We have been using Swiss Water to decaffeinate the last few decaf coffees we have offered. We’ve been happy with the quality they have produced; however, the issue we’ve faced is ensuring that we’re using fresh green to decaffeinate with. This is particularly challenging given the time of year, as our Central American coffees that make great, approachable decafs are from over a year ago. Our green freezing program has been a game-changer for quality preservation, ensuring that we continue to offer you vibrant coffees year-round, but we can’t freeze green if we’re going to decaffeinate it! We can only freeze it after it’s been decaffeinated.
This decaf comes from about 30 different small producers in the South Huila region of Colombia, near the cities of Pitalito and Guadalupe. The coffee was decaffeinated at a facility called DESCAFESOL, which is actually the first and only coffee decaffeination facility in Colombia. At DESCAFESOL, the coffee goes through a unique water and ethyl acetate (EA) process. The water is from the nearby mountains and the EA is naturally sourced from sugar cane.
The EA process is often misunderstood, and the concern over Ethyl Acetate is likely from the scary "chemical" sounding name it has. To demystify it, it helps to understand a bit of the basic chemistry. Ethyl Acetate is an "ester" and is derived from the reaction of Ethanol (pure alcohol) and Acetic Acid (pure vinegar). Both of these inputs are of course consumable by us! In our case, the Ethanol comes from the fermentation of sugar cane molasses (the sugar cane is grown in Colombia). During the decaf process the beans are heated with steam to open the pores, then an Ethyl Acetate wash is applied. According to DESCAFESOL, this is one case where water (the universal solvent) is not the best choice. Caffeine is very stubborn and difficult to remove and it's more soluble in Ethyl Acetate than water. Additionally, Ethyl Acetate boils off at only 77 degrees C, so it can be completely removed by washing the beans in hot water after the wash. The Ethyl Acetate is long gone before the coffee is ever roasted, but if any residue ever existed it would vanish in the roasting process, which heats the beans to over 200 degrees Celsius. It is also useful to note that Ethyl Acetate naturally occurs in wine. As you can imagine from the above chemistry, it's produced when the grapes are fermented. Ethyl Acetate at the right concentration is actually sought after in wine as it contributes to a wine's perceived "fruitiness".