I know as a coffee geek I’m not supposed to endorse decaffeinated coffee and I’m supposed to have things like, “Death Before Decaf” tattooed across my chest, but as a coffee drinker, I like having options. As I write this review it’s a chilly, rainy spring afternoon in Kansas City and, thanks to decaf, I’m enjoying a nice cup of coffee that, otherwise, I wouldn’t be drinking. I’m not a total lightweight when it comes to caffeine, but I am a very early riser… I’ll be out of bed at 4:50AM tomorrow morning. Staring at the ceiling while I try to fall asleep just doesn’t play into my game plan. Other people are super-sensitive to caffeine or they’re on medication or have health problems that make caffeine consumption problematic. Shouldn’t those people have options for good coffee, too? Of course they should! The people bringing us options for this review are my pals at Manzanita Roasting Co. near San Diego, CA. Today I’m reviewing their Brazil Swiss Water Decaf and if a good decaf is on your list to get, you can buy this one directly from Manzanita Roasting Co. for $14/12oz.
I’m not sure I totally understand the disdain a lot of people in coffee have for decaf. People are passionate about it, that’s for sure. When Swiss Water opened a pop-up store a few months ago there were a lot of very strong opinions being tossed around on social media. And I guess I sort of get it. Decaf is to coffee as non-alcoholic beer is to craft beer, I suppose. Maybe some of the bias comes from the assumption that nasty chemicals are used, or the beans lose all their flavor, etc. But, the real question is can you produce decaffeinated coffees that are as good as their fully leaded brethren?
When specialty roasters like Manzanita decaffeinate coffees, they usually look to our Canadian friends at Swiss Water to do the job. Swiss Water Process is a form of decaffeinating that uses no chemicals. It is possible to decaffeinate coffee with some pretty gnarly solvents, and I’m sure that’s how really big companies probably do it, but the Swiss Water Process doesn’t employ them. It’s a proprietary method, so who knows what’s really going on there if you don’t work for Swiss Water, but generally speaking they use a water-based green coffee extract to slowly pull caffeine out of green coffee beans during a period of 10 hours or so. There is heat involved, too. Over time, 99.99% of the caffeine is pulled out and then the coffee beans are re-dried to how they started and shipped back to the roaster.
I will say, having roasted SWP coffees before myself, they always look pretty beat up and after roasting they look dark and super dry (none of the oils you’d associate with a “dark roast” on the surface of these bad boys!). Taking SWP beans just part first crack they still look like they were incinerated, but looks aside, I’ve had good luck with my own SWP coffees and those I’ve gotten from roasters, too. So, they aren’t fun to look at, but taste is another story altogether! My first SWP was a natural Ethiopian and it was awesome.
Manzanita chose a Brazil coffee from Cerrado for their current decaf offering. This coffee grows at 1200-1400masl and Weston from Manzanita told me he roasts it to be sweet and chocolatey and nothing more than that. Sounds good to me! Brazilian coffees tend to be pretty simple and they definitely lean toward the nutty and chocolatey profile. Since they aren’t super complex in the first place, most of the time, Brazil is a good origin for decaf, too, because if a little complexity gets lost in the process, no worries. You wouldn’t want to send an award-winning Panamanian gesha to Swiss Water, but then again, it’d be an interesting experiment nonetheless!
Brazil is about the only origin I never look forward to tasting. Given my limited “caffeine sobriety” I’d just rather have something more interesting and tastier. So, I’m biased on the origin and I know I shouldn’t be, but I am. I’ll work through it. That said, I liked this cup. Sure, some of that is because I was able to drink a nice, hot cup of coffee late in the afternoon, but it tasted pretty good and it fulfilled Weston’s goal for it. I used my usual 1:16 pourover ratio in a notNeutral Gino dripper with Kalita 185 filters. This Cerrado decaf has a simple, inviting chocolatey and nutty aroma. In the cup it’s a bit brighter than I expected it to be. I got some nice orange juice-like acidity in each sip, very mellow, but still bright. A chocolatey undertone of sweetness permeated each sip, too, and, as expected from Brazil, there was a lot of nuts in the cup. Not peanut-buttery, thank goodness, which is something I don’t do well with in coffee. I could’t pin the “nutty” component to a particular nut, but it was there. This coffee has a nice mouthfeel and body. It’s a little dry on the finish, but overall, I was happy with it. If I was tasting this blind, I wouldn’t be able to say, “Oh, yeah, that’s decaf.” No way. It’s a simple, easy drinker, nothing fancy. I really associate decafs with after-dinner coffee or paired with dessert and I would be really happy getting this coffee as decaf in that context, for sure. Nicely roasted by Weston, I’m appreciative that Manzanita has a decaf option and, yet again, I’m impressed by Swiss Water’s ability to process coffees this way and not totally beat them up. Well done, everyone!