by Joseph Molloy April 05, 2022 5 min read
We’ve seen a surge in decaf sales since the start of the pandemic. People are making more coffee at home than ever before and some are thinking about lowering their caffeine intake. The good news for coffee lovers is you can cut down on caffeine without sacrificing deliciousness!
A customer emailed this morning to say they could no longer order Shadow Boxer as the caffeine interfered with their medications and now they were on decaf. Thanks for the brilliant questions, Katy, and here’s an expanded version of my response to share with any other coffee drinkers needing to change for health reasons or just wanting to lower their caffeine.
Our decaffeinated coffee is a Colombian Popayan Sugarcane Decaf. It’s grown in the Popayan region of Colombia in the department of Cauca as part of the Popayan Reserve Program of our Colombian partner Cofinet. During harvest, up to 400 people can be employed picking the coffee beans. There are 67 farms involved in the program, all selected and committed to offering sweet, balanced coffees that score at least 83 points.
The program encourages farmers to get better as they get even better premiums once they achieve a cup above 85 points.
Agronomists visit every four months and make recommendations on how to improve the crop. Farmers cup their own coffee (surprisingly rare in producing countries) and receive feedback on how to improve the cup.
They can access credit to buy farm equipment and once they achieve a consistent cup score of 85+ they join the regional program and receive a premium.
It was a good specialty coffee to start with. Grown high in the hills of Cauca (1500 -1900 MASL) and is a blend of Caturra, Colombia and Castillo varietals.
Just like regular coffee, you need to buy high-quality green coffee beans.
Our particular coffee scores 85 points and is blended from at least five farms to ensure consistency.
There are different methods to remove the caffeine content of green coffee beans. Our favourite is the EA or sugarcane process.
Once picked and sorted, the green coffee is sent off to be decaffeinated at the DESAFECOL plant. The process uses a natural ethyl acetate made from local sugar cane and spring water to wash the caffeine away.
They start by steaming the green coffee beans for thirty minutes, which opens the pores of the beans.
Then they submerge the coffee in a solution of water and ethyl acetate. The solution bonds to the salts of chlorogenic acids in the coffee and extracts the caffeine.
This is repeated for eight hours until the caffeine in the beans is super low.
Final low-pressure steam removes the last of ethyl acetate and any trace amounts that remain will be taken care of in the roasting process.
Should I be worried about the ethyl acetate?
It sounds scary, like a chemical. And it is, but chemical isn’t a bad word. Everything is a chemical. Ethyl acetate can be found in some foods and this decaffeination process leaves only trace amounts behind.
A ripe banana contains twenty times more EA than our coffee.
Why do we like it? To start with, the coffee tastes better. We’ve cupped a huge amount of decaf samples and the EA beans always stand out above the others.
The Swiss Water Process is another excellent method of decaffeinating coffee. It involves soaking the coffee in a caffeine-free coffee extract and filtering through charcoal filters. It’s an excellent method but we find that Sugarcane EA process coffees are cleaner, juicier and more delicious.
Also, the Swiss Water plant is in Canada, which means the coffee needs to travel there, using more fossil fuels and increasing the food mile.
The EA process happens in Caldas, Colombia, so is a rare case of adding value to the coffee inside the producing origin.
The ethyl acetate itself is made from local sugar cane and the process uses less water than the Swiss Water Method.
This is the other commercially successful decaffeination process, similar to the Swiss Water Process, but the plant is in Mexico. Another fine decaffeination process, but we think our decaf coffee beans are tastier.
The decaf process weakens the cell walls of the coffee so that when you roast the coffee, it darkens fast and oils up sooner than regular coffee. As a modern, specialty coffee roaster we don’t roast our coffee very dark. Even our darkest coffee, the ever-popular Shadow Boxer, is still only medium-dark and we stop roasting well before second crack. For more on coffee roasting, read here.
But decaf coffee has already been through a process to remove the caffeine, so it’s already darker than regular green (unroasted coffee) to start with.
Yes, it is. All the approved methods are safe and cleared by the FDA.
97% of the caffeine is removed during the process, leaving only a tiny amount. The EA method leaves only residual caffeine content and anything left behind evaporates in the roasting process.
Various studies have found many health benefits from drinking black coffee. They range from the prevention of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's to reducing the chance of various cancers. Coffee is a vast source of antioxidants and vitamins that can help with heart disease and cancer.
Good decaf coffee will have all those benefits without the potential downsides of increased restlessness, anxiety and insomnia that some people get from caffeine.
To start, we think drinking decaf coffee should be just as enjoyable as drinking regular coffee. So we take care to source the best green beans we can find, make sure they are processed well and then roast them with utmost care.
Treat your decaf just like you would regular coffee, buy fresh beans, grind it right before brewing, and pay attention to what you're doing.
Sign up to get the latest on sales, new releases and more