This morning I’m back in Nicaragua (actually, by the time you’re reading this I’m trying to squeeze as many cafe stops as a person can into one day in San Francisco!) by way of Columbus, OH area roaster, Ramble Coffee. This is a special coffee because it’s decaffeinated (the whole “death before decaf” thing is a little silly to me) and that fills a niche for a lot of people who’d like to enjoy good coffee and can’t for a variety of reasons. Let’s take a close look!
RAMBLE COFFEE NICARAGUA MADRIZ DECAF
John and Sara founded Ramble Coffee as a means to bring a sense of adventure and community to their hometown, so I think having a decaffeinated coffee on their current offerings list is a real testament to their mission. Decaf gets a bad rap in specialty coffee, however, there are a lot of people who have to limit caffeine intake because it makes them feel bad, they have medical conditions necessitating it, they’re on medications that make caffeine problematic, or probably in some cases, even for religious reasons. We could just yell, “death before decaf!!!” at these people, or we could take a page from Ramble Coffee (and lots of other specialty roasters), and include these folks in the fun by offering a good decaf option.
Today’s coffee is from the San Juan de Rio Coco area of the Madriz region of Nicaragua. It was grown by the 25 de Marzo cooperative and it contains washed Caturra and Catuai varieties. This is a high-grown coffee that is “European prepared,” meaning there is some hand-sorting after the initial sorting is done. European prep is sort of an old marketing term used mostly in the Americas and according to experts, it doesn’t necessarily mean the end result is any better since so much hand-sorting typically goes into specialty coffee that isn’t designated as “European prep.” The 25 de Marzo co-op was founded in San Juan de Rio Coco in 2008. It has grown to 49 members, 15 of whom are women, and together they cultivate 140 hectares of coffee. This is a small co-op by any standard, considering African coffee cooperatives have 1500+ members quite regularly!
Traditional decaffeination practices use nasty chemicals and should be avoided, but this selection went through the Swiss Water Process. You can read more about SWP at the link above, but it essentially uses water, green coffee extract, time and temperature to extract 99.99% of the caffeine in coffee without carcinogens. Green beans that have been through SWP look pretty rough and they roast up quite a bit darker than they taste, in my experience, but SWP retains a lot of flavor, in my opinion, and can produce some pretty nice coffees, especially if they’re roasted properly. SWP is 100% chemical free and it’s also Kosher-certified.
Becuase I’m mixing it up with a decaf today, I figured I’d switch up my brewing method, too. I actually sampled my coffee in the evenings (it’s decaf! I usually can’t drink coffee after about noon) and so I wanted a fast, easy method. I used an AeroPress with a Lattice Coffee reusable filter (haven’t reviewed these yet, but I like them. Buy them here) and Third Wave Water. I used Brian Beyke’s Stubby recipe, which I linked above. It’s a little to keep straight, but it’s fast and when you have the directions in front of you, pretty manageable. The Lattice is cool because it lets a little more through than a paper filter and I think it presses out way easier and more consistently than an Able Disk, for example.
I’m greeted by a medium-bodied coffee that has some nice tropical characteristics, for me. Right up front there is a lemon candy acidity with pineapple notes and some pineapple tartness and acidity, too. This is really quite a bright coffee, with lots of top notes. There is a mild fruity sweetness keeping the bottom end down in this cup, but it’s really quite bright. Notably, I don’t find the acidity to be too bright or too unbalanced for me. The acidity is really the key player in the flavor of this coffee, for me, but it’s not harsh. It’s really a lot like sweet lemon candy with pineapple sweetness and tartness thrown in the mix. There’s a bit of saltiness to the cup, too, and I’ve gotten that from other SWP decaf coffees in the past, too. It’s not off-putting to me, but there is definitely a saltiness in this coffee that I don’t usually notice in non-decaf coffees. The salinity was no big deal for me and, yes, this coffee is a bit of a one-trick pony focused on the acidity, but it’s good! I enjoyed drinking it! As someone who can’t have coffee after about noon without it affecting my sleep that night, it’s really nice to have an option that is full of the types of flavors I enjoy from specialty coffee. This is a vibrant, dynamic coffee and while it’s not super complex, it’s delicious and I think it’s a great option for people looking for a high-quality decaf option! Well done, Ramble Coffee, and thank you for being inclusive of this population of coffee drinkers!