Green Coffee Offerings : Decafs
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A good portion of our decaf offerings are now coffees we source and send to the Swiss Water Decaf plant in Vancouver. This gives us much greater control of cup quality. Decafs bought from importers and brokers tend to be low quality coffees to start with, and you know what they say GIGO: Garbage in, Garbage Out. We think with our selections, and especially our custom decafs that are from Farm Gate lots, we're hitting new quality levels.
Follow this link for more information on decaffeination processes. For more information on the Natural Decaf (Ethyl Acetate) process, here is an article. For more information on CO-2 Process, check this out.
Good news or scary as heck? Geneticists are working on a plant that will grow coffee with no caffeine content, thus needing no processing to remove the caffeine as all decaf is currently. Is this good? It means no factory process to remove caffeine. It also could mean contamination between natural unmodified trees and modified ones. Coffee is very complex in terms of it's chemical makeup: it has over 800 compounds contributing to the flavor, more than any other beverage. Can you turn off one genetic attribute and not affect others? We shall see the results from the current research work (being conducted in Hawaii).
The Decaf Processes
Green coffee is decaffeinated before roasting. This process changes the color of the green coffee: it varies from light brown (Natural and CO-2) to green-brown (MC and Swiss Water Process -SWP- decafs). There is another decaf we list as WP, Water Process, which is a water filtration method similar to Swiss Water, but performed at a plant in Mexico.
The arrival of decafs always follows the main crop of a coffee by some months, since the coffee needs to be shipped to the decaffeination plant. Oddly, there are only a few such plants in the world, so decaf coffee has to travel a long way usually from origin, to plant and then to the buyer's country. This adds to the cost too, so decafs are often a bit pricier.
Decaf coffees might roast faster than non-decaf coffees. Part of the differences in how a decaf roasts is due to the physical changes the coffee has experienced in the decaffeination process. But in an air roaster it is also affected by the smooth surface of the bean, which allows more air to flow around the coffee without transferring the roaster heat to the bean. This smooth appearance is due to the fact that decaffeination removes much of the thin chaff silverskin from the outside of the coffee. As a plus, decaf produces little chaff that will collect in your air roaster chaff collector.
Because of the darker color of decaf coffees, it is difficult to roast decaf by judging the color. It's best to pay attention to the sound of the cracks and the roast aromas. It takes a few roasts to understand these sights and smells, but its a fun process and even if the coffee comes out a bit too light or too dark, it will still be freshly home roasted! And that beats most store-bought coffee any day!
Decafs can have a lower 1st and 2nd crack temperature, and can progress faster between the cracks. You can also see oils emerge a few days after roasting a decaf despite the fact that you did not reach 2nd crack (the usual reason you would see oils emerge). This is because the bean structure of a decaf is more fragile after the process, and the cell walls in the coffee tend to rupture at a lower temperature, allowing oils to migrate to the surface. As with all coffees, oils stale when exposed to oxygen, so it is preferred that your coffee is not oily on the surface ... but for darker roasts and decafs it is unavoidable.
Our Unroasted Decaf Coffee Offerings:(You will need to read the reference page to interpret terms and numbers used below. Check out the Sweet Maria's Coffee Home Roasting Forum for more conversation about home roasting decafs and other coffees.
People have requested that we offer a pre-blended espresso, a decaf counterpart to the Espresso Monkey blend. Working under the codename of the "Donkey Blend" (don't ask how all these ridiculous names started ---I think it was George's fault) we came up with this. It is intended to be used several ways. As an all-decaf espresso blend I wanted it to work well under a wide variety of roasting conditions, in terms of both lighter Northern Italian type espresso roasts (the equivalent of a Full City to Vienna Roast) and the darker Southern Italian type roast (roasted to a French roast). I also wanted a good espresso from both air and drum roasters, and I wanted good crema. This is a lot to ask from a decaf, but I think this blend works very well. While origin tastes are muted in decafs, I think the bittersweet roast tastes from this blend are very good. My second focus was having the blend not have too much character so that it can be used as a base blend for a "low-caf" espresso. This means it should work well as 50-75% of your blend where you add other caffeinated coffees to give more aromatics and flavor: my choice would be a Ethiopian Harar, or a Central American (see our Blending Basics article for more). Why do we call this Donkey Blend? Frankly, I can't remember .. it just is...
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This Ethiopia decaf blend is made up of coffees grown at 2000+ meters and milled at neighboring coops in the Limmu-Jimma region of West Ethiopia. More specifically, this is a blend of coffees from the Wakito Medallu and Alaga Sekala cooperatives - both really great coffees that we selected from last years crop to be decaffeinated based on their exceptional cup quality. Our name is simply the combined form of the 2 locations. These cooperatives are part of an initiative we have in Ethiopia to work direct at the coop level. The program is administered by a non-government organization that not only coordinates agronomists and managers for each of the coops they work with, but also has a business adviser assigned that helps the cooperative manage their debt, re-invest in quality improvements at the mill, and verifies distribution of income to all members. This work has really paid off and has resulted in this rather superior Ethiopia decaf blend. SWP means Swiss Water Process decaf, a direct contact method that uses water filtration to separate the caffeine from the coffee without using chemical solvents.
From the aroma to cup, this coffee doesn't "scream" decaf. There's a sweetness in the dry aroma, with light roasts showing almond brittle, and darker roasts even bringing out notes of plum, cola, and aromatic wood. There's spice cake in the wet grounds, with well developed sugars such as molasses or muscovado. Darker roasts have a pectin sweetness with more dried plum, and praline in the break. There is a stone fruit sweetness in the cup that is really brought out in lighter roasts. Our Full City+ roast offer smokey chocolate and almond milk. This decaf Jimma has a really nice, silky mouthfeel, and ends well with toasted cocoa powder and almond in the finish. This makes a great single origin (SO) decaf espresso, with lots of dark chocolate, and a syrupy sweetness. It can't completely hide from the fact that it's a decaf, but does a great job of trying, sticking close to the profile of the non-decaf lots from where it originated.
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This coffee is part of our custom decaf program where we create blends from high-quality coffees and send them to the Swiss Water Decaf plant ourselves. While you cannot know for sure how a decaf will turn out, picking our own lots allows us to at least know a coffees cup quality prior to being subjected to the decaffeinating process. This particular lot is made up of three African coffees that we received earlier this year: Burundi Maruri Hills, Ethiopia Sidama Deri Kochoha and Rwanda Karengera. Our hunch that these lots were ideal was correct, and the result is a sweet, syrupy, moderately bright decaf blend that is dual-purpose for both drip and espresso. A few years back there were importers and brokers who sent good coffees for decaf, when the market was low. But the added cost of the decaf toll charge on top of record prices has made the big guys shy to do this. Most decafs sold in the trade are nothing we would consider buying as a non-decaf for our offer sheet. Do decaf drinkers deserve worse quality than the rest? That's why we have started sending our own coffees whenever possible, ones we have proudly offered on our site. The name Wazungu is the name for "a group of foreigners" in Swahili, but literally translates as "aimless wanderers". We liked it.
This coffee does not have the typical "decafy" aromatics. The dry fragrance from the ground coffee has candied walnut and prima raisins, with honey graham cracker at the lightest roast level. The wet aromatics do have aromatic suggestions of decaf at light levels, but it lessens exponentially as the roast level heads toward Full City level. This coffee has a strong sweetness, dark brown cane sugar (but Dan swears it is Brown Rice Syrup, which I have never tasted). The body is syrupy, I would say, and it pairs well with the tropical fruited notes in the cup, papaya, concord grape, and a finish that reminds us of Oolong tea. The coffee works well for espresso as well, roasted to Full City level and rested at least 3 days post roast.
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This is from a lot of from the highlands of Popayan in the Colombian Department of Cauca. It has no special pedigree, but ended up being a really, really nice cup quality when we evaluated the arrival sample. This was sent for Water Process decaffeination in Mexico and is one of the brighter, more floral arrivals we have had from this source. In recent years we have been buying some remarkable coffees from Cauca, so while we did not source this lot direct, it makes sense that the cup would be so nice as a decaf. What we have here is a verified solid coffee in non-decaf form, that retained good sweetness and balance through the decaf process. (While there is often the strong possibility of a coffee going "flat" at the decaf plant, losing all its origin character, it always helps to start with a great coffee). Traditionally, brokers bought decaf from the plant, coffee supplied from lower grade "stocklots" by the decaffeinator themselves. The results were never very impressive. Now we are able to designate high quality lots, and get these kinds of results.
This coffee has great brightness in the lighter roasts, as much as any decaf Colombia lots I can recall. The aromatics have a marked sweetness, with hints of baking spices, monnuka raisin, and almond. The sweetness really comes up in the wet aroma, with toasted caramel, brown sugar, and cinnamon. This cup is quite lively and bright at City+ roast levels, reminding me of the really nice Ethiopia decafs. In fact, some might want to take this to FC roast to tone down the cup. It has a balanced sweetness and acidity, with golden raisin and hibiscus tea. The aftertaste has a well defined, cleanly-disappearing sweetness. The body is fairly light at City+, which is not at all a negative because it suits the brisk nature of this cup.
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Decaf Brazil is a mild cup, and one of its best uses is for decaf blends (espresso, or to add body to darker roast drip-brewed decaf mix). But it can offer an interesting straight roast if you target the right roast level. It adds body and is a good "backdrop" in terms of roast taste. A backdrop coffee fills out the background of the cup and does not interfere with your "highlight" coffees, the ones that are going to be the exclamation point of your cup character. If you like a very soft espresso cup, you will enjoy this Brazil as a straight decaf espresso. WP means Water Process decaf, a direct contact method that uses water filtration to separate the caffeine from the coffee without using chemical solvents.
This Brazil decaf cups nicely, showcasing typical Brazil notes of nut skin with well balanced acidity and dried fruit sweetness. Roasting this coffee to FC brings out bittersweet cocoa and roasted peanuts in the dry aroma. More dark chocolate and sweeter nuts are released at infusion, culminating in raw almond, toasted grain, and cocoa nibs on the break. This is a surprisingly sweet cup, with a profile consisting of demerara sugar, toasted sesame and nut, and a note of dried stone fruit. There is a slight dryness up front, but not an unpleasant one. More like that of black tea. This is a really nice cup on its own and would also make a great backdrop to an espresso blend.
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El Profundo is a name we came up with while cupping this coffee; we think it competes side-by-side with the non-decaf version of the blend, and were really impressed with the cup! The sweetness in the coffee is profound. We chose two different Ethiopian coffees as blend components for El Profundo to lend the sweetness and aromatic components that these coffees offer. From Shakiso region we included the Suke Quto coffee, and from the Western Ethiopia region of Agaro, we included Duromina Cooperative coffee. To this we added one of our direct trade Colombia coffees from the Narino district of Taminango. All these lots are wet-processed coffees, with a clean, sweet flavor profile. This coffee is part of our custom decaf program where we create blends from high-quality coffees and send them to the Swiss Water Decaf plant ourselves. While you cannot know for sure how a decaf will turn out, picking our own lots allows us to at least know a coffees cup quality prior to being subjected to the decaffeinating process. A few years back there were importers and brokers who sent good coffees for decaf, when the market was low. But the added cost of the decaf toll charge on top of record prices has made the big guys shy to do this. Most decafs sold in the trade are nothing we would consider buying as a non-decaf for our offer sheet. Do decaf drinkers deserve worse quality than the rest? That's why we have started sending our own coffees whenever possible, ones we have proudly offered on our site.
El Profundo has remarkable sweetness in the aromatics, with a dry fragrance of peach pie, cocoa and molasses syrup. The wet aroma has dark Karo syrup sweetness, pecan, a hint of sweet-savory mesquite, and more of the same light molasses flavor as the dry grounds. What's more important is coffee does not have the typical "decafy" notes. This coffee works well across the roast spectrum. The lighter roasts of El Profundo are very sweet, with cocoa, apricot, and a clean syrupy sweetness. Dark roasts have more intense chocolate character, with spiced rum, and a creamy mouthfeel. There is a lingering aftertaste of toasted marshmallow in the medium roast. The sweetness is very apparent at all roast levels, and the moderate brightness makes it a great option for espresso as well. It's a very nice cup, that just happens to be decaffeinated.
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This is a custom decaf we sent to the Swiss Water plant from one cooperative in Western Ethiopia. Baaroo is the local Oromifa name for this cooperative in the far western part of Illubabor. Baaroo is part of an initiative we have in Ethiopia to work direct at the coop level. The program is administered by a non-government organization that not only coordinates agronomists and managers for each of the coops they work with, but also has a business adviser assigned that helps the cooperative manage their debt, re-invest in quality improvements at the mill, and verifies distribution of income to all members. Baaroo is quite small and remote compared to the other excellent cooperatives we buy from in Illubabor region. We have been impressed with the cup quality, and how clean and fresh the coffee tastes although it tends to be harvested later than other nearby stations. It is from a lower relative altitude than others (1700m) but perhaps because of the heavily forested environment in this part of Illubabor, the effect slows the maturation of coffee, and increases the density of the bean. The decaf version of Baaroo presents the same character as the non-decaf coffee we offer, sweet, slightly floral, very aromatic.
This decaf Baaroo has fruit and spice notes in the dry fragrance, allspice and other baking spices, with apple-peach pie. The wet aromatics are intense, with fruited chocolate notes dominating complex sugars; bakers chocolate, muscavado, dark plum and raisin. The cup is bright, sweet, and full of character from the great green coffee we sent to SWP. There are lightly caramelized sugars, sweet orange, and floral hints in the lighter City-City+ roast level. (Yes, floral, in a decaf!) Darker roasts have a caramel-filled chocolate roast taste, with cinnamon bark spices, red fruits, and raisin. The finish has some hibiscus-rose hip tea notes, with a slight blackberry leaf tea aspect. It is really a remarkable decaf, not only because it doesn't cup like a decaf at all, but is is simple a clean, sweet and aromatic coffee in its own right.
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This coffee is part of our custom decaf program where we hand select coffees from our own stock to be decaffeinated using Swiss Water processing. It's tough to know exactly how a decaf will turn out, but by picking coffees that already have a great profile as a regular coffee, you have a better chance at achieving a similarly delicious profile as the end result. Plus, we send samples off beforehand in order to get an idea of how the coffee will cup after the decaf process. This particular lot is a Java that we received toward the end of last year. It's a wet-processed coffee that we regularly sell as "Pitaloka" and the decaf version remains fairly true to it's caffeinated counterpart. A few years back there were importers and brokers who sent good coffees for decaf, when the market was low. But the added cost of the decaf toll charge on top of record prices has made the big guys shy to do this. Most decafs sold in the trade are nothing we would consider buying as a non-decaf for our offer sheet. But our Swiss Water Process decafs we can be proud of.
This Java decaf has a defined sweetness that can be difficult to find in Indo coffees in general, not to mention in many decaf coffees period. The dry fragrance is fairly true to Indonesia coffee with a soft earthiness to it, that is sweetened by hints of molasses and malted sugar. There's a sweet pipe tobacco smell to the wet grounds which is also a common characteristic in coffees from Java. Decaffeination often lends a sort of breadiness in the profile, which is definitely present in smell and in the cup, but there are "clean" accents that accompany this separating it from your typical decaf. The cup is nice and sweet with a build up of developed sugars. There's a note peet that is a gentle reminder of this coffee's origin and lends to the coffee's intensity. The body is deep and the finish is toasted caramel along with bittering notes of cacao and baker's chocolate. This is a great dual purpose coffee and does well in the City+-Full City+ range of roast.
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Narino is the southernmost province in Colombia, bordering Ecuador. This is a very unique part of Colombia in that coffee can be grown at extremely high altitudes due to the climate that is a result of being in close proximity to the Equator. This lot is from several small holder farms in the Taminango area, all ranging in altitude between 1700 and 2000 meters. The communities are San Gerardo and San Lorenzo so we combined these for the name of this decaf lot. These small farms are planted mostly in Caturra, and are situated in the highlands surrounding the main town of Taminango. We selected this lot as part of our custom decaf program, dedicating the same great quality of coffees we use for our non-decaf offerings. The results are really stunning.
The dry fragrance has a unique cinnamon toast character at lighter roast levels with more intense cocoa powder coming on at Full City level. It doesn't have that "decafy" scent. Adding hot water, the coffee maintains these aspects, adding chocolate frosting sweetness to the more developed roast level. The cup is surprisingly delicate for a decaf coffee, with a transparent clean character rarely found in coffees that have undergone the process. The brightness lends lemon-orange zest to the cup, adding a palate-cleansing counterpoint to the light caramel sweetness. It's not a super complex cup, but decafs rarely are. What separates this coffee is how little it resembles a decaf, and how well defined the characteristics are. The finish has honey-on-toast taste, turning toward dark caramel at City+ roast. We didn't really explore darker levels on this coffee, it shines so brilliantly at City to City+ roast. It impresses with its delicate nature.
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Reviews for out of stock decaf coffees can be found at our Decaf Coffee Archives.
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