Decaf is ok


 In western culture coffee is all about caffeine. Except for some geeks who think about flavour. In fact, serious coffee tasting can be exhausting.

Whereas tasting whisky involves getting a bit drunk, cupping coffee puts you at risk of overcaffeination if you choose not to spit. Caffeine is a drug and it affects human body in several ways.

That's why some people choose to drink decaf.

Which is absolutely ok. But not everyone thinks so.

Many baristas think decaf is not coffee. A popular belief among low quality coffeeshops. Often times for a reason - the decaf is mediocre quality as a bean. And unless the business can afford extra grinder it comes preground and predosed. Simply by tasting the difference a negative opinion is created.

I understand their point of view. If you sell shit coffee (and decaf even worse) - there's little sense in having awful drink without stimulating effect.

But how many of them have cupped the same coffee (varietal, origin, lot, processing, roasting) in both caffeinated and decaf version side by side?

I assume none of them.

Top coffee professionals, including Tracy Allen, realise coffee minus caffeine is still coffee. The best roasters in the world offer decaf. And yes, it's speciality decaf. The only concern of authorities is whether decaf is always 99,9% or rather 80% or even less. This is an issue with lower grade decaf.

It goes without saying that decaf flavour experience is rather limited (not every coffee in the world has its decaf version). But if you take speciality grade green beans, decaf them and then roast and brew into a decent cup of coffee, what can be wrong with that?

I have to admit, that dialing in decaf is sometimes more pleasurable than a house blend. Simply because Guatemala/Colombia is more interesting for me than El Salvador/Costa Rica. And the lack of caffeine has nothing to do with that.

Origin Roasters, CC 2.0
Caffeine keeps you awake - it binds to adenosine receptors. But unlike adenosine, caffeine does not slow down the cell's activity (causing drowsiness). Its activity implicates adrenaline and dopamine production. In result, both your muscles and brain are prepared to elongated effort. You can even get rid of a headache due to blood vessels constriction.

On the other hand caffeine is toxic and it takes a long time to remove it from the body. It's really personal and depends on your liver functioning, genes and caffeine tolerance. But 6h after a cup of coffee is not enough to have a high quality deep sleep. The half-life of caffeine in the body is about 6h (6h after consumption of 200 mg you still have about 100 mg in your body).

What is difficult to find in decaf, is quality and diversity. You can get decent decaf coffee. But almost every roastery has only one decaf (if any at all). Beside Swiss Water nobody seems to do something about it.

Decaf will never rule the world of coffee. Costly processing is absurd with micro-lots and realistically with everything above 90 points. Moreover, it is well known that decaffeination slightly affects bean. You can easily spot the difference - decaf on the right -  before roasting (photo above) and after the same roasting (below).

Caffeine is soluble. It's very bitter and probably contributes to taste. But this is rather negligible to dehydration of the beans. Decaf bean looks different and roasts differently. No matter how similar the final product is, it will never be 100% the same.

Origin Roasters, CC 2.0
I used to believe decaf is worse. Primarily because freshly roasted and freshly ground speciality decaf seemed non-existent. Secondly, I thought decaffeination affects beans in severe way. And I had not drunk quality decaf.

Well, lack of knowledge and experience is never a good friend.

All in all, it's worth to appreciate those who drink coffee for something beyond its stimulation. Whether it's coffee flavour (decaf espresso) or cafe experience.

Photo - John Lodder, CC 2.0

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