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What is the Swiss Water Process?

This Swiss Water Process is one of the most acclaimed methods of decaffeination in use today. Contrary to its name, it is produced in Canada, not Switzerland. It does, however, involve plenty of water.

The process was first developed in the 1930s. It was invented in Switzerland, giving the process its name. For decades, this process remained the only chemical-free way to decaffeinate coffee beans. There was just one catch: from its invention in 1933 until the 1970s, it remained commercially unviable. 

In 1980, the Swiss company Coffex S.A. developed the first commercial take on the Swiss Water Process. Still, this process produced coffee beans that were difficult to roast. Moreover, the actual amount of caffeine removed from the beans varied from batch-to-batch. On top of this, the process remained inefficient to conduct. 

It wasn’t until 2007 – a full 74 years after the method was first developed – that the Swiss Water Process we know today was born. Today, the company is a major operation in the coffee world. In 2022, for example, the company’s gross sales exceeded $176 million.

So how does the Swiss Water Process work? It remains a long and exacting process, usually taking 10 hours to complete. There are two key additions that the Swiss process relies on: specialized carbon filters and Green Coffee Extract (GCE.) 

GCE is made by soaking green coffee in hot water until all of the water-soluble solids in the beans have been extracted into the water. The coffee is then removed, and the caffeine is filtered out through proprietary carbon filters. The filters are designed to remove caffeine, while leaving all of the other water-soluble solids behind.

The now caffeine-free GCE is then introduced to a batch of green coffee. The GCE naturally draws caffeine out of the coffee beans. It then passes again through the carbon filters, which again remove caffeine from the GCE. This process is repeated and carefully monitored until almost all of the caffeine has been removed from the coffee.

The Swiss Water Process is also capable of removing up to 99.9% of caffeine from coffee beans. This makes it a remarkably effective decaffeination method. It is also a sustainable practice. 85% of the water used in the process is returned to community drinking sources.

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