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.
We like to explore all avenues of potential tastiness with our coffees, test roasting them numerous times before they ever see time on bar. Sometimes during this process we discover a coffee we bought intended for filter makes an astounding espresso, or vice versa, and so it has happened with the Kabingara AA purchased from the Karithathi Farmers Co-operative Society in Kirinyaga, Kenya.
Having already been released as a filter coffee, we chose to offer the Kabingara AA to a handful of our most loyal wholesale customers to run as their main espresso for a few weeks. By developing the Kabingara further through a longer contact time in the drum, around 11m20s rather than the 9m10s filter roast, however with an end temperature that's actually lower, the raspberry notes have become more prevalent and the finish is reminiscent of black cherries and vanilla. It also handily serves as a little precursor to the Githiga AB Espresso which is launching on general release soon!
With only a limited amount of the Kabingara AA available, we decided it would only be offered at our Clerkenwell cafe and the list of customers below. So, for only a short amount of time, you'll be able to try this delicious Kenyan Espresso at these locations for the next few weeks.
Excitingly, this also includes Association Coffee's new shop on Ludgate Hill if you needed another reason to go visit Sam and Christian in their opening few weeks!
No. 10/12 Creechurch Lane London EC3A 5AY
Unit 3, 56 Ludgate Hill, London, EC4M 7AW
3C York Place, Edinburgh, EH1 3EB
36 Camberwell Church St, London, SE5 8QZ
2 Rookery Road, Clapham Common, London, SW4 9DD
It’s been said many times but we will say it again; Cult of Done is no boring house espresso. Our latest iteration is proof of just that as we consecutively release four coffees from one farm - Finca San Francisco (FSF).
For the last three years we've been purchasing coffees from FSF in El Salvador. The coffees grown there by the Salaverria brothers, Jose Antonio and Andres, owners of JASAL, have always impressed us with their clean and sweet character. This year, rather than taking a bulked lot from the entire farm as previous, we've been able to purchase four coffees from four seperate areas of the farm, known as tablóns. The individual tablóns are parcels of land sitting at various altitudes around the farm and planted with diverse varieties. As such Cult of Done v24 is a consecutive string of four distinct coffees, currently Las Ranas (translate: ‘The Frogs’) followed by v24.1 - Loma Linda, v24.2 - Santa Rita and finally v24.3 - La Independencia.
The farm itself is set on the western side of the Santa Ana volcano in the Apaneca-Ilamatepec mountain range. The wide range of growing areas means the tablóns sit as low as 1300m above sea level and as high as 1665m where FSF largely produces Bourbon and Hybrido San Francisco; the Hybrido being a naturally occurring hybrid found on the mountain, which neither ourselves or the owners know a great deal about. In addition, small amounts of Sarchimor and Red Catuaí are also grown and can be found in the Santa Rita and La Independencia respectively.
With a project as ambitious as this, it is important to know that all four coffees are clearly separated from tree to cup. FSF is able to ensure such high levels of control and separation thanks to JASAL simultaneously playing the role of farmer, both wet and dry miller and also aiding export of the coffee. This level of involvement is relatively unique in coffee producing countries, in stark contrast to East Africa and other Central American countries where the dry milling, and quite often even the wet milling, is seldom done by farmers themselves.
The jewel in JASAL’s crown has to be its prestigious wet mill, ‘Beneficio Las Cruces’. The largest building within the Las Cruces wet mill is over 100 years old and said to be one of the locations where Che Guevara hid during his journeys through Latin America. More important than any links to famous Guerrilla fighters, the wet mill is maintained in a meticulous fashion, often operating twenty-four hours a day during peak harvest, ensuring the coffee is remarkably clean and ripe.
The mill produces natural, honey, pulped natural, washed and soaked coffees and all four of the coffees we are releasing as v.24 this summer have been soaked. This process is fundamentally the same as a washed process but with one additional step. Once the cherries have been pulped and run through the mechanical scrubber, instead of sending the parchment coffee straight out to the patios or beds for drying, it goes to a large tiled tank, covered with fresh water and allowed to soak overnight. This extra step brings further clarity, focus and angularity in the cup giving the coffee more sweetness and ultimately a more rounded flavour.
We couldn't be more thrilled and excited to be launching this quartet of tablóns as Cult of Done. Not only are we looking forward to seeing how each coffee differs in the cup, but it's also a great opportunity to examine further layers of complexity, beyond origin and variety alone.
One of the joys of spring, in our minds anyway, is the arrival of fresh crop coffees from Africa. Something we look forward to intently, especially on the back of Tim's trips to origin, followed by his subsequent reports on how great certain things were tasting, 2015 hasn't disappointed. Our third year in Ethiopia allowed us to obtain a much larger volume of coffee from the Duromina Co-operative located in the Jimma Zone, Western Ethiopia, a favourite from our filter range last year.
Coming off the back of the natural Brazil of Pirapitinga and the washed Colombian of El Diamante, V21 and V22 respectively, the Duromina is a perfumed delight, full of dark chocolate, hops and ripe peaches. A pleasure as your morning cappuccino, the mid-afternoon espresso or a delicious little Shakerato, Cult of Done V23 is available in all Workshop stores across London and online now.
It’s been a long time in the making, but we’re finally ready to open the doors of our new bespoke training lab to the public, for a two-and-a-half hour Masterclass: ‘Our Espresso Technique’. If you’ve always wanted to get behind professional machinery and be inducted in pulling espresso like the pros, then this is the perfect way to spend a weekend morning.
Initially, we will introduce coffee as an ingredient and briefly examine the history of espresso as a unique way of preparing coffee, before we familiarise ourselves with the equipment. With such a precise method of brewing a cup of coffee it can pay off to be very particular in your preparation, so we’ll take a good look at polishing our technique and developing a recipe to produce the tastiest shots of espresso that we can, identifying a few mistakes commonly made at each step. We may attempt to to dispel a few myths, and break down some barriers surrounding the seemingly elusive beverage, taste testing throughout the session to hone in on the sweet spot of each particular coffee. You’ll become more adept at simple troubleshooting steps to prevent undesirable flavours and become better able to consistently produce tasty drinks.
By the end of the class you will possess a greater understanding of the processes involved in pulling a shot, and an enriched vocabulary and palate for assessing the quality of an espresso. You’ll take with you a bag of our seasonal Cult of Done Espresso and booklet to provide a starting block for your espresso recipes at home, a refresher of our technique and space to log your own results.
The session is run by James Bailey - our Head of Quality, who is responsible for developing and maintaining roasted coffee quality, drink quality, customer service and staff training standards across all our retail locations. In 2012, he placed 2nd in the UK Barista Championships, taking home the triumvirate of 'Best Espresso', 'Best Signature Drink' and 'Best Newcomer' accolades. In the same year, James won the UK Brewers Cup Championship, going on to place 5th in the world title.
Alongside holding a Q-Grader accreditation, he was one of three judges in the 2014 UK Aeropress Championships. He loves coffee, and he loves to teach.
With just three attendees per Masterclass, this is a hands-on and intensive session of very limited capacity. Don't miss out on your place.
Masterclass: Our Espresso Technique
Getting your hands on a new coffee to roast and taste is always an enjoyable thing. A new espresso this good? Well that's a great thing! The second of our two coffees sourced from Costa Rica during a trip to the country back in February, La Plaza from the Tarrazu region is a sweet, densely dried fruit flavoured espresso that is well-balanced, rich and extremely satisfying and available to buy now.
As with the El Rodeo, the La Plaza was discovered on the cupping tables at the Exclusive Coffee labs in San José. As the team relentlessly turned tables over, one after another, it meant they were probably the most intense cuppings I have ever experienced over two days. When you get a coffee like this back in the UK though, that feeling of mass caffeination before you board an aeroplane to head home, it's definitely worth it.
Seeing the coffee in the cooling tray of the roaster and tasting it in our new QC lab at our Fitzrovia store; both visually and orally this coffee is clean and incredibly well processed. A great example of the way that through building his own micromill, Santa Rosa, and taking control of his coffee, Efrain Naranjo has produced something we at Workshop are delighted to have the chance to offer to you.
Since 2012 we've been purchasing all we can of the top quality lots produced at Finca Tamana; Elias Roa's farm in El Pital, Colombia. We sent Richard to visit him in November last year, just before the most recent harvest was brought in, processed and shipped to us in London.
For the most part we've roasted the coffee from Finca Tamana for filter brewing, and have packed the coffee into lovely 350g bags, distributed to retail and wholesale customers a-like, shipping Elias's coffee all over the world.
With the most recently arrived harvest, we've decided to do something a little different.
There will be, however, this fantastic coffee - roasted for espresso - in the main grinders of all our stores.
For the majority of the month of July (as long as our supplies last) we will be replacing our usual Cult of Done Espresso with Finca Tamana Espresso and using this wonderful Caturra selection for all of our espresso-based drinks.
Yes, the only way to try this coffee will be to visit one of our stores, and let our Baristas serve it for you. As an idea, it's a little different, and it's probably a bit challenging for the likes of Jay Rayner, but we're confident you're going to love it as much as we do.
As Cult of Done v.16 coffees turn their final batches in our Probat we obviously cannot stop the supply of tasty espresso to you, wherever you may be in the world. We therefore have been working hard over the past four weeks on the next two components and are pleased to announce that v.17 is ready for release.
A 65/35% split between Aricha, a coffee from the Yirgacheffe region of Ethiopia, and San Francisco, from the Apaneca-Ilamatepec region in Western El Salvador, both coffees have had extensive test roasts performed, many shots have been pulled and consumed, and the best of each have been paired to create the final version. What we have got is a gloriously thick espresso with black cherry and dark chocolate in abundance with a rich, praline sweetness and long finish.
Each component has been sourced on recent trips to origin in February this year and we are pleased to have gotten what we went for. The chance to meet the producers, see production facilities, tour the farms and cup is worth it when you pick up great coffees such as these.
One terrace of many in the shade covered nursery at San Francisco.
Where does the time go? It seems like only yesterday we were unveiling our very first iteration of our Cult of Done Espresso, and yet here we are today, releasing version 15.
This time round, Cult of Done is a foray into everything that we want a really great espresso blend to be; complex, satisfying, sweet, clean, enduring and memorable. An espresso that would make it into the '10 or so great espressos of your life' category.
I visited Justin at Mahembe on a trip visiting producers in various parts of Rwanda earlier this year and was very impressed with the processing facilities, as well as his approach to standards, inspection and financial reward that he undertakes with the farmers that contribute cherries to his washing station. Understandably, I was delighted when the results in the cup matched the effort being put in, and we bought up what we could of particular lots for this blend.
Coupled with it is a terrifically sweet and silky coffee, forming the foundation of this espresso, and is the first time we've worked with the guys at Third Wave Coffee Source. Finca La Esperanza comes from Huehuetenango in Guatemala; a part of the world we're terribly excited to begin to explore, and we're looking forward to working with Nadine and her team on finding great producing partners on the ground there.
It's available now. Get involved.
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Cult of Done Espresso v.15 - £9.50/350g
And as surely as you've been enjoying our latest coffee -- Yukro, Ethiopia -- we're confident you're going to love its counterpart/rival; Yukro Espresso, Ethiopia.
It's a different beast entirely from the Hunkute that is currently comprising our Cult of Done Espresso; richer, rounder and warmer, with cocoa, dried fig and raisin sweetness, a decadent mouthfeel and a long, toffee-like finish.
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Yukro Espresso, Ethiopia - £9.00 / 350g