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Swiss Water Decaf thrives in a healthy era.


As the health craze continues to sweep across the globe, more and more companies are introducing new products into the marketplace utilizing health conscious advertising techniques like "all-natural," and "no preservatives." Swiss Water Decaf fits perfectly into this healthy picture as the company decaffeinates coffee without the use of chemicals.

Decaffeinated versions of specialty coffee drinks are becoming increasingly popular in the U.S., and numerous coffee shops and restaurants are adding more varieties of decaffeinated coffees to their menu. These vendors utilize the chemical-free decaffeination concept to attract health conscious consumers, a concept the men and women at the Swiss Water Decaf plant in Vancouver, Canada have taken pride in for over five years.

In the beginning

The idea of Swiss Water decaffeination originated in 1934. The brainstorm was conceived in the mind of a Swiss man named Jean MacLang, who decided that he wanted to remove caffeine from coffee without using chemical solvents. To achieve this, he soaked the coffee in water, used an activated carbon filter, and was able to remove the caffeine. Unfortunately, MacLang's idea was only a start, because the carbon filter removed the other coffee soluble compounds (the flavor), as well as the caffeine.

It wasn't until the late 1970's that scientists and engineers at Coffex, a European chemical decaffeinator, modified the process to prevent the removal of coffee flavors by the activated carbon filter. They then converted a chemical decaf plant in Switzerland to this process, and Swiss Water Decaf was born.

Soon after that, Jacobs, a Swiss coffee company, entered the picture. They saw the option of chemical-free decaffeination as one the consumer would want to have, bought Coffex, and began test marketing the Swiss Water process in Europe. From a marketing perspective, the process was extremely successful, but from a quality perspective, it wasn't perfect.

The original process

In that original Swiss Water process, green coffee beans were soaked in hot water and the caffeine and flavor from the green coffee dissolved into the water. The water was then circulated through an activated carbon filter, which removed the caffeine. At this point in the process, the beans had been decaffeinated, but the flavor components had also been removed and were dissolved in the water. The beans were then transferred to a drying tank and the water to an evaporator where it was concentrated. When the beans were half dry, the flavored water was sprayed back onto them and the flavor was reabsorbed.

Obviously, there were some problems with this process. How do you get the same flavor back to the same bean? How do you make sure that the beans at the top of the vat get as much flavor as the beans on the bottom, and what happens to those flavor compounds?

Ironing out the problems

To overcome these obstacles, Don Macdonald, vice president and general manager of Swiss Water Decaf, ran an international research program in 1983 and developed what the company calls the second generation of the process. Macdonald proved that the revised process worked on a pilot plan basis, and in 1987 the plant in Vancouver was built.

"The way the Vancouver plant works is very similar in concept to the original process, in that it continues to use water and activated carbon to remove the caffeine," said Macdonald. "The change is that the flavor is no longer removed with the caffeine."

This first part of the process remains the same. When the first batch of beans has been decaffeinated and has given up its other coffee soluble material to the water, those beans are discarded.

A new batch of beans then enters the process and is soaked with the water solution containing the coffee soluble material from the first batch of beans. Because the water is saturated with flavor compounds, the flavor of the second batch of green coffee will not dissolve into the water. Since the water is free of caffeine however, the caffeine will dissolve in the water. The decaffeinated beans then go to a dryer and are bagged for shipment, and the carbon goes into a furnace where the caffeine is burned off at high temperatures.

When asked if there is a change in flavor, the people at Swiss Water respond matter-of-factly. "Decaf coffee is a processed food, and as you process a food, the probability is you're going to change the flavor," said Terry Taciuk, marketing and sales manager.

"The goal of any decaffeinator is to minimize the change in taste between the original green bean and the decaffeinated version. We would not decaffeinate a Kenya next to a Brazil. We try to preserve the integrity of the coffee."

Remaining true to chemical-free

One way many decaffeinators make a profit is to sell the extracted caffeine to pharmaceutical and soft drink companies. But, in order to remove the caffeine from the carbon, Swiss Water would have to employ chemicals, something the company is not willing to do.

"We believe that (removing the caffeine from the carbon with chemicals) would defeat the purpose of what we do at Swiss Water, which is to decaffeinated coffee without chemicals," said Taciuk.

With all the new coffee shops sprouting up across the U.S., Swiss Water Decaf has a clear advantage over other decaffeination methods. As the chemical-free decaf, Swiss Water satisfies both the consumers' health concerns and their discerning taste.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Boxman, Alyson R.
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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