It seems almost sacrilegious that a barista and roaster should even mention the word decaffeinated and I had to ask myself why I get such a kick out of roasting these beans. Back when Caloroso first opened, we made a commitment to offer exceptional coffee, and whilst other cafés would offer pre-ground decaf, Caloroso invested in a separate grinder & used the best beans available. The difference was remarkable and noticed by many.
Thinking about roasting decaf, I came to realise that there are two aspects to answering this question. Chatting with folks over the years, I found that most coffee drinkers simply believe that decaf is a second-grade cop-out and can’t possibly be satisfying, many of them glibly stating that it isn’t real coffee. I want to prove them wrong!
The history of decaf may be a surprising one for some, and it did not start out as a coffee beverage. As with many things, commercial interests dominate the market place and a major consumer of caffeine is the pharmaceutical industry. The obvious source is the coffee bean and like any good business enterprise, it would rather sell its waste products than dump them. By creating a negative spin around the evils of caffeine, new consumer demands were created. While it is true that in the early days, decaf beans delivered a poor result, being the by-product of indifferent processing, this is no longer the case. Decaf coffee has come of its own and the processing has advanced to meet a higher expectation of discerning drinkers who brook no compromise.
Many years past benzene was used as the solvent to extract caffeine from the bean, and as a known carcinogen meant that it was unsuitable for the food industry (not that this stopped big pharma). For obvious reason benzene had to be replaced, not just for the sake of consumers but also the health of factory workers. Initially, the substitute solvent was methylene chloride (MC), that was not only less of a health risk, it also resulted in a substantially improved result, and its use continues to this day.
As the consumer drove demand for a better beverage using less harmful chemicals, new techniques were developed. Through intense marketing, the Swiss Water Process sought its market niche. For many people, the result did not justify the high price of this extraction technology. While still a major player, it is received with mixed response. The most recent of decaffeinating processes is the use of supercritical carbon dioxide and it has become a game changer in my opinion. Not only is it a naturally occurring gas, but carbon dioxide is also non-toxic. In effect, it is highly selective and able to remove as much as 98% of the caffeine. Commonly called the sparkling water process, the result is a coffee with full flavoured character, just with less caffeine.
It is always exciting to roast new coffee & our two new long-awaited decaf beans arrived recently. Decaf is quite a technical bean to roast. Given that it has undergone additional processing, it reacts very differently from regular beans and requires plenty of careful attention during the roast. The raw beans also look substantially different from regular beans, with a dark mottled appearance. These two were sample roasted & still need more work to develop their full potential.
Both have a high altitude pedigree, and the house decaf is a Congo/ Nicaragua blend. Roasted to maintain sweetness with a clear bright acidity, it features a fruity juiciness, with a medium body. We also received an exceptional micro-lot Colombian high altitude decaf bean, with a good body and some very interesting tropical fruit notes.
So far so good & I am sure that our discerning decaf drinkers will appreciate a new level of enjoyment, unique from anything they have experienced before.