will help you understand what caffeine is and the different methods used to remove it from coffee, including the Swiss Water process we use to make all decaffeinated Kauai Coffee. You'll learn what to look for and how to make sure you're buying high-quality, great tasting decaf in stores and online.

[caption id="attachment_4448" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]A birdseye view of a cup of coffee on a white background. A diagram of the caffeine molecule is superimposed on the white surface next to the coffee cup. Shutterstock/PRO Stock Professional[/caption]

Decaf Coffee 101: What's the Buzz?

To understand how caffeine is removed from coffee, it is important to know a little bit about its chemical structure. Caffeine is a naturally occurring alkaloid found in plants. Alkaloids are organic compounds containing at least one nitrogen atom that have physiological effects on humans and other living creatures. Caffeine acts as a stimulant in humans but can also serve as a plant's natural defense against bugs and animals. Other well-known alkaloids include drugs like quinine, morphine, and nicotine.

The amount of caffeine in a single serving of coffee depends on the type of bean and preparation. Robusta Coffee tends to have a higher caffeine content than Arabica Coffee and caffeine content can vary from about 40 milligrams in a single shot of espresso to more than 200 milligrams in a strong cup of coffee brewed via drip or French press. It's also important to know that decaf coffee does not mean caffeine-free. Decaf coffee may still contain 2-4 milligrams of caffeine per serving.

[caption id="attachment_2771" align="alignleft" width="150"]german scientist Friedlieb Runge. Coffee, Caffeine, Decaf Coffee, Kauai Coffee Friedlieb Runge[/caption]

Decaf Coffee History

German chemist Friedlieb F. Runge is often considered the godfather of caffeine because he was the first scientist to isolate caffeine from coffee in 1820. In 1906, Ludwig Roselius, a German coffee salesman, patented the first decaffeination process for commercial use which involved steaming green coffee beans with water and various acids and then using Benzene as a solvent to dissolve the caffeine. Roselius's method is no longer in use because Benzene, an organic chemical compound, is now recognized as a carcinogen by the American Cancer Society.

kauai coffee swiss water decaf estate roast, coconut caramel crunch and vanilla macadamia nut coffee show sitting on a deck. A blurred image of Kauai's north shore is visible in the background.

How Decaf Coffee is Made

Caffeine is removed from coffee beans while they are green. Green coffee beans are beans that have been harvested, removed from the fruit and dried but have not yet been roasted. Once green coffee beans are ready for decaffeination there are a few different methods for removing caffeine in use today. Solvent-based methods use chemicals like Ethyl acetate or Methylene chloride to remove caffeine while the Swiss Water® process requires just water, time and temperature.

Solvent-Based Decaffeination

Solvent-based decaffeination utilizes Ethyl acetate (found in ripening fruit and alcohol) or Methylene chloride solvents applied directly or indirectly to green coffee beans to dissolve the naturally occurring caffeine. The US Food and Drug Administration has determined that neither of these solvents poses a health risk, but some coffee connoisseurs find that coffee decaffeinated with a solvent-based method has less flavor and depth than coffee decaffeinated by other means. If you see the words "naturally decaffeinated" when you buy decaf coffee online or at the store, it is likely that coffee was decaffeinated using Ethyl acetate.

The Swiss Water® Decaf Process - No Added Chemical Solvents

Not to be confused with Swiss Mocha or coffee flavoring, the Swiss Water® process is a method for decaffeinating coffee that was created in Switzerland in the 1930s and scaled for commercial coffee production by the 1980s. The Swiss Water Company headquartered in Burnaby, BC, Canada is the only decaffeination facility that is certified organic and Kosher. All decaf Kauai Coffee is grown and harvested on Kauai and sent to the Swiss Water® Company facility for chemical-free decaffeination.

Kauai Coffee Estate Reserve Swiss Water Decaf Whole Bean coffee

How Swiss Water® Process Decaffeination Works

In a nutshell, the Swiss Water Process relies on caffeine solubility (dissolvability) and osmosis to remove caffeine from green coffee beans. To begin the decaffeination process, green coffee beans are soaked in hot water to dissolve the caffeine. However, caffeine isn't the only water-soluble substance present in coffee. Sugars and other chemical components that create the flavor and aromas of coffee we love can also dissolve in water.

So, how do you decaffeinate coffee without solvents and retain the flavor profile of your favorite beans? After soaking, the water from the first round of green beans is passed through a charcoal filter. Caffeine is a large molecule and gets trapped in the filter while the sugars, oils, and other chemical elements in coffee that impart flavor and aroma pass through and stay in the water to create what is called Green Coffee Extract. This green coffee extract-infused water is now used to soak the next batch of green beans. Since the Green Coffee Extract already contains the other elements of flavor, those substances won't dissolve from the beans and just the caffeine is removed. It may sound complicated, but the result is decaffeinated coffee that is high on flavor and free from additional chemical solvents.

woman drinking coffee from large kauai coffee mug

Decaffeinated Kauai Coffee

At Kauai Coffee, we promise to deliver high-quality, 100% Hawaiian coffee from our family to yours no matter how much caffeine you like to intake. That's why we only use the Swiss Water® process to decaffeinate our 100% Kauai Coffee. Our Swiss Water® decaffeinated coffee is guaranteed to be at least 99.9% caffeine-free and is available as whole bean Estate Reserve, ground 100% Kauai Coffee and flavored grounds including Vanilla Macadamia Nut and Coconut Caramel Crunch. We use the Swiss Water® process on our selection of half-caffeinated coffees as well.

Buy Decaf Kauai Coffee or look for the Swiss Water® logo on your favorite bean to ensure you're buying decaffeinated coffee without added solvents. Shop for our Swiss Water processed decaf online now or at the Kauai Coffee Visitors Center in Kalaheo. Tell us your favorite way to enjoy your decaf Kauai Coffee, mention @kauaicoffeeco or hashtag #kauaicoffee on Facebook or Instagram.

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