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. Here's some decaf roasting basics.
This decaf version of Kivubo coffee is a real highlight of our most recent batch of decaf coffees that just arrived from the Swiss Water plant in Vancouver, Canada. Sweetness, acidity, cup clarity, and subtle top notes, Kivubo SWP Decaf holds it's own, and on a table of decafs, tastes much more like a "regular" brew. Kivubo Station is located in the Mutambu area of Bujumbura Province. The station acts as a collection site where farmers from the surrounding hillside can sell their whole coffee cherry after it is picked, and where that coffee will then be blended, wet processed, and dried on raised drying beds. Kivubo is one of several stations under an umbrella association that currently serves around 3,000 farmers, small-holder farms who on average are growing 200 coffee shrubs cultivated land adjacent to their homes. Like most of the region, Bourbon is the dominant varietal grown.
With the dry fragrance and wet aromatics showing smells of sweet raw sugar, dark caramel, bittersweet cocoa, and berry and stone fruit hints, this cup of decaf smells so much like the non-decaf Kivubo that's been such a hit around our warehouse (and with customers). I know we really hammer this point home, but it's a point worth hammering! "Decaf" does not have to equate to a cardboard-flavored brew, and with Swiss Water processing, the flavors and aromatic profile of the original coffee are still very much a part of the decaf'd coffee. Brewed, this is one sweet decaf, City+ roasts yielding layers of caramelized sugars, and a note of toffee malt. A ribbon of dark chocolate weaves through this, and I'm reminded of Rolo candies. As the cup cools, you're presented with a clean and clear flavor picture (especially for a decaf), acidity that's on the snappy side, and top notes that include accents of lemon rind and cinnamon stick, as well as a faint pumpernickel bread note that is probably a result of decaffeination, but does not detract from the cup. This is a versatile decaf, delicious at a fairly wide range of roasts, and with focused sweetness that shows well from City roast level on up to about Full City. I wouldn't go beyond Full City, as bittering/ashy flavors will take over. But anywhere north of Full City, and you're rewarded with a densely sweet cup!
A custom Swiss Water decaf from one of our fresh Colombia arrivals. We built this small producer blend from the coffees of small farmers in the La Union area, northwestern Nariño Department. They belong to a local farmer's association in the Vereda Buenos Aires, most of them situated in the hills not far outside of town, and a couple of the farms also in the neighboring Vereda La Jacoba as well. Their farms are planted in Caturra and Variedad Colombia (F4 and F6 types), and most farmers manage a few hectares of coffee (generally speaking, there's 3 - 5k coffee trees planted per hectare). This coffee was also sold as a non-decaf coffee when it arrived in late July, and like the non-decaf sibling, the decaf version tastes great at a wide range of roasts, and makes for a balanced brewed coffee, as well as a bittersweet espresso.
City+ roasts produce a nice balance of sweetness and cocoa roast bittering qualities, that come off in the dry grounds like caramel and chocolate mousse, an intense bittersweetness. Adding hot water only intensifies the effect, and I find wafts of high % dark chocolate, and sugar browning smells in the steam. There's an unexpected pear note too that is released when breaking through the crust. That latter aspect is a precursor fruited side found in the brewed coffee too, and the layers of cup flavors are pealed back in an order similar to the aromatic impressions. Dark chocolate notes play a heavy role in the hot cup, a bittersweet mix of sugary sweetness and roast tone that come off like dark chocolate brownie, or torte. As the cup cools a bit, the flavors shift toward fruited dark chocolate, dried pear and apple laced through chocolate truffle. This coffee really is all about balanced bittersweetness, and with big body, makes for an excellent option for milk drinks, especially when used as espresso. This would make an excellent decaf cappuccino.
Ethiopias have been shining star decafs for us, which only part of it has to do with the coffee itself. Don't get me wrong, the raw ingredients going into your decaf play a huge part in the resulting cup, since you know..."garbage in=garbage out". But if you have a beautiful cup and you subject it to harsh chemical decaf processes, then you stand to lose the volatile compounds that made it a delicious coffee to begin with. We navigate both parts of this equations by first choosing coffees we enjoy as non-decaf, and then send them off to be processed at the Swiss Water Decaf plant in Canada, where they employ a patented water processing method that uses no harsh chemicals to remove effectively 99.9% of the caffeine. The process is gentle, and leaves much of the flavor and aroma intact. And in the case of Ethiopian coffee such as this one, send off a coffee with inherent citrus and floral aspects, and receive a decaf with those same highlights in return. This particular Limu coffee comes from the Qota cooperative located in Agaro town, South-Western Ethiopia, not too far from Duromina, who have consistently produced some of our favorite western Ethiopian coffees. They are operating under the Keta Muduga Union, who we are buying from for the first time, and who showed us stellar harvest samples from Qota and a few others. The Unions provide agronomical support to the coops, and also have export licenses, which up until this year, has afforded the coops access to the global market.
An alluring smell of chocolate biscotti and lemon peel comes up from the dry grounds , an aromatic smelling decaf even at City roast level. I wouldn't normally recommend such a light roast for a decaf coffee, but found City to City+ suits this particular lot. Citrus hints are much more subdued in the wet aroma, and a dark caramel smell comes up from the wet grounds, along with malty grain smells. The cup clarity is surprising, definitely another of the "I can't believe it's decaf" selections when tasted in context with your average decaf coffee. Flavors of tangerine and tart citrus come through, and provide stark contrast to a malty sweet core, shifting to dried fruit like natural apricot and dark raisin in the finish. City+ and beyond build a blanket of dark cocoa roast tone, and while not my favorite for brewing, will sweeten up a decaf blend for brew or espresso.
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...
We concocted this 2-bean blend around a couple of our more stellar decaffeinated African coffees that were just processed by Swiss Water in Vancouver. We're at a point where 100% of our decaf coffees are pulled from our own stock and processed by Swiss, which starts by selecting coffee by flavor profile and physical makeup that we think will translate into a quality cup. "Tam Efriqa" roughly translates the "Taste of Africa" in Amharic, which in the past I may have thought a bold statement for decaf given the harsh processing treatments some decafs endure. There's nothing harsh about Swiss's water decaffeination process, a chemical-free water processing technic that removes nearly 100% of the caffeine, while leaving behind volatile compounds that affect flavor and aroma. So in the case of Tam Efriqa, so much of what makes these African coffees unique still comes through in the cup. The blend is made up of a selection of wet processed Ethiopia and Burundi coffees. I roasted to three different roast levels - City, City+, and Full City - and was really pleased with all three. We set out to construct a blend for espresso, but found that it shows really well as both brewed coffee and espresso, though I'd roast to at least City+ if you plan on pulling shots, as City roasts are puckering and metallic as espresso. The decaffeination process does break down the cellular structure of the bean a little, and so oils will rise to the surface more easily, even in roasts as light as City+. So ignore that visual marker when roasting, using the normal sounds of 1st crack and physical fracturing as your guide to judging roast development.
Tam Efriqa is a dual-use decaf blend, all three ingredients shining stars of our most recent custom decafs processed by Swiss Water. From City to Full City, the level of sweetness runs high, a pungent molasses aroma, and sweet undercurrent of palm sugar, muscovado, and smokey-sweetness of burned sugars (especially at Full City). The smells in dry fragrance and wet aroma cover a range of cookie to dried citrus, cocoa to dark rye. And the cup is impressive to say the least, and not just for decaf! We constructed this blend with espresso in mind, but after cupping light roasts give it the thumbs up for brewing too. Decaffeinated coffee often lose any brightness they once had, the cup profile losing dimension along the way. I'm sure if this were non-decaf, acidity would shine even brighter, but the level of rindy lemon-like acidity found in light roasts is striking, and has a voluminous effect on cup profile. City and City+ roasts boast dried stone fruit and raisin accents, subtle cocoa notes, and caramelizing sugars. At Full City smokey cocoa roast tones are more dominant, making room for some dark fruit hints once the cup cools. We were floored by how chocolatey and bittersweet espresso shots are at City+ and Full City roast level. Both roasts exhibit a tangy brightness up front that's like a drop of fresh squeezed lemon juice, and followed by opulent dark cacao notes, and understated accents of berry and pumpernickel/rye bread in the finish. An absolutely standout decaf espresso that we've added to the list of "I can't believe this is decaf"!