Among coffee fanatics, decaf seems almost like a curse word. The phrase "Death Before Decaf" is often used to convey this disdain. And for the most part, the hatred of decaf is justified. Not because of its lack of caffeine, but because it normally tastes like you put coffee grounds in a used sock, and then used that to steep your cup of coffee. It usually has a musty and putrid flavor that's quite off-putting. Only people who ABSOLUTELY cannot handle caffeine would dare drink this beverage.
But here is the thing — decaf drinkers are probably the most devoted, loyal coffee drinkers around. If you're not in it for the caffeine...well...you must really, REALLY like the stuff, right? You deserve to have a coffee that tastes as fantastic as the regular stuff everyone else gets to enjoy.
Well, I'm here to tell you decaf doesn't have to be so bad. You just have to be a bit more selective.
What makes decaf taste so bad?
There is no such thing as a decaf coffee plant, so caffeine has to be removed manually.
There are several processes for decaffeinating coffee. The process you traditionally see in supermarket coffee involves high temps, chemicals and pressure that end up completely ruining everything the coffee had going for it.
Another method that is more favorable is the Swiss Water Method. While this is a natural decaffeinating method without the introduction of chemicals, I find that the coffee often comes out flat and uninteresting.
So what are the caffeine sensitive among us to do?
Easy! Find a decaf coffee that is processed via the Sugar Cane E.A. (Ethyl Acetate) method. This method is also often referred to as "The Natural Decaffeination Method."
But wait, Ethyl Acetate doesn't sound very natural, does it? It sounds like something the guy in the picture below would use.
Here's how this magical process works:
First, molasses made from sugar cane is fermented to create ethanol. It is then combined with acetic acid (vinegar) to create ethyl acetate.
The beans receive a gentle steaming to open their pores (like a relaxing sit in a sauna), and are then soaked in this special sugar alcohol/vinegar solution to dissolve the caffeine. Lastly the beans are rinsed again with water to remove the ethyl acetate, and then dried back to their previous moisture level. Obviously this explanation is over-simplified, but you get the idea.
See, not so bad if you can get past the science terms. You can see where "The Natural Decaffeinated Method" has a better ring to it, can't ya?
What you're left with is a decaf coffee with most of the traits of the original bean still intact.
It also leaves the coffee with a very pleasant sweetness to the flavor and aroma that isn't found with chemical and Swiss Water processed decaf coffee.
Lastly, one thing you may notice with Sugar Cane EA coffee is the shininess of the beans. This is a byproduct of the decaffeination process. So while the beans might look oily and darker than you're used to in a medium roasted coffee, this will not be reflected in the cup.
The coffee industry continues to make strides in the process of decaffeinating coffee, and that makes us happy! Nobody likes sock coffee....but we DO like coffee without the unpleasant effects caffeine can have for some of our beloved customers.
So where can you buy these little decaf gems?
As you guessed — it's not as easy as just grabbing the first bag of coffee you find off the shelf at your local supermarket. That coffee is probably the product of a chemical process...and probably why so many people hate decaf coffee.
Find your favorite local specialty coffee roaster and see what they have to offer. You can ask them and they'd be happy to tell you — or you can look at the notes. There's a great chance they sell either Swiss Water or Sugar Cane E.A. decaf....so you're already ahead of the game.
And of course, you can bet we sell the good stuff. You can buy our decaf beans here. And there's always the half-caff option (half decaf/half regular) for those that can't decide where they land (plus it's fun to say).