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Swiss Water decaffeinated coffee unlocking the "black box." (use of carbon in processing Swiss Water brand)

Swiss Water decaffeinated coffee unlocking the "Black Box"

The technology used to make Swiss Water decaffeinated coffee has long been a "black box." Is the process really chemical free? How does it work? Stay tuned. In this article I will try to open the "black box" and explain the basic process used to make Swiss Water decaffeinated coffee.

The history of Swiss Water decaffeinated coffee began as an idea. That idea was patented in 1934, but contained a basic flaw. The concept was to remove caffeine from coffee using water and carbon filters. The flaw was that caffeine was not the only thing removed, so were coffee flavors. The challenge was how to remove the caffeine without removing the flavor.

The First Breakthrough

The first breakthrough, and the second patent, came in 1979. Researchers discovered how to selectively remove the caffeine by using a specially activated and pretreated granular carbon material.

The first commercial application of this breakthrough, which was called Selective Caffeine Extraction or "Secoffex" process, came in 1980 with the conversion of a direct application methylene chloride decaffeination plant to the Secoffex process, resulting in production of the first Swiss Water decaffeinated coffee.

In that first generation commercial Swiss Water technology, the green coffee beans are soaked in water which dissolves the caffeine and the other soluble flavor components. The water is drawn off, passed through the specially activated carbon which absorbs the caffeine. The result is: water saturated with coffee flavors, carbon containing the caffeine, and beans free of caffeine but stripped or flavor. The flavor saturated water is then concentrated by boiling off excess water, and the concentrate is then sprayed onto the beans as they dry. This technology continues to be used in Europe.

Coffee decaffeinated by the first generation process is often described as having a somewhat washed-out taste. To correct this problem another round of research began, and it resulted in a breakthrough which enabled the caffeine to be removed from the coffee without removing the flavor components.

This second generation process is employed in the Coffex plant in Vancouver. It begins by soaking a first batch of beans in water which dissolves the caffeine and the soluble flavor components. The water is then passed through the carbon filter which removes the caffeine. The result is: water saturated with flavor, and coffee stripped of caffeine and of flavor. This first batch of beans is then discarded because it is stripped of flavor. The flavor saturated water, however, is used to soak the second batch of green coffee. Because the flavor charged water is free of caffeine, the caffeine in the second batch of coffee beans will dissolve. The flavor in this second batch of beans will not dissolve, however, because the water is already saturated with flavor. A good analogy is to think about dissolving sugar in a cup of coffee. At a certain point the coffee is so full of sugar no more dissolves, and the sugar piles up on the bottom of the cup. Similarly, the flavor charged water is so full of flavors that they will not dissolve from the beans to the water.

This second batch of beans is now decaffeinated, dried, screened to remove dust, chaff, and broken beans, polished and bagged.

How long does the process take? About 12 hours. How is the caffeine removed from the carbon filter? It is burned off in a natural gas furnace, which re-activates the carbon and allows it to be reused. Because the caffeine is burned off, Coffex cannot recover it for resale. While this adds to costs, it ensures that every step of the Swiss Water process remains free of chemical solvents.

Those are the basics of how Swiss Water decaffeinated coffee is made. The idea is simple; water and activated carbon. The technology is complex, and requires a very sophisticated control system. The result is a premium specialty decaffeinated coffee--Swiss Water.

Terry Taciuk Marketing & Sales Manager Coffex North America Vancouver, B.C., Canada
COPYRIGHT 1991 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Taciuk, Terry
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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