Millions around the world are used to waking up with a freshly brewed cup of coffee that delivers a welcome caffeine hit to help start the day.
However, there are times when we don’t want caffeine, just the taste. Here’s our guide to why you need to choose Swiss Water Process for the best decaf coffee beans.
Our Top Recommended
Check out this video all about how caffeine does its thing!
Best Decaf Coffee Beans Buying Guide
What is caffeine and how do we remove it from coffee?
Caffeine is a compound that occurs naturally in coffee beans that stimulates the central nervous system (1), increases heart rate and blood flow, and makes you feel more alert and energetic.
In fact, it is considered to be the most commonly used psychoactive drug in the world.
Apart from the flavor, caffeine is one of the main reasons people drink coffee.
It is something we have come to rely on to help us clear our heads in the mornings and survive until lunchtime as the hours in the office drag on.
However, sometimes we just want to enjoy a cup of coffee without disrupting our sleep later on when it’s time for lights out – so down the years, people have developed several different methods of removing the caffeine.
How is it done?
Caffeine is soluble in water, and all methods of decaffeination involve dissolving the caffeine and removing it from the beans while attempting to leave everything else – the flavors and aromas – intact.
Broadly, there are two types of method, one that makes use of solvents (agents that help dissolve the caffeine) and one that does not.
The Swiss Water Process is a decaffeination method that uses only water; for this reason, it is seen as more natural than methods that use solvents.
How does the Swiss Water Process work?
As we mentioned, caffeine is soluble in water, and the trick is to remove the caffeine without removing anything that gives coffee its delicious flavor.
Unfortunately, much of the other stuff in coffee that we want to keep is also soluble in water.
This means if you simply soak a batch of green beans in water, yes, you’ll remove all the caffeine – but you’ll also remove a lot more.
Then, when you roast the beans and try to brew them, you’ll find that your coffee doesn’t taste of anything much at all.
The Swiss Water Process involves using an ingenious trick to remove only the caffeine while leaving everything else behind.
First, a batch of green beans is soaked in water. Everything that is soluble dissolves and ends up in the water, including the caffeine and all the good stuff.
This doesn’t matter because this batch of beans will be discarded. However, what you end up with is a solution full of everything that can be dissolved out of coffee. This is called Green Coffee Extract, or GCE.
The special trick
Water can only hold a certain amount of each compound from the coffee. When it is full, it can’t accept any more.
GCE is completely full of everything it can hold, and if you soak more beans in it, nothing else will come out of the beans.
The next step is where it all happens. Using an activated charcoal filter, the caffeine is removed from the water while everything else is left in.
This leaves a GCE that is full of everything that dissolves out of coffee beans except caffeine.
If you then take this GCE solution that contains no caffeine and use it to soak a new batch of green beans, the only thing the GCE can now accept is caffeine – because it is already completely full of everything else.
The result is that the caffeine from the new batch of beans dissolves and enters the GCE while everything else is left where it is.
This process is simply repeated until 99.9% of the caffeine is removed from the beans.
Check out this video that explains exactly how the process is carried out.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of this process?
The main advantage of the Swiss Water Process is that it is completely natural.
It does not require the addition of any chemical solvents at any stage of the process to remove the caffeine.
This is one of the main reasons that this method is used almost entirely for decaffeinating organic coffee.
This makes it sound like the ideal method – but there are also a couple of disadvantages.
The Swiss Water method is expensive. It is a time-consuming process for decaffeinating coffee, but also, the caffeine caught in the filters cannot be retrieved and resold as it is in other methods, making this method less profitable.
Some people also consider that coffee beans decaffeinated in this way have an inferior taste to beans decaffeinated using more traditional methods.
It can be a question of balancing a slightly inferior taste against the appeal of using a completely natural method for removing the caffeine.
How to choose best decaf coffee beans?
Decaffeinated coffee can be hard to find. Since caffeine is a naturally-occurring compound in coffee, purists might claim that it constitutes an integral part of the flavor of the coffee and that removing it necessarily spoils the coffee.
Furthermore, however hard you try to remove only the caffeine, it is inevitable that the coffee will lose some of the oils and flavors that make a truly delicious cup.
This is something decaf drinkers will have to accept.
Finally, decaf is harder to roast. After decaffeination, the beans turn brown and contain less moisture.
This means they roast faster and are harder to control during the process.
The best advice is to opt for light roast since most decaf beans won’t stand up to dark roasting.
The Best Decaf Coffee Beans Brand of 2019
1. Kicking Horse Coffee, Decaf, Swiss Water Process (Our Top Recommended)
Having just said you should usually opt for a lighter roast, here is a dark roast decaf that should appeal to fans of darker roasted coffee.
These beans are a blend of coffees from South and Central America, they are decaffeinated using the Swiss Water Process and are certified Fair Trade, organic and kosher.
The flavor profile is of a coffee with a strong body, low acidity, mellow finish and with a delicious, rich aroma.
2. HALF CAFF Ground Coffee, Stone Street Coffee
Here is an option for someone looking to reduce their caffeine intake without necessarily giving it up completely – these beans are half caffeinated.
They are imported and roasted by Stone Street Coffee, a well-known and reputable New York City-based artisanal roaster.
These beans are a mix of 50% Swiss Water Process decaffeinated beans and 50% untreated regular beans.
Tasting notes describe a rich, full flavor, a modest body and a clear, fresh aroma. They are roasted in small batches to ensure maximum freshness.
3. NO FUN JO DECAF
Jo Coffee sources and buys only the top 2% of Arabica beans from around the world.
They pride themselves on the careful artisanal roasting process that ensures they deliver only the very best to their customers.
Their products are certified organic by the USDA and are also certified Fair Trade.
These excellent beans include complex flavors with hints of blueberries and milk chocolate and display a full body.
A delicious option for someone looking for some luxurious decaf beans.
4. Cafe Don Pablo Decaf Swiss Water Process
These Swiss Water Process decaf arabica beans from Don Pablo are artisan-roasted in small batches for freshness. The roast level is medium-dark.
Tasting notes describe a mild, smooth and sweet coffee with a medium body, hints of citrus and a rich walnut finish. Ideal decaf for most coffee brewing methods.
5. Verena Street Whole Bean, Swiss Water Process Decaf Beans
This family-owned company is based in Dubuque, Iowa, where they roast their beans.
These beans are sourced from sustainable Rainforest Alliance farms, ensuring a fair deal for coffee growers and protection for the environment.
These beans are decaffeinated using the 100% natural Swiss Water Process. The coffee they produce is rich and mellow in flavor.
There is little no bitterness and they give a full-bodied brew with a delicious aroma. Roast level is medium, allowing the flavors of the beans to shine through.
No caffeine, but all the flavor
Die-hard traditionalists might turn their noses up at decaf. After all, no caffeine, no point, right?
But as techniques and technologies improve, the flavor of decaf continues to improve. For all but the most refined connoisseurs, the best decafs are coming closer than ever to the caffeinated versions.
If you enjoy organic products with no extra chemicals or anything else added, choosing coffee beans decaffeinated using the Swiss Water Process might be the best option.
As with other techniques, the flavors are now better than ever – and you can be sure your coffee is 100% natural.
Do you drink decaf? Have you tried Swiss Water Process coffee? What did you think? Or does the idea of drinking decaffeinated coffee make you turn your nose up in disgust?
If you have anything to say, please leave us a comment, we love hearing from you. And please don’t forget to share!
My name is Kathy Gallo, Editor of Ag Ferrari food blog. The guide you find here is designed exactly for you, and it is our hope that you find it not only interesting but also actionable.