decaf coffee beans

Decaf Showdown: Sugarcane vs Swiss Water Coffee

The world consumes millions of cups of coffee per day, making it one of the most popular beverages on earth. but drinking this lovely caffeinated beverage can also be problematic. Sure, coffee gives us a buzz and makes us feel like better humans, and it can improve exercise endurance, helps bump up our antioxidant stores, boosts metabolism, and improves cognitive function. The list goes on.

But there’s one big downside and I’ll be captain obvious here by saying that one of coffee’s major drawbacks is the thing that drew humans to it in the first place, the fact that it’s high in caffeine.

Coffee: A Problematic Pleasure

If you’re like me, you can’t tolerate more than a couple of cups per day of regular coffee.

Generally speaking, decaffeinated coffee is coffee whose caffeine content has been significantly reduced. We could say that most of their caffeine content removed. The important word here is most. None of the current processes remove all of the coffee. But the remaining caffeine is so minimal that we can consider the decaffeination process to be complete.

This process involves soaking the coffee beans in water or solvents to draw out the caffeine.  Decaffeination typically reduces the caffeine content by at least 97%.

Now lets talk about the two safest and most environmentally-friendly methods of decaffeinating coffee? One method is called the sugarcane decaf process, and the other is the Swiss Water process.

The Sugarcane Process removes 97% of caffeine, while the SWP removes 99.9%.

In this article, we’ll explore the differences between sugarcane decaf vs Swiss Water and help you determine which one is the best choice for your taste and health preferences.

My preference is for sugarcane decaf. It just tastes better.

barista using v60 with decaf coffee beans

What is Sugarcane Decaf?

Sugarcane decaf is a method of decaffeinating coffee that uses ethyl acetate, which is derived from sugarcane. Ethyl acetate is a natural solvent that is also found in fruits, vegetables, and wine. The sugarcane decaf process is considered to be more eco-friendly than other methods because it uses a natural solvent and produces less waste.

In the sugarcane process for decafeination, a natural compound derived from cane sugar called ethyl acetate bonds with the chlorogenic acids in caffeine, separating it from the bean.

  • steaming the green, unroasted coffee beans for 30 minutes to increase their absorbency
  • soaking the beans in sugarcane extract solution, which acts as a solvent and sucks out caffeine, until they absorb as much of the liquid as required.
  • replacing the liquid in the tank with fresh solution.
  • steaming the beans again to remove remaining traces of EA

Once dried, the beans are polished, packaged, and distributed. The process preserves the flavor of the coffee, making it a favorite among coffee drinkers. The Colombian Sugarcane Byproduct Method involves fermenting sugarcane molasses to produce EA, which is then used to decaffeinate coffee beans. The process is similar to the Sugarcane Process, involving steaming the beans, moistening them, and bathing them in the natural EA bath to dissolve out the caffeine. Caffeine is left behind after the EA is filtered out and distilled.

This method prevents excessive heat or pressure from damaging the cells within green coffee beans.

The sugar cane process is considered to be one of the most gentle, and it doesn’t affect the flavor of the coffee. The advantage of sugarcane decaf is that it’s relatively quick, and it’s also relatively inexpensive. This method is often praised for its ability to preserve the coffee’s flavor. Since the beans never come in contact with harsh chemicals, the coffee retains its natural taste.

This results in a decaf coffee that still has a complex flavor profile and aroma. Sugarcane decafs are also more eco-friendly than many other, more conventional methods of decaffination.

The downside of sugarcane decaf is that it can be inconsistent in terms of the amount of caffeine that’s removed. So, if you’re looking for a consistent low-caffeine coffee, sugarcane decaf may not be the best choice.

colombia quindio decaf sugarcane
Quindio Sugarcane Decaf coffee

What is Swiss Water Decaf?

Swiss Water decaf is a method of decaffeinating coffee that uses only water and a special carbon filter. The Swiss Water process removes caffeine using a proprietary carbon filter that traps caffeine molecules but leaves other coffee compounds intact. This process is also considered to be eco-friendly because it doesn’t use chemical solvents.

The beans are soaked in hot, pure water to dissolve the caffeine and other desirable flavor components. The solution is then passed through a carbon filter to remove the caffeine, while the flavor molecules remain in the solution and are reabsorbed by the beans. The Swiss Water process is praised for its sustainability and ability to retain the coffee’s natural taste.

Taste Comparison: Sugarcane Decaf vs Swiss Water

Which method produces the best-tasting decaf coffee? The answer is subjective, as taste is a matter of personal preference. However, many coffee lovers prefer sugarcane decaf for its clean and bright taste.

The answer really comes down to personal preference. If you’re looking for an eco-friendly decaf that retains the flavor of the beans, then sugarcane decaf is the way to go. However, if you prefer a decaf with a slightly more mellow flavor, then Swiss Water is the way to go.

Some people find that sugarcane decaf has a slightly sweeter taste and a lighter body than Swiss Water decaf. Swiss Water decaf, on the other hand, is known for its smooth and clean taste, with no lingering aftertaste.

Sugarcane decaf is said to have a fruity and floral taste that is similar to regular coffee. It’s known for preserving the flavor of the coffee bean, and many coffee drinkers prefer it over other decaf options because it retains the original characteristics of the coffee. The use of ethyl acetate (EA) derived from sugarcane in the decaffeination process has been reported to leave a sweet aftertaste in the coffee, which some people find appealing. Additionally, because the EA selectively removes caffeine, other flavor compounds are not lost in the process.

The Swiss Water process requires more water to be used (than the sugarcane process and is therefore more resource-intensive

On the other hand, Swiss water decaf is known for its smooth and mellow taste. Swiss water decaf is said to have a rich and chocolatey taste that is less acidic than regular coffee. it has a reputation for being a bit smoother and less acidic than other decaf coffees. The Swiss Water Process uses only water to remove caffeine from the coffee beans, which means there are no residual chemicals or solvents left in the coffee. The process relies on osmosis and solubility to remove the caffeine, and because it is a gentle method, it preserves some of the more delicate flavor compounds in the coffee. Swiss Water Decaf has a slightly muted flavor profile compared to regular coffee, but it is still smooth and enjoyable to drink.

Health Benefits

Both sugarcane decaf and Swiss Water decaffeainated coffee have health benefits because they contain antioxidants and other beneficial compounds found in regular coffee. However, sugarcane decaf may have a slight edge because it uses a natural solvent, which means there are no chemical residues left in the coffee.

Swiss Water decaf, while still considered to be eco-friendly, uses a proprietary carbon filter that may leave trace amounts of carbon in the coffee.

In terms of health benefits, Swiss water decaf is also a good option for people who are sensitive to caffeine. According to a study published in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology, Swiss water decaf coffee contains only trace amounts of caffeine, making it a suitable choice for individuals who are trying to reduce their caffeine intake. This means that you can still enjoy the taste and health benefits of coffee without experiencing caffeine-related side effects like jitters, anxiety, or insomnia.

The roaster & barista test

Specialty coffee roasters prefer one method over the other based on taste or sustainability considerations, while others may choose based on cost or availability.

Many roasters may prefer Swiss Water decaf because it is a chemical-free method that retains more of the coffee’s original flavor. For example, Counter Culture Coffee, a specialty roaster based in Durham, North Carolina, USA, prefers Swiss Water decaf in their decaf offerings. They state on their website that the method “results in coffee that is 99.9 percent caffeine-free, certified organic, and accentuate the body of the coffee.”

According to Bell Lane coffee roasters in Ireland, “The ‘Sugarcane Process’ is an increasingly popular choice among roasters and consumers alike since it preserves the unique flavors and structure of the green bean. Not only is the Sugarcane Process economical, it also helps to maintain employment in the coffee farming industry in Colombia. This is due to the fact that the country has chosen to keep traditional farming methods for cutting down sugar cane, instead of mechanical methods. The result is that roasters are able to offer a delicious and balanced cup of coffee, like the E.A. Decaf – Bernardo Echeverry, Colombia, with a sweetness of pecan pie, chocolate, and walnuts”

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