Decaf Doesn't Have to Suck
Author | groundwork coffee Date | October 09, 2020
Really. It doesn’t.
But in many cases, it does. And because it does, decaf and its drinkers have been looked down upon, maligned, and generally ignored by specialty coffee. The poor taste of many decaf coffees is not necessarily a result of the decaf process. Interestingly, the decaf process seems to soften the bad notes of faulty coffee. Some in the industry call it “sending the beans to the spa,” because the coffee comes out of the decaf process tasting better than when it went in. Something in the process diminishes the bad flavor that relegated them to something less than Specialty Grade to begin with.
The decaf process can add a lot of cost to the green coffee. As such, because the processing can reduce the impact of flavor faults, many processors use cheaper or lower grade coffees to decaffeinate. While the decaf process reduces bad flavors, it doesn’t eliminate them entirely. It’s no surprise, then, that decaf coffee (and, by extension, its drinkers) have developed a bad rap.
Grade 5 Sumatra: the sort of coffee you wouldn’t want your worst enemy to drink.
“Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game”
The hard truth is that we’re addicts. We’re addicted to caffeine, and coffee is a very tasty vehicle for our drug of choice. So are sodas, energy drinks, and chocolate. But some bodies can't tolerate caffeine or wish to enjoy the taste of coffee without the stimulant effect.
Some cafés refuse to even sell decaf coffee. “Decaf isn’t real coffee” is a common thing to hear. We think this is unfair. If anything, decaf drinkers should be regarded as die-hard coffee purists. That’s right, purist. Why? The decaf drinker isn’t drinking coffee for the caffeine buzz (consciously or unconsciously) but, instead, solely because they enjoy the flavor of coffee. Can’t get any purer than that.
AMUCC Grower, Bertha Rosas Figueroa, hand sorting her parchment coffee before bagging and sending to the Caficauca.
The real question is why aren’t better coffees sent to be decaffeinated? In short, there aren’t many places that decaffeinate coffee and, if you’re certified organic like we are, there are even fewer choices. Essentially, our choices are DESCAMEX in Mexico and Swiss Water in Vancouver, Canada — both good companies that achieve the same ends through slightly different methods.
We Do Decaf Different
Things have changed over the years and so has Groundwork. Namely, the minimums for processing decaf have gone down, and we sell a lot more decaf. What hasn’t changed is our dedication to quality. We take the same approach to sourcing coffee to decaffeinate as we do with all of our coffees. In fact, finding a great coffee also makes it a great candidate for buying more and decaffeinating it!