Decaf Coffee is for Lovers
Today, we’re getting up close and personal with a controversial topic in the coffee world: decaffeinated coffee. All taste, no buzz. Decaf coffee is the oft-maligned step-child of Speciality Coffee— often only overheard in hushed tones or discussed with absolute disdain. It’s 2023, and Decaf coffee isn’t going anywhere; it’s better than ever, and it’s getting tastier each day. Decaf coffee is an art form, a testament to the farmers, roasters, and innovative methods they employ that make contemporary decaf coffee an experience worth savoring.
Decaf Coffee doesn't have the best reputation, and not all are created equal. In the not-so-distant past, the decaffeination process required the use of chemicals such as benzene, trichloroethylene, dichloromethane, chloroform, or methylene chloride. These chemicals and methods have been deemed harmful, carcinogenic, or toxic. Fortunately, we have moved on to safer methods that better suit the intimate act of consumption. It’s time to remove the stigma and embrace delicious, jitter-free, decaf coffee with our favorite processing methods. Most importantly, decaf should be excellent for those who cannot consume caffeine and work well as a straight shot and in a milk beverage.
c/o Swiss Water Decaffeinated Coffee Inc.
The Deccafination Process
Decaf coffee processing takes place well before any roasting or brewing occurs, and there are two main types: Solvent and Non-Solvent Decafs. Non-solvent-based decafs use 100% water to extract caffeine from the beans and are usually sold as Swiss Water or Mountain Water Decafs. The difference lies in the location of each facility. Mountain Water processing takes place in Mexico using water from the Pico de Orizaba Mountain, while the Swiss Water process, which originated in a small Swiss plant in the 1930s, today takes place at a single facility near Vancouver, British Columbia, using water from Canadian coastal mountains. Both use the same process to extract caffeine from the coffee, and both claim to eliminate 99.9% of caffeine.
Solvent-based decafs are those in which the caffeine is removed from the beans with the help of a chemical solvent, such as methylene chloride or ethyl acetate. We’re not the biggest fans of the methylene chloride decafs, but the natural ethyl acetate processed decafs excite us about brewing coffee later in the day and into the night. In this Sugarcane Ethyl Acetate (EA) Process, coffee is placed in a solution of water and Ethyl Acetate, a naturally occurring compound and solvent derived through the fermentation of sugarcane. Raw, unroasted coffee, often called green coffee or green beans, is submerged in the EA solvent, which naturally bonds to the salts of chlorogenic acids within the coffee, allowing for the extraction of caffeine.
Decaf Methods Defined
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Process
Green coffee reacts with highly compressed carbon dioxide in this newer method, which behaves like a gas AND a liquid. The beans are soaked in compressed carbon dioxide, and the caffeine is eventually removed from the CO2 through a charcoal filter, like in the water-processed methods.
Methylene Chloride (MC) Process
Green coffee is soaked in hot water to begin extracting its caffeine. A methylene chloride (MC) solution is added to help bond to the remaining caffeine, and both are removed, leaving us with a coffee with very little caffeine. MC Decafs don’t have the best reputation, are relatively cheap, and can taste thin, flat, or papery, so we avoid them. You won't find this on our site.
Swiss Water Process (SWP)
In this process, green coffee is soaked in water, and a carbon filter is used to help capture and remove the caffeine. All processing takes place in Vancouver, B.C., using water from the Canadian mountains.
Mountain Water Process (MWP)
Similar to the Swiss Process, beans are decaffeinated with the help of water and a carbon filter. These coffees come to us from a facility in Mexico rather than Canada.
EA Sugarcane Process
Beans are placed in a solution of water and Ethyl Acetate. This solvent naturally bonds to the salts of chlorogenic acids within the coffee, allowing for the extraction of caffeine.
It’s difficult to say which decaf processing method tastes best. We’ve found that the water-processed decafs tend to produce a cup that favors body and mouthfeel over acidity. In some cases, the EA Sugarcane method better preserves acidity and the more delicate flavor nuances. It'll come down to your own personal taste preferences in the end.
Whether you live by the "death before decaf" mantra or desire a cup that awakens the tastebuds alone, we urge you to try one of our favorites below. After all, decaf is for coffee lovers: it's all about the flavor and has nothing to do with the effects of caffeine. These offerings may change your mind about decaf! Get set up with a decaf subcription, or browse the entire decaf library.
Olympia Coffee's Decaf Asterisk
complex, toffee, dried fruit, silky