Take a look at these two samples of coffee beans. What if I told you that these are both green (unroasted) beans? The darker sample is an example of decaffeinated coffee beans. Why the darker color? There is more to decaf than what meets the eye -- It's all about the process.
Coffee Beans can be decaffeinated in a number of ways, but here are two common methods: chemical or water-processed. We refrain from saying “natural”, because one of the chemicals, ethyl acetate, can legally be labeled as natural. Our beans are decaffeinated through a Mountain Water Process, but more on that in a moment!
In most of the methods, there is a common flow. Green coffee beans are immersed in water to extract the caffeine, yet the flavor oils are also extracted. This “charged” water is then carried to a tank where it is either treated with a chemical, or run through a filter. Here, either the solvent works on the caffeine, or it is organically filtered out. What you have left is the water with no caffeine, but all the flavor oils. The beans are then reincorporated into the water where they will reabsorb their original flavors, and are then sent to dry. After having gone through all of that, you can see why the color of the beans is different!
The chemical process is achieved with either Methylene Chloride or Ethyl Acetate acting as the solvents. The coffee beans either come in “direct” or “indirect” contact with these solvents. Decaf made with these chemicals was the only choice available for many years, but there have been significant efforts and improvements to natural decaf processing over the last couple of decades. The demand for better overall quality has opened the door for the following water-process methods: the Swiss Water Process and the Mountain Water Process.
The Swiss Water Process (SWP) began in Switzerland around 1933, and for a long time, it was the only company removing caffeine without the use of chemicals. They have since moved to a plant in Canada. This method achieves decaffeination with water, a form of Green Coffee Extract (GCE), and carbon in the form of activated charcoal which has been designed specifically to catch only the caffeine molecule.
The Mountain Water Process (MWP) is a method of indirect decaffeination pioneered by Descamex, a company based in Córdoba, Mexico. Green coffee beans are immersed in glacial water from the Pico de Orizaba mountain, creating a solution of coffee oils and caffeine. After the solution is filtered to remove the caffeine, the water-soluble oils are returned to the coffee, preserving the coffee’s natural flavors and aromas.
A more recent method uses CO2, carbon dioxide, as the solvent to extract the caffeine. This method is a higher-cost process because it requires the investment in heavy-duty equipment for pressurization and monitoring, as well as high energy costs to operate the decaffeination tanks at the forces needed to compress the gas.
Decaf coffees often get a bad rap for lacking the complexity of flavor of their caffeinated counterparts, but our Mountain Water Process Colombian Decaf is surprisingly bright and vibrant, with notes of citrus, hazelnuts, and magnolia. We hope that you enjoy our decaf as much as we do!