Decaffeinated coffee remains a taboo amongst some people specialty coffee world. I haven't seen any other coffee trope so ubiquitous, whether tattooed onto a forearm, scrawled on an A-board or emblazoned on a diner mug, as the "Death Before Decaf" motif. This is strange to me. Coffee lovers who are eschewing caffeine, either temporarily or permanently, but still seeking that unparalleled experience that coffee delivers, should be welcomed with arms opened wide, as they're here for what really gets our hearts (metaphorically) pumping: flavour!
We're going to take a look here about how we select our decaffeinated options, and also why we branched out into developing a secondary roast curve for filter coffee brewing with our decaf range, to complement our existing espresso roast style.
First up, we need to look briefly at what caffeine actually is. For the TLDR crowd amongst you, scroll down to the bottom to watch our video.
What is Caffeine?
A bitter, psychoactive compound, caffeine exists naturally in coffee and acts as an insecticide deterrent to prevent bugs and other pests from damaging its fruit, flowers and leaves. Whilst toxic to insects it sadly isn't enough to prevent insect damage entirely.
When it comes to preparing and drinking a cup of coffee, the amount of caffeine it contains is going to vary depending on the origin and variety of coffee, how much you actually use to brew your cup and the quality of your extraction (i.e. how much soluble material was taken from the grounds by your water during the brewing process). For more information and detail on caffeine, we'd recommend a visit to Coffee Chemistry's website and their Caffeine in Coffee section.
Can Decaffeinated Coffee Occur Naturally?
There are species and varieties of coffee that are very low in caffeine.
Eugenioides, which is a species of coffee that actually parented Arabica along with Robusta, and a variety of Arabica called Laurina (or Bourbon Pointu) both produce lower caffeine coffees, not entirely caffeine free but containing less than most Arabica varieties. They are not grown on a large commercial scale and so you might only see them pop up on roasters' offer lists once in a blue moon. They're really interesting to taste if you can get your hands on them, but to reiterate, they are not going to be caffeine free.
Why we Showcase Decaffeinated Coffee
To include those who might need to limit or completely eliminate caffeine from their diet we want to be able offer a cup of coffee that caters to these needs and is also delicious in and of itself.
A broad trend amongst coffee drinkers that we've noted over the last few years is that more and more people are becoming dual-drinkers. Rather than opting solely for caffeinated coffee throughout the day, or being exclusively decaf drinkers, more customers are brewing from their primary stock of regular coffee throughout the day but ensuring they have a bag of decaf in rotation to dip into in the late afternoon or evening.
How is Coffee Decaffeinated?
There are several ways you can decaffeinate green coffee, including the Swiss Water method, Super Critical CO2 and the Methelyne Chloride method. However, our preferred process is the Sugar Cane Ethyl Acetate (EA) method.
Ethyl Acetate is a compound that is produced naturally in fruits and vegetables such as apples, pears and bananas. An ester with a smell not unlike that of pear drop sweets, ethyl acetate is the primary active solvent in what can be marketed as a "natural decaffeination" method and is the one we've chosen exclusively for our decaffeinated coffees for the last 6 years. We've been working exclusively with lots from Colombia that are processed at the Descafecol plant, the only one of its kind in the country, and there are several reasons why we think this is the best method to use.
Firstly, the coffee doesn't need to be shipped twice. The coffee is grown and harvested in Colombia before being moved to the decaffeination plant and then can be sent to use here in Europe. Avoiding a stop-off in another country for further processing limits the time coffee seeds spend in a container and therefore maximises the freshness and extends the shelf life of the green coffee. Not only that, but carrying out decaffeination in the same country as the coffee is grown provides an additional industry and income stream at origin. Fewer destinations en route also helps to reduce the ecological footprint of getting the coffee to us.
Of equal importance for us, though, is taste and flavour. We've found that this process keeps the coffee's characteristics more intact, and the flavour imprint from the EA method is less detectable than others. At times, experienced cuppers and tasters haven't recognised that our coffee on the table has even been decaffeinated.
How the Process Works
After being delivered to the decaffeination plant, the first step in the process is that the green coffee is steamed in order to make it swell up, helping to remove the silver skin layer. This is a very fine, papery layer that clings to the green seeds within the parchment layer. It's then moistened with hot water and we begin to see the beginning of hydrolysis of caffeine, where it starts to loosen its bonds with the salts of chlorogenic acids in the coffee.
Once this has taken place, mountain spring water is mixed with the Ethyl Acetate. This is produced from fermenting sugar cane and is the active solvent in the process. This circulates throughout the tank containing the beans and bathes them continually until 99.9% of the caffeine has been targeted and dissolved away.
Next, any traces of Ethyl Acetate need to be removed and this is done by passing pressurised steam through the coffee before it's placed into large, vacuum-sealed drums and dried down once again until they reach between 10% and 12% moisture, representing a stable level that allows them to be shipped.
The final stage involves adding a protective layer of carnauba wax. This vegetable wax seals the seeds again after what is quite an invasive process that aids them in their journey to our roastery.
The caffeine that's removed during the process is then sold on to pharmaceutical companies and soft drink manufacturers, with Descafecol selling it by the bag themselves.
Our Approach to Decaffeinated Coffee
When it comes to roasting the decaffeinated coffees that we've purchased, there are a few factors we need to take into account. The green coffee is visibly different from its caffeinated counterpart, being a deeper, darker green colour. This in turn impacts some of the physical analysis we do here in the roastery. Some of the numbers and metrics we check during quality control analysis look very different to what we'd normally expect from regular coffees in our range.
Thankfully, we're not just using visual and auditory cues in our roasting process, and through the use of multiple temperature probes, pressure gauges and roasting software, we're able to design consistent roast profiles that give rise to truly delicious, well balanced espresso and slim, clean cups of filter coffee. The fact that our lots are highly uniform with good density means that creating a balanced and consistent flavour from batch to batch is fairly straight forward.
The decision to offer both a decaffeinated espresso roast and a decaffeinated filter roast is relatively simple. Historically, we'd been solely roasting a decaffeinated espresso coffee as a means of offering non-caffeine drinkers the ability to enjoy a cappuccino or a latte in one of our own coffeebars or when visiting our wholesale partners. However, growing numbers of our guests and customers were taking bags home with them and asking how to get the best from it using their V60 or French Press.
For a while, we altered our brewing advice to ensure they were able to get the most delicious results from a slightly more developed roast profile, but in 2018 we made the decision to design and offer a specific filter roast as well. The result is something that adheres to our usual brew recipes and offers a really clean, balanced, flavoursome cup.
Whilst not subject to the same pace, our decaffeinated coffee range continues to rotate as the year progresses. You can view our current offering here.
For the first time in our eight years of roasting coffee, we’ve decided to create a dedicated filter roast profile for our decaf offering.
The quality of the most recent crop from El Teruel is exceptionally good, and we know that a lot our customers enjoy brewing decaf as a filter coffee. Until this point in our coffeebars, we've chosen to amend our Clever Coffee Dripper brewing recipe when preparing a cup of decaf filter using our dedicated espresso roast profile.
Similarly, for home brewers, getting the best results from our decaf for filter has involved tweaking normal brewing specs ever so slightly. The results have been good, but with this new roast approach designed specifically for filter brewing the coffee has never tasted better. We’re really happy with the results, and hope you enjoy this first from Workshop Coffee.
As with a lot of regions in Colombia, the micro-climate of the area around Planadas, Tolima allows farmers to harvest coffee cherry twice in one year, which helps a great deal with cash flow. The Asopep (Asociación de Productores Ecológicos de Planadas) Co-operative, made up of 35 coffee producing families, all practice organic farming and are certified as such. The coffees making up this particular lot, El Teruel, underwent a 22-hour dry fermentation before being fully washed and subsequently dried on raised beds. It then underwent the Sugar Cane Ethyl Acetate process to decaffeinate the beans. Not only does this method provide a secondary income to the producing country, the Descafecol plant between located between Planadas and Medellín in Colombia, but the green coffee only needs to be transported by boat once rather than twice. More eco-friendly and less costly, reducing the travel time compared with coffees decaffeinated in Germany, Switzerland, Mexico or Canada means we get to work with a fresher tasting product. The conditions in which coffee is transported are rarely conducive to preserving quality, and so avoiding this process from happening twice is always beneficial for the cup.
The filter roast of our El Teruel is tasting complex and layered, with sweet fruity notes of dates and papaya, turning almost jammy in the finish. Gone are the days of forgoing a delicious cup of coffee after dinner for fear of hindering a deep slumber.
"El Martillo SL28 from El Salvador and Dimtu Espresso from Ethiopia."
Two years ago, we introduced our first two festive coffees for the holiday season and last year brought you two more. Now entering our third consecutive year of bringing you a couple of felicitously festive-tasting coffees, it’s safe to call it a tradition.
For our filter range, we're excited to have secured this year’s slightly larger crop of SL28 variety coffee. Grown by the Salaverria brothers on the El Martillo plot of their Finca San Francisco estate in El Salvador, 2017 was the first time these young trees, planted in 2014, had produced enough seeds to properly process and export. We were able to purchase both a washed and a red honey version of the tiny production.
"The El Martillo tablón on the Salaverria's Finca San Francisco estate is planted out with a range of unusual varieties, including SL28, Yellow Icatu and Orange Bourbon."
"Raoul is the lab manager responsible for roasting samples of the wide range of lots processed at the Las Cruces mill in Santa Ana, El Salvador."
This year, based on feedback from ourselves and our customers as to which lot was better received, the brothers have processed the entire production as a full honey process (also referred to as a 'black honey process'). The 2018 harvest in El Salvador was particularly challenging for a number of reasons, and we've found all our coffees from the country to have been dialled back in intensity compared to years past. However, El Martillo SL28 is still tasting complex, full of botanical and herbal aromas as well as notes of preserved fruit and a delicately boozy quality. In the roastery, we've been experimenting with slightly more concentrated brewing recipes, achieving our favourite results when using between 65 and 70 grams of coffee per litre for pourover brewing, rather than our more usual 60g per litre, as we’ve found the slightly increased strength and concentration of flavour works really well for this coffee. Also, with the days getting shorter and the mornings darker, who wouldn’t appreciate that 10% dose increase in their morning coffee?
"Try out a recipe of 33g to 500g water for a little extra concentration and vibrancy when brewing the El Martillo SL28."
With regards to our espresso range, in the past we've typically highlighted coffees from Rwanda and Burundi that conjure up Christmassy flavours. We reliably get lots of honeyed baking spices in our Gitesi Espresso and coffees from Mahembe in Rwanda or Buziraguhindwa and Mbirizi in Burundi tend to bring a lot of jammy fruit preserves and redcurrant notes, very fitting for the time of year. However, our Burundian offerings this year have only just landed, and our coffees from Rwanda’s harvest in June-July this summer are still making their way to the UK. Luckily, we’ve been profiling an espresso from Ethiopia that we are imminently releasing, from someone fast becoming a household name at Workshop: Israel Degfa.
"Israel Degfa owns around 20 washing stations in Southern and Western Ethiopia, and is focussing on producing high quality coffees as opposed to solely large volumes."
This lot was processed at the Dimtu washing station in the Hambela woreda of Ethiopia’s famed Guji Zone. It has some very classic washed Ethiopian traits, being very perfumed and floral, but what we really love about it is the concentrated berry flavour, as well as dark chocolate and baking spice notes. The flavour, texture, sweetness and tartness make us think of sticky Christmas pudding, with all of its syrupy, steeped, dried fruits. When you’re layering up and everything is misty windows and long shadows at 3:30 in the afternoon, it seems to us a very fitting coffee to be drinking.
"Bags of sticky sweetness, tart dried fruits, florals and baking spices to boot, Dimtu Espresso is making us feel very Christmassy!"
"Move over PSL, Dimtu in milk tastes like berry yoghurt, honey and gingerbread."
In February James and myself visited El Salvador, a first for both of us, but not for Workshop Coffee. We’ve bought coffees through JASAL for the last three years and so we were feeling extremely priveliged and excited to meet the Salaverria brothers, Jose Antonio and Andreas, and to be staying at their Las Cruces mill in Santa Ana.
You may remember our espresso project from last year using coffee from four separate plots within the Finca San Francisco complex, which we released sequentially as opposed to bulking together for a more sizeable lot. We bought coffee from four distinct tablòns, and this year we found one of them, Loma Linda, to be particularly delicious every time we encountered in on the tables in the JASAL cupping lab.
The brothers offer a range of preparations of their coffees, and as they oversee not just the dry milling and processing, but also harvesting and even the maintenance of the health of their trees it is a unique experience to taste their coffees. We knew that it would be exciting to bring back a variety of different preparations from just one tablòn, and seeing how the Loma Linda plot always stood out we had found just what we needed.
The Loma Linda soaked lot was a great example of the high quality coffees JASAL are able to produce in reasonable, workable volumes. ‘Soaking’ refers to an additional step in their process, as coffees will generally be referred to as ‘washed’ when it has simply been mechanically scrubbed. This means that once pulped the coffee doesn’t undergo fermentation to break down the fruit sugars before drying. By using an eco-pulper and demucilaginator they effectively remove the mucilage with friction rather than the native yeasts and micro-organisms in the area. Soaking the coffee after this kind of pulping would seem unnecessary to a lot of producers, but we have noticed it can add more clarity to the cup, and when looking at the drying parchment on the patios at the Las Cruces mill the soaked lots were always more uniform, whiter and cleaner than their ‘washed’ counterparts.
The pulped natural lot from Loma Linda presented a real plump, brown sugar backbone which stood out against the background of the other P/N lots on the table, which tended to be more plain and nutty in comparison. The extra heft and body that the process typically brings about wasn’t so dominant in the Loma Linda lot, which displayed more delicacy, with orange rind and lightly toasted hazelnut flavours in the cup providing a little complexity. This was a pulped natural lot that we were interested in roasting and brewing, rather than for the sake of variation in our coffee range alone
We also got the chance to taste another experimental preparation that a parcel of fruit from the San Felipe tablòn had undergone. The brothers were calling it Doble Lavado (double washed) which involved an extra soaking stage. Rather than draining the soak water from the coffee after a primary soaking phase and sending it out to dry, clean water is added once again to allow the parchment to undergo a secondary soak (think Kenya processing with its multiple soaking stages). What we tasted in the cup was a much more pointed acidity, with a unique character that really intrigued us. Earlier that day we had witnessed ripe cherry still waiting to be harvested on the Loma Linda tablòn, and so we enquired as to whether a small portion of the remaining cherry could be processed in a similar manner to this experimental batch. The brothers obliged and we are lucky enough to have secured a few bags of the coffee to roast alongside the other two processes from Loma Linda.
The result of all this hard work is that we’re able to share with you another interesting project in collaboration with Jose Antonio and Andreas. Last year we took four soaked processes from four distinct tablòns in order to emphasise the difference that terroir and altitude would have on the lots. This year we are running three coffees from one small plot of land, but that have been processed in three unique ways. We’re excited to continue working with such progressive and hard working producers, and we hope you’ll enjoy the results of their labours.
Another coffee that we're very proud to be showcasing this year, and one that is really standing out on cupping tables and domestic kitchen benches alike, is the Gichathaini AA, Kenya. Again, we were fortunate enough to visit the Gichathaini factory a few months ago, not only to look at the facilities for coffee production, but to sit down with the managers of the co-operative society that runs the factory and to talk about what our coffee purchases mean to them.
In addition, we were shown through an on-site nursery, growing a range of coffee varieties; from the more usual SL-28 and SL-34, right through to newer, experimental varieties such as Batian -- a more disease and drought resistant cultivar. These seedlings will be nurtured here until they're ready to be sold on to the co-operative member farmers at a heavily subsidised price.
Gichathaini has produced consistently excellent coffee for many years now, and as a result, it's a name that crops up on the offer sheets of great roasters all around the world. While often we're hoping to carry coffees that people are less familiar with, the bright, super-sweet rhubarb characteristics evident in this particular lot meant it was a coffee we couldn't pass up.
We're currently serving this coffee on Aeropress, and have retail bags available in both our stores, as well as online at in our Dispensary. Don't miss out.