Why does our decaf actually taste good? / by Michael Power

Let's talk about something that, in the specialty coffee world, does not get a lot of attention: decaf. Yes, I hear all you "death before decaf" people out there, but let's think about it. There are some wonderful coffee drinkers out there that cannot have caffeine, and people who want to both drink coffee after 4pm and sleep at night. This has created an increasing amount of people who are interested in how decaf is being prepared. So, this week at Clarity, we are going to put the spotlight on our decaf. 

ABOUT THE COFFEE

Los Idilos is a Columbian coffee from the Huila district. This blend of Typica and Caturra varieties is grown between 1500-1700 meters above sea level in partial shade, which plays heavily into the flavor. Then it is fully washed and sun-dried, just like most of the other coffees we have. In fact, it isn't grown in any special way as a decaf coffee. Its caffeine content is the same as any other coffee we might feature. It's only after the cherry is turned into dry green coffee that it is sent not far from the farm to the decaffeination mill, Descafecol, before it is then shipped to Portland to be roasted by our friends at Heart Roasters.

ARE THERE CHEMICALS INVOLVED?

There are multiple ways to decaffeinate coffee. Here's the cool thing about this decaf: a natural compound called Ethyl Acetate (EA) is used to remove almost all the caffeine. This is sometimes called the natural decaffeination process. 

Ethyl Acetate sounds scary, right? Well, it isn't. EA can be found two ways. There is a synthetic EA that is used for multiple household items, and also a naturally occurring EA that is created as a natural product of fermenting sugar cane. This coffee uses the latter, which is our favorite because we like keeping things natural around here. Natural EA is found in beer, wine, vegetables, and fruit. In fact, EA is one of the most common esters found in beer. Bonus: coffee cherries have natural sugar cane present in them, so a lot of farms are repurposing their cherries to create EA to leave a smaller carbon footprint. EA is sweet and a natural solvent, which makes it ideal for decaf coffee.

HOW IS THE CAFFEINE REMOVED?

Now that you understand Ethyl Acetate, here's the process of decaffeinating this specific coffee. 

  1. After the coffee has been picked, depulped, and washed, it is sent to Descafecol, the station that decaffeinates coffee. 
  2. The beans are hit with steam in a chamber to allow the pores to open.
  3. EA is mixed with water and the beans are washed, naturally dissolving the caffeine.
  4. The coffee is hit with steam again to wash off most of the EA before it is packed and sealed. A small amount of EA is left on because EA is a byproduct of sugar cane, so it is naturally sweet. 

All of this leads to a decaf that has definitely changed our perception of what decaf can taste like. Currently, we are getting tasting notes of sweet berries with an extremely clean finish like our favorite fully-washed Ethiopian coffees. 

This coffee is available as both a pourover and espresso.

For more reading, check out this blog post from Ceremony Coffee and this from Sweet Marias.