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.

El Salvador Matalapa-Fana SWP Decaf
Flowering coffee shrub at Finca Matalapa
Arrival dateFebruary 2014 Arrival
Appearance.4d/300gr, 16 - 18 Screen - some broken beans from decaf process
GradeSHB EP and Gr 2
ProcessingWet Process, then SWP Decaf
RegionLa Libertad District, El Salvador; Wollega, Ethiopia
Varietal(s)Bourbon, Heirloom Varietals
Intensity/Prime attributeMedium intensity / Clean sweetness, gentle acidity, nuanced fruits
RoastThis coffee does great in the City+ to Full City range and beyond; dark roasts will make great espresso

"Matalapa-Fana" sounds a little more like a Sam the Sham record than a coffee, but really it's referring to the two distinct farms that were used to create this decaf blend. From totally different sides of the world, Finca Matalapa and Shebel Fana Cooperative represent two very different organizational structures. Matalapa is an old Estate farm in El Salvador that's been around long before the days of "micro lots". Totally self sufficient, they have a fairly large 120 hectare farm and process their coffee from beginning to end onsite. The Shebele Fana Coop in Western Ethiopia is made up of hundreds of tiny lots (we're talking 1 hectare or less) from local farmer/coop members all delivering heirloom varietal coffees to a central processing station. These two coffees together make quite a blend. Really, there's quite a bit less Ethiopian component, but just enough to add nuance to an already balanced, sweet El Salvadorian cup. This is another of our custom decaf coffees we have processed by the folks at Swiss Water in Canada. Water processing is an effective but gentle method of removing caffeine, leaving much of the original profile intact. We've had great success using coffees we already know are great as non-decaf, and are happy to offer a decaf option to our decaf drinking customers that doesn't stray far from the original coffees.

There's enough sweetness and cleanliness in the profile of this new decaf blend, that aromatically and in the cup it comes close to fooling you of its caffeine content. The dry fragrance has a toffee nut smell to it that's like nut-brittle candy. Light roasts have a fruited aspect as well with a scent of red berry along with a slight herbaceous note. The wet grounds are very sweet with a smell of dried peach and apricot, and an earthy, grain syrup note. The break releases a bit of an oatmeal cookie scent with dark roasts showing a sweet, sorghum syrup note. This is a fairly straight forward cup, with a well rounded profile of unrefined sugar sweetness, flecks of fruited notes, and slight malic acidity. Flavors of peach skin and orange pekoe come out in both light and dark roasts, and acidity tends to sparkle 'brightest' at around the City+ roast range. This coffee definitely builds in body with roast, and darker, Full City/Full City+ roasts will make a great option for decaf espresso.
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Guatemala Huehuetenango Xinabajul SWP Decaf
Coffee dog along a hill trail, San Pedro Necta, Guatemala
Arrival dateFebruary 2014 Arrival
Appearance.4 d/300gr, PB 15+ Screen
ProcessingWet Process, then SWP Decaf
RegionHuehuetenango, Guatemala
Varietal(s)Bourbon, Catuai, Caturra, Typica
Intensity/Prime attributeMedium Intensity / Toasted sugar sweetness, gentle acidity, chocolate notes
RoastThis is great in the City+ to Full City+; darker roasts exude chocolatey notes and will do especially well as SO espresso

Xinabajul is the name of the original Huehuetenango town, and this coffee comes from small-holder farmers in the greater department of Huehue. It's also the name of the project (Proyecto Xinabajul) we started in this area paying small farmers a premium for high quality coffee cherry. Farmers in the highlands have little option for selling their cherry and either cart their coffee to market themselves, or sell to "coyotes" who pay next to nothing. We used two regional blends for this decaf, and the majority is made up of peaberries. It's another of our custom decafs that we have processed by the folks at Swiss up in Canada. Both lots started off as really strong 'regular' coffees, and so we were confident they would make great great decaf - turns out we were right. There are huge advantages to sending off your own coffees for decaffeination - the biggest being selecting quality lots in order to make a quality decaf. We don't think decaf drinkers should be relegated to what seems to be the standard decaf cup profile - low sweetness, cardboard, and a thin body. And it's also satisfying to know where your coffee comes from, which is often hard to find with decaf offerings. So here you are, a decaf, that tastes surprisingly 'un-decaf', and one that comes with a story. Ta-da!

This Guatemala decaf is a sweet, well-rounded and balanced cup. Right from the get-go, the dry fragrance is laced with dark sugars and a brooding cocoa scent, which the latter building in deeper roast levels. We roasted our samples to City+ and Full City, and both had very sweet, similar fragrances - not buried by bread-like decaf notes or roast. Adding hot water brings on a buttery caramel smell, saturated and clean - at this point you really can't tell the difference between this and its non-decaf counterpart! Breaking the crust lets off a walnut brownie scent along with a bit of stewed fruits, especially in the lighter roasts. It's a sweet cup through and through, with a finish that's on the syrupy side. Notes of toasted sugar are prominent and structured subtle spice notes, brown rice syrup and sweet tobacco. Full City roasts really boast bold chocolate flavors and are complimented by layered chocolate roast attributes. This coffee does have some of the herbaceous qualities I associate with decaf coffee, but they're background noise, and as such blend in behind the up-front sweetness. This will make an outstanding single-origin espresso.

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Ethiopia Shebele-Shakiso SWP Decaf
Long, raised drying beds in Shakiso
Arrival dateFebruary 2014 Arrival
Appearance1.0 d/300 grams (some broken beans from decaf process), 14+ Screen
GradeGrade 1
ProcessingWet Process, then SWP Decaf, Dry Process, then SWP
RegionGuji Zone and Anfilo districto, Ethiopia
Varietal(s)Heirloom Varietals
Intensity/Prime attributeBold intensity / Floral, dried and fresh fruits, dark sugar sweetness, layered chocolate
RoastCity+ to Full City+ will capture this coffee's complexity. Don't be afraid to try this decaf on the lighter side of the roast spectrum!

This is one of our custom decaf coffees that we had processed by the folks at Swiss Water up in Canada. This one turned out exceptional, and is a blend of a dry-processed Guji Shakiso lot, as well as a washed lot from Shebele Fana Cooperative. Both coffees are offered as non-decaf as well (if you drink regular coffee, try blending them and see how it stacks up against this decaf!) and are cupping strong as ever. There is a great benefit to sending off coffees you already have, affording some insight into what what's to come. Often 'spot' decafs provide very little provenance, and we take pride in knowing where this coffee comes from, not to mention the stunning cupping quality. Dry-processed Ethiopians make great decaf coffee, and blending the two wound up being quite complimentary in the cup. In fact, it wound up being so good that the folks at Swiss took a sample with them on their most recent demo as an example of how transparent their hydration process actually is in comparison with other decaffeination procedures on the market.

The dry grounds smell frighteningly un-decaf (only 'frightening' if you really can't drink caffeine - but don't worry, it's really decaf!). Red berries, cane juice, toasted sugar, concord grape, layered cocoa - so much of the original fragrance has been retained. Adding hot water brings up a super sweet raspberry chocolate brownie scent, a sort of oatmeal cookie note, and hot chocolate. Dark roasts are very sweet as well and have a bit of raw cacao and carob, and a smell of stewed fruits comes up on the break. The cup has a thick, syrupy sweetness to it and is very fruited - what you'd expect from good naturally processed Ethiopian coffee. Light roasts show notes of baked fruits like strawberry and blueberry pie filling, with slight florals underneath. There's a bit of rustic sweetness that is definitely from the decaffeination, but really it comes off as a sort of sweet grain flavor, and melds quite nicely with the dry-processed profile. Our Full City roast has a rich chocolate flavor, with caramel fading to dusty cocoa powder and roasted chicory. This is a very flavorful decaf, and really one that I would say is difficult to ID on a table of regular dry-processed coffees. Full City roasts and beyond will make great espresso, and this cups amazing as light as City+.
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Mexico Organic Los Grapos CO2 Decaf
Patio drying in Chiapas
Arrival dateJanuary 2014 Arrival
Appearance.0 d/300gr, 16-17 Screen
ProcessingVarious Process
RegionChiapas, Mexico
Varietal(s)Caturra, Robusta
Intensity/Prime attributeMild intensity / Caramels, subtle fruits, malic
RoastCity+ to Full City+ is recommended.

This decaf coffee comes to us from the "Los Grapos" cooperative in Chiapas, Mexico. Member farms are plotted throughout the Sierra Madre mountains, in very close proximity to the Guatemalan border. This lot is part of a group within the coop that is solely comprised of female farmers (500 in all). They have their own separate plot of land which they manage completely from planting to processing. This is a CO2 decaf, often called "Sparkling Water" process. Coffee is mixed with water and the beans expand in size, their pores are opened and the caffeine molecules become mobile. At this point carbon dioxide is added at 100 atmospheres pressure to the pure water. Basically the water and the carbon dioxide are mixed to create the sparkling water. The carbon dioxide acts like a magnet and attracts all the caffeine molecules that became movable. When the caffeine is captured by the carbon dioxide, this is removed. The carbon dioxide is very selective and it doesn't touch the carbohydrates and proteins of the coffee beans, which would damage quality. When the carbon dioxide has finished removing the caffeine, the coffee seeds are dried naturally. Carbon dioxide is then recycled and caffeine is sold for other commercial uses. Interesting stuff!

The dry grounds have a bread-like smell, especially in light roasts, that is like rye or pumpernickel bread with a touch of cinnamon. It's not at all unpleasant, but does probably have to due somewhat with decaffeination process. But it's not chemical or plastic smelling, and notes are organic and sweet. Allusions of brown bread carry over in to the wet aroma, and with a sweetness of unrefined sugar. Like the aromatics, this Mexico decaf cups subtle and sweet. It has a delicate caramel flavor in light roasts that's accompanied by a nice flavor of apple juice. The acidity is moderate and malic, and there's a rye note in the background that comes into focus in the finish. A nice basic cup of decaf, that does best in the City+ Full City roast range.

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Colombia Cauca Popayan Decaf
Road to Popayan
Arrival dateDecember 2013 Arrival
Appearance.2 d/300gr, 16-18 Screen
ProcessingWet Process, then WP Decaf
RegionPopayan, Cauca Department
Intensity/Prime attributeMedium Intensity / Balance, dark sugars, clean finish
RoastCity+ to Full City if you want to tone down the brightness a bit. Full City+ works great too for those keen on darker roasts.

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 nice cup quality when we evaluated the arrival sample. 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 decent brightness in the lighter roasts, which nicely balances the cup. The aromatics have a marked sweetness, with hints of cinnamon and red raisin. The sweetness really comes up in the wet aroma, with a nice scent of baked peach and brown sugar. There's a coffee cake crust smell too, with cinnamon and brown sugar. This cup is quite lively and bright at City+ roast level. It's a sweet cup too, with dark sugar syrup and a nice toasted caramel flavor. It has a balanced sweetness and acidity, with a slight tea note and a touch of grapefruit essence that I find refreshing. 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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Costa Rica Palmeras Decaf
Coffee bags double as great dog beds - West Valley, Costa Rica
Arrival dateDecember 2013 Arrival
Appearance.0 d/300gr, 17-18 Screen
ProcessingWet Process, then WP Decaf
RegionPalmeras, Alajuela, West Valley
Varietal(s)Catuai, Caturra
Intensity/Prime attributeMedium intensity / Dark sugars, malty, gentle acidity
RoastCity+ to Full City+. It can be difficult to judge surface color - pay close attention to audible 'snaps' for this one.

This decaf coffee originated from the Alajuela region in Costa Rica's West Valley. Though it's not a coffee we sourced ourselves, we do know that it's from a single coffee cooperative whose membership has grown to roughly 1350 members. We've worked extensively in this part of Costa Rica in the past (particularly in Naranjo), and so the quality of this decaf is no surprise. This particular coop has helped subsidize much of the grower's agronomical costs as well as provide medical services to coop member families. Contributing farmers are in the 1300 meters range, and growing mainly Caturra and Catuai. Programs are in place to cut down on water consumption, transfer to organic fertilizers, and protect the surrounding forest.

The dry fragrance has a pronounced sweetness of dark brown sugar, and with a note of powdered ginger. This expression really comes through in the wet aroma and is like cinnamon sauce, brown sugar and raisin. A malty smell comes up off the break and is slightly 'decaffy', but sweet none the less. The cup has a surprisingly clean set of flavors, and not overly complex. When hot, spices like nutmeg and all-spice highlight the cup profile, shifting toward caramel and cocoa as the temperature cools a bit. The sweet aspect takes on a malt and molasses flavor in the finish. There's a gentle acidity that is tea-like, and balances the overall cup profile. This coffee cups markedly better with at least 24 hours rest, but even better at 48 hours if you can plan ahead. That said, the initial cupping we did was half a day out of the roaster and the coffee still yielded nice results.

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Sweet Maria's Decaf Espresso "Donkey" Blend
Infamous decaf donkey logo.
Arrival dateAll current coffee stock
Appearance1 d/300gr, 16/17 scr
GradeTop Grade
ProcessingVarious Process
Intensity/Prime attributeMedium / Balance, fruit
RoastAs with all decafs, remember they roast faster and have the propensity to get away from you and end up darker than you expected. So attend to the roaster and stop the roast manually if possible to get it just right. Roast preference with espresso is up to you. I personally prefer the lighter N. Italian roast -just a bit mire than a Full City.

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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