"Decaf" is a word that conjures all sorts of feelings, predispositions, and typically some strong opinions. The fact is, it's becoming more of a mainstay in the specialty coffee space, so we wanted to write a few words on what's going on in the world of decaffeinated coffees.
Most decaf coffee on grocery store shelves is decaffeinated using a chemical-based process. Essentially, coffee beans are placed in a heated chemical-based solvent that separates the caffeine. One of the common solvents used in the process is methylene chloride, an active ingredient in paint stripper that was banned by the EPA, but is still allowed to be used by the FDA in the decaffeinating process.
A study by the Clean Label Project in 2020 tested 25 of the most popular brands found in grocery stores, and found that 40% of the samples tested contained methylene chloride.
There has been a rise of high-quality coffees decaffeinated using the chemical-free Swiss water process method. This method relies on water, time, and temperature alone to separate and remove caffeine from green beans. When looking for decaf, buy high-quality organic beans and look for those decaffeinated using the swiss water process.
Our current decaf go-to?
The decaf Ethiopian Sidama from Noble Coffee. As our February 2022 featured roaster, we were lucky to be able to test quite a few coffees from our friends at Noble. While we continue to be impressed with the quality of each and every coffee they put out, this Ethiopian decaf is one the best we have had in a while. It’s sweet and complex, with a full body and all the vibrancy you expect from coffees grown in the Sidama region.
Our take? Decaf has a worthy place in anyone's brew lineup, but being mindful of how it was grown and processed is imperative.