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Decaf - Any Good?

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  • Decaf - Any Good?

    Like a lot of people, my wife and I find it hard to get to sleep if we indulge in a nice espresso in the evening .
    Which is a shame, as we love our coffee and look longingly at the Lelit sitting idle on the kitchen bench after dinner. Did we invest in this machine to only use it in the morning (where it nevertheless serves a vital function as a supplier of delicious and much needed caffeine)?

    Which has had me thinking about decaf. I cant remember the last time I had one, but I think it must have been bland and unsatisfying, because Ive steered clear for years. So, before having another crack, I thought Id post a few questions:

    - how is decaf made (or "decaffed")?
    - can a decaf taste as good as a good "regular"?
    - how much caffeine is removed and is there a correlation between taste and caffeine?
    - are there any quality decafs on the market?

    Please excuse my ignorance on this topic, but Im really undecided as to whether to try to overcome my entrenched prejudice against decaf or not. To me, its been a bit like alcohol free wine or skim milk (yech!), not worth consideration.

    Are there any CSers who can enlighten me?


  • #2
    Re: Decaf - Any Good?

    Hi GregJW,

    Understand your predicament, and will attempt to help.

    1. Coffee beans are decaffeinated at the green stage.
    A couple of processes are used, but by far the most popular is the swiss water process,
    (which I believe is mostly done in Canada).
    All water process decaff is clearly labeled as such.
    Process involves heating the beans in water,
    extracting the oils and caffeine,
    passing the flavoured water through a separate process to remove the caffeine,
    (which subsequently finds its way into various cola drinks),
    passing the water back over the original beans where oils are re-absorbed.
    The beans will have a characteristic brown colour afterwoods.

    2. That depends on the individual, taste is something that has many factors that affect it.
    Personally I have made some terrific lo-caff blends at times,
    and you would be hard pressed to know it had decaff in it, if making a milk based drink.
    Other times I have been able to taste a slight washed or almost buttery taste if that makes any sense. However if the trade-off is being able to sleep, then some slight different taste is not necessarily bad.
    I have never tried any of the other process beans, some of the other chemical methods may leave other residual tastes that would be unpleasant (it is possible that is what you remember).

    3. The process is very effective, and decaff has effectively all the caffeine removed,
    there is such a small fraction of % left that it is not going to have any effect.

    Correlation between taste and caffeine,....yes, caffeine tastes AWFULL, its total yuckness.
    Try the exercise of pouring a shot, with three small cups/glasses prepared, collect the first third of the shot in first glass, the middle third in second glass, and put third glass under after the blonding begins and collect only the blond stuff.......then taste each one.
    The blond stuff has negligible flavour oils and plenty of caffeine......

    In summary I think it is best to say the caffeine doesnt do much to help the flavour of the caffee, however the process of removing the caffeine can affect the flavour of the decaff beans slightly.

    4. Most would recommend trying water process decaff. A good one to start with is Columbian, which can be very nice with a slight caramel note, and is also good to blend with other beans to make lo-caff blends.
    If you roast your own you will have opportunity to try various offerings that Andy finds. In the past year we have had some great decaff Yirgacheff, Columbian, Guatemala, and most recently Mocha/Java which I think is quite good.
    Apart from that, see what the sponsors have.

    Hope this is of some help.



    • #3
      Re: Decaf - Any Good?

      You can learn a certain amount about decaf at

      I normally get a bag of decaf with each order for the same sorts of reasons as youve suggested and have found quite some variance. One of the main roasteries in Western Australia do an organic decaf which is really nice and doesnt have the same burnt bitter qualities as some others Ive tried. Quite drinkable as an espresso, though Ive generally found most are borderline at best in this regard.



      • #4
        Re: Decaf - Any Good?

        We had a great decaf in a recent Beanbay and there are some comments here:

        I can only speak of the current bean I am roasting and it is nothing like alcohol free wine or skim milk,
        a pleasure to drink and you know you can drink it at night.


        • #5
          Re: Decaf - Any Good?

          Di Bartoli has a good decaf blend. So does Tobys. They are quite OK. But you are always facing a loosing battle if you are comparing against regular beans. Youll get good coffee, but itll never really compare.


          • #6
            Re: Decaf - Any Good?

            Hi Greg,
            there is another way of "de-caffing" coffee, and that is the citric acid method.
            i am sure other, more knowledgable, people can tell you the ins and outs... but from my personal experience, the decaf produced this way is full bodied and suitable for espresso as well as great for plunger.

            i have purchased mine over the last 8 months from 5Senses in Rockingham, WA; they have a Colombian Citric Acid decaf which they use in their decaf blend.... they may have both the green Colombian as well as the brown decaf in their Melbourne outlet too.
            when i roasted this bean, i stalled it after 1st crack and took it 20 sec into 2nd crack, so, much longer than is the norm for Swiss Water decaf.... if you do this with a SW decaf bean you would charcoal it!!

            it produces a quite dark brown roast, with a bit of oil immediately after roasting, but the aroma only fully develops after about 7 days; very deep chocolate and some cinnamon.
            the flavour and mouthfeel of this bean is quite unique, but not in any way less appealing than a caffeinated bean.
            in fact it stands up so well against my other beans that i often make a spur of the moment decision about whether i am going to have a decaf or caffeinated coffee....for me there is no difference other than de presence of caffeine.




            • #7
              Re: Decaf - Any Good?

              Thanks for all the info folks.

              As you may be able to tell from the time of my first post, I had partaken of an late Sunday afternoon coffee (and I only have it strong) so that I couldnt get to sleep. I was up watching the rugby and that started me thinking of decaf, hence the late night posting.

              Then I struggled getting up this morning and rushed the Lelit so that the results were unsatisfactory, didnt chuck it out and start again as I was already running late (Vivianes automatic timer would have solved this) and I was just about out of beans! So, Ive been tired and grumpy all day. >

              Thankfully the Surprise Pack Id ordered off Bean Bay arrived today, so Ill be OK in the morning (thanks Andy, like a giant bag of mixed lollies - dont know where to start). But, to get to my point, Id rather be OK now. Therefore, I think Ill start trying out some decafs. Thanks all for your good information -all good stuff. And Id better scratch up another Moccona jar, Greg P .



              • #8
                Re: Decaf - Any Good?

                Ive heard that caffeine can affect fertility so now that the spring is in the air the fully leaded coffee and tea is out. Im also trying to source a decent decaf brown bean in the Brissie area. Some good information above. I bought some Lavazza decaf from the supermarket (only because I was desperate) but really would like the beans for grinding.

                For what small percentage may be lost in taste Id sooner still be able to enjoy a good coffee.


                • #9
                  Re: Decaf - Any Good?

                  Hi guys,

                  Theres a very cheesy but nonetheless informative video explaining the swiss water process here.

                  As for decaf itself, it seems to me that it loses a lot of the more subtle flavours that one might find in espresso, it ages a bit faster than regular coffee and its less forgiving to dial in for espresso. That said, the decaf blend at work is surprisingly sweet. In milk, I have found some decaf blends to be quite unobjectionable.




                  • #10
                    Re: Decaf - Any Good?

                    Originally posted by fierysport link=1190559929/0#7 date=1191378994
                    Ive heard that caffeine can affect fertility so now that the spring is in the air the fully leaded coffee and tea is out.  Im also trying to source a decent decaf brown bean in the Brissie area.  Some good information above.  I bought some Lavazza decaf from the supermarket (only because I was desperate) but really would like the beans for grinding.  

                    For what small percentage may be lost in taste Id sooner still be able to enjoy a good coffee.
                    Hey Fiery,

                    I use DiBellas swiss water decaf in my cafe up here in Brizzy - I grind their bean myself. You can source whole bean from them direct or on-line (Abbotsford Rd, Bowen Hills). I dont drink it personally, but have tried it a few times just to know what my customers are getting in terms of flavour. Ive found it pleasantly full-bodied with a slight earthy aroma - flavour cuts through the milk too, which is a big+.

                    Hope you guys dont have a busy Summer up here ahead of you :-/

                    A bit of trivia for fellow CSers - Nestle has owned (ie trademarked) the word decaf for the past 20 years in Oz ... scary.



                    • #11
                      Re: Decaf - Any Good?

                      No biggie.
                      If they get narky we can just revert to good old decafeinated.


                      • #12
                        Re: Decaf - Any Good?

                        My wife cant handle caffine and i have one or two a week in a cap or latte and dont find bad at all.

                        Grind, scary is that cadbury owns the colour purple, when it comes to chocolate anyway. Where is your Cafe?



                        • #13
                          Re: Decaf - Any Good?

                          Jasper Coffee make an excellent Peruvian Organic Decaf , which tastes great as an espresso.

                          Most folks are hard pressed to even tell its a decaf in a blind tasting.

                          I bought some home from work for my wife, and now Im quite partial to the occasional decaf in the evening, and it goes down a treat when we host mothers group (opps... better make that PARENTS group), and a few of the mums have said theyll be around more often for coffee!