In Defense of Decaf April 18 2012

You know if I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times: “Decaf!? Yuck! It’s like drinking non-alcoholic beer, what’s the use?” Decaf drinkers catch a hard time in the coffee world. According to the National Coffee Association, decaf drinkers make up only 10% of the entire coffee market.  I really love my decaf drinkers & in an effort to bring more attention to the subject, I decided to write a blog about one of America’s invisible minorities.

Caffeine is a naturally occurring substance found in a variety of plants including its most famous carrier coffee. Caffeine wasn’t originally developed in plants as a stimulant for humans, but as a way to deflect bugs. When insects bite into plants containing caffeine, it actually paralyzes them, preventing the insect from devouring the plant completely. It wasn’t until many years later that coffee was discovered to be a stimulant presumptively by an Ethiopian goat herder. Read more about that story here.

How is coffee decaffeinated? Caffeine is removed from natural coffee by a number of means. One of the oldest processes is a chemical type that uses a plant based solvent to remove the caffeine. The raw beans are soaked into this solution to extract the caffeine quickly to encourage retaining the coffee’s natural flavor. Another common decaf process is water based decaffeination. The water process steams or soaks the beans in high temperature water to extract the caffeine from them. That water solution is then drained through carbon filters which captures the extracted caffeine. The beans are then re-introduced to the caffeine-free solution to absorb their organic flavors.  Is the extracted caffeine trashed? Nope. It’s actually sold to beverage makers, pharmaceutical companies and other companies that repurpose it for use in their products. Why does decaf get such a bad rap? Most of it just doesn’t taste as well as its caffeinated counter parts. Why? Because 90% of the decaf coffee produced is made up of coffee beans that were rejected from the original lot. You read correctly, bad and/or inadequate coffee beans generally are sent to be decaffeinated. Most companies figure since decaf drinkers tend to be less discerning about the way their coffee tastes, they just spare them the left overs. However, the same old truth applies: garbage in, garbage out.  In the words of Kenneth Davids: “pity the poor decaf drinker.”

Luckily, for the decaf drinker, things are changing. As quality coffee continues to evolve, decaf does too.  Decaf is finally starting to get the recognition it deserves. Quality roasters like us, roast high quality beans that aren’t rejected from the original lot but are quality from the start making a positive impact on the taste. There’s a special place in my heart for my decaf customers. Most of them select decaf coffees for either health or personal reasons. I really enjoy a good tasting decaf myself, especially late afternoons when I desire coffee & not want to worry about losing sleep. Great decaf coffees are very rare & supplies are really thin. In actuality, I work the hardest for my decaf drinkers. Without the drive to drink coffee simply for a caffeine delivery system, they mainly have one desire in mind: great taste. Great taste is exactly what we have in mind when selecting coffees for our decaf & non-decaf drinkers alike. So next time your friend selects decaf to enjoy, don’t make fun of them, instead remember that common bond you both share for the cup. Be blessed