Decaf Titelbild

Decaffeinated coffee – how does it work and taste?

Making decaffeinated coffee isn't quite as easy as it might sound. We now also have a decaffeinated coffee in our range, it's called Sueño . This was grown, decaffeinated and ground in Mexico and we want to use it to explain to you how you can make caffeine-free coffee.

Decaffeinated coffee, also known as decaf, is mostly drunk for health reasons. There are people who have trouble sleeping after drinking coffee, react to the caffeine with a racing heart, or have problems with their blood pressure. But no matter how varied the reasons for buying decaffeinated coffee may be, we have never heard of someone choosing decaffeinated coffee based on the taste.

Buyers want the delicious taste of coffee without the intoxicating effects. Unlike people who don't care about the taste but are looking for the "kick" of caffeine, they are actually coffee connoisseurs.

Why does coffee without caffeine usually not taste as good?

One reason first. Decaf is often seen as a pragmatic by-product. It should be in the repertoire of a café, but many people don't look for the peak taste in it. But fortunately this is no longer the case everywhere. There are now also green coffee dealers who decaffeinate specialty coffees with mild versions (e.g. Descamex or Swiss Water). Essentially, decaffeination is a process that adds or subtracts a note from the flavor of the coffee. The gentler the decaffeination process is, the less pronounced this note is. And the higher quality the starting coffee is, the better the end product is, a good decaf. Conversely, this means: Anyone who starts with mediocre or even bad green coffee will not produce good decaf, which is at best a “pragmatic solution”. But what if decaf wasn't the "least possible evil" but the "best possible result"? In the catering industry, a second mill specifically for decaf should of course be available or at least a single-portion mill should be available. If the coffee is pre-ground and brought out from under the counter, it won't put a smile on anyone's face.

Decaf from Rancho San Felipe

In our project with Rancho San Felipe in eastern Mexico, we wanted to start an excellent tasting decaf with the social benefits of regional, fair value creation and inclusive, short supply chains.

the initial situation

There are only two companies that practice a mild, chemical-free process of decaffeination. These are Descamex in Mexico and Swiss Water Decaf in Canada. In order to avoid long supply chains, it was important to us to process coffee from Mexico in Mexico. Since we already know Benni and Melissa from Racho San Felipe, we got down to business and started the project.

The Rancho San Felipe Decaf Project

So the goal was: Local coffee, locally processed, locally decaffeinated and shipped. And all of this in small 50kg bags. And what should we say? We were able to fulfill our sueño (dream). The coffee comes from a plantation 20km from Cordoba. It is further processed in Cordoba itself and finally shipped from the port in Veracruz (30km away).

Map

Decaffeination process at a glance

There are various methods for decaffeinating coffee on the market. They differ in time, cost and taste. However, the steps of decaffeination are similar:

  1. Moistening the beans to a moisture content of up to 50%
  2. Using a solvent that binds the caffeine.
  3. drying

How do the processes differ?

The various processes differ primarily in the choice of solvent. The solvents primarily used here are dichloromethane and ethyl acetate.

Dichloromethane

This solvent is also known by the abbreviation DCM and is regularly mentioned in the press when it comes to making headlines about carcinogenic coffee. However, upon closer research you find out that DCM, despite its very chemical-sounding name, is harmless.

The moistened green coffee is steamed with DCM. By moistening the beans, the caffeine comes to the surface of the beans. The DCM flows past the beans and absorbs the caffeine to carry it away.

Ethyl acetate

Ethyl acetate doesn't exactly sound like a natural treat, but it's just a chemical name for a substance that also occurs in natural foods such as sugar cane. The softened green coffee is dipped into a solution of water and ethyl acetate. There the caffeine binds to the ethyl acetate. The solution is then drained and the beans are rinsed with steam to wash out any remaining ethyl acetate.

Decaffeination is usually not carried out in the coffee countries themselves, but after shipping, for example in Europe.

CO2

Caffeine can also be removed from coffee with the help of CO2. Organic coffees are usually decaffeinated with CO2 or Swiss Water processes.

Swiss Water Decaf & Mountain Water Decaf

As the name suggests, this process only uses water as a solvent to wash out the caffeine. The coffee is brought into contact with water at a certain temperature. This water dissolves caffeine, acids and fats from the coffee. The water is then forced through a filter that only retains the caffeine. At the end of this process you have a water solution that can react very well with caffeine. The coffee that is to be decaffeinated is then dipped into this lye. It then only removes the caffeine and decaffeinates very gently.

The Swiss Water method is not only one of the most time-consuming and complex procedures, but also one of the most expensive. The good thing, however, is that in addition to protecting the taste, with the Swiss Water process the lye can be reused over a long time and so no more water has to be used than with other processes.

Another reason why the process is more expensive is that the caffeine obtained is not resold. Cosmetic companies need caffeine and are willing to buy it from decaffeination companies. But in order to bind the caffeine for sale, additional chemicals are required, which Swiss Water companies want to avoid. To find out more about the sustainability aspects of the Swiss Water process, we can recommend the Sustainability Report .

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