Last week Ianiv & I took a tour of the Swiss Water plant. The Swiss Water company is the only one of its kind. It uses a Swiss Water process to decaffeinate coffee – coffee then shipped back all over the world.

They’ve been around since 1989, and currently decaffeinate coffee from 30 origins, a little over half of which are their own coffees that they resell to brokers. The plant also adheres strictly to organic policies for those coffees certified as organic.

So, what makes this company different? Well, the swiss water process is the only decaffeination process that does not use chemicals. High entry costs have prevented anyone else from using the same process. And this I can attest to – the plant was huge and contained a lot of very large pieces of equipment and a very specialized crew who monitor the process and continually test all aspects of the coffee. It’s not something someone can just pick up and start doing.

How does the swiss water process work? Well you can jump over to their website where they have a very good movie you can watch. It’s the same one we watched as our intro. But, basically this is how it works:

1. Some coffee beans are soaked in normal water. This causes the beans to give off both the caffeine and the coffee flavour. They do this until the water is completely saturated with coffee flavour (saturation meaning no more flavour can be absortbed).

2. They compost those beans then filter the coffee flavoured water to remove the caffeine.

3. New green coffee beans that are to be decaffeinated are cleaned then soaked in this flavour saturated water. This time, they can only let off the caffeine since the water won’t allow it to let out flavour. The caffeine is filtered out through a carbon filter.

4. This is continued until no more caffeine is present. Then the beans are sent to be dried.

The whole process is very carefully monitored and seems rather complex. The machines were amazing. Especially the one that dries the beans. It seriously shakes around to make sure the beans dry evenly.

After our tour of the decaffeination process we went into the lab to see the monitoring equipment and also the chemist who makes sure that the coffee is coming out with the right properties and that everything is in order. This is done for every single batch. And, trust me, it is far more complicated than I make it seem. At the end, they roast the regular and decaf beans for each batch and do a cupping to make sure the flavour is the same. Quality control is very strict.

The whole process manages to take out the caffeine but retain all the original coffee flavour. No flavour is added by the water or anything. The only difference noticeable in the bean is its colour (it gets darker).

It was an interesting tour and I suggest you have a look at their website. If you have questions, post them as comments and I’ll relay them. We are lucky that the swiss water plant is in Vancouver, as it means that it is actually more convenient for people to choose this option over chemical treatments, the most of which are in Germany.

Thanks for the tour!