Swiss Water: everything you need to know about the decaf process

Swiss Water: everything you need to know about the decaf process

All great coffee needs a great-tasting decaf version.  Some customers love the great coffee taste but are less in love with the side effects of caffeine. The challenge is: how do you get great tasting decaf coffee? The answer is the swiss water process and this is everything you need to know. 

What’s the Swiss Water Process?

The Swiss Water process is a newer, chemical-free method for removing 99.9% of the caffeine from coffee. You can never remove 100% of the caffeine, but the Swiss water process comes close. 

This method is special because it only uses water, no harsh chemicals, and needs no fancy pressurising equipment (like with the carbon dioxide method). 

How does the Swiss Water Process work? 

Step 1: Make the green coffee extract solution

Making great decaf coffee requires one important ingredient: a solution that mimics the exact composition of the coffee beans, but without the caffeine. So, a green coffee extract must be carefully prepared from the beans you want to decaffeinate.

It’s important that the solution for the Swiss water process as the same composition as the beans you want without their caffeine. If the solution has a different composition to the beans, it will remove other molecules as well. This might be the molecules that give it a complex flavour or carry the health benefits of the coffee beans. 

When we get decaf coffee, we want all that good stuff to still be in the beans. It's also why many decaf coffees don't taste quite right. Plus, it's why Souter Bros decaf only uses the Swiss water process. 

Step 2: Soak the coffee beans

The Swiss water process takes place before the green coffee beans are fermented, dried, and roasted. The green coffee beans must be soaked in normal water to hydrate the beans. This makes the beans ready to pass through the green coffee extract solution.

Step 3: Pass beans through the solution

The beans are passed through the green coffee extract solution. Remember high school chemistry? This draws the caffeine molecules out of the beans and into the water until it reaches an equilibrium.  

The beans go through this step of the process multiple times until as much caffeine as possible is washed from the beans. The solution gets cleaned of caffeine between each pass. 

Step 4: Remove the caffeine from the solution

To clean the solution, it is passed through an activated carbon filter. The carbon removes the caffeine molecules from the solution so the beans can be soaked again and more of the caffeine removed.

Step 5: Remove the caffeine from the filter

The activated carbon filter must be placed in a furnace to remove the caffeine so the solution can be repeatedly cleaned.

Step 6: Continue soaking the beans

The solution is continuously moved though the beans and the carbon filter for around 8 to 10 hours. This makes the process difficult to scale, which is why most big coffee producers use cheaper methods. These include solvent extraction (i.e., the wet method) and carbon dioxide.

Here at Souter Bros, we deal directly with the farmers so we can keep our decaf costs down while also providing great wholesale decaf coffee. 

Step 7: Time to dry the beans

Once the coffee beans are 99.9% caffeine-free, they can be dried and undergo further processing such as fermentation, roasting, and grinding (though we recommend buying whole beans and grinding them yourself on site for the best flavour).

Is the Swiss Water Process healthy?

Drinking coffee after midday can mess with your sleep, and some people are more sensitive to caffeine. This means they can feel higher levels of anxiety and heart palpitations that others. 

Having a great-tasting decaf coffee option is good for business and the Swiss water process does just that: keeps more of the coffee flavours and notes. 

Other decaf process use solvents to remove caffeine. We think this ruins the taste and our wholesale customers prefer the Swiss water method for their beans because they get a better tasting cup at the end. 

Great decaf coffee

Producing great decaf coffee can be made with just water, but it requires lots of time and is difficult to scale. That’s why great decaf coffee is usually more expensive — even more than normal, caffeinated coffee. 

When the price of coffee is set to increase further, we believe in working with small businesses to keep the cost of coffee down. This includes our decaf coffee. There is always a balance between taste and costs, but the Swiss water method helps us have a happy middle ground: the best decaf coffee without it costing the earth. 

Most of all, our customers tell us how great the decaf is which means we know that your customers will love it as well. 


Back to blog