Decaffeinated coffees are often given short shrift in the world of coffee. “Death before decaf” and all that, you know the drill. What do you do, though, if you’re sensitive to caffeine, it’s nighttime and you want the flavor of coffee without the buzz, or you have a health condition or are taking a medication that shouldn’t be mixed with caffeine? Luckily, more and more specialty roasters are recognizing the need to offer a decaf option and sourcing good beans that are caffeine-free is getting easier. This one comes from Sump Coffee in St. Louis. Unfortunately, this coffee isn’t listed the their website right now, but coffees seem to come and go at a breakneck pace on Sump’s page, so you may want to call them and see if they have it available or when they may be roasting it next.
Decaf gets a bad rap for two reasons. First, people like caffeine. Just like beer drinkers often like alcohol. Secondly, either because of poor beans or because the process beats up the beans, the flavors often leave a lot to be desired. Again, sort of like how there aren’t a ton of really good non-alcoholic beer options.
I received a small sample of this coffee, their “Colombia Decaf,” when I visited Sump in early August. This coffee was not I expected, in the least! According to the label on the sample package this coffee comes from Palestina in the Huila region of Colombia. Lots of varietals are grown in Palestina, including Caturra, Castillo, Colombia, Typica, Red Bourbon, Pink Bourbon and Tabi. Coffee is grown in the 1400-1900masl on mostly small (6 hectares is average) farms. 1
It seems like the majority of specialty coffee is decaffeinated using the Swiss Water Process, but I don’t think that’s the case for this one from Sump. They sourced this coffee from Cafe Imports, who carries a decaf from Palestina that uses the typically Colombian “sugarcane E.A.” method. This method is popular in Colombia because they have ample molasses sitting around from their sugar industry. Molasses is fermented to become ethanol, which is then mixed with acetic acid (what gives vinegar its kick) to create a compound called ethyl acetate. Sounds nasty and chemical-y, but ethyl acetate or “EA” is commonly found in foods and it turns out that it’s a great solvent for caffeine.
In the sugarcane EA decaffeinating process, coffee beans are steamed to open their pores, EA and water are applied which dissolves caffeine from the beans into the solution. That solution is separated from the beans, removing the caffeine from them. The coffee gets re-steamed to remove the ethyl acetate that stayed behind, then the beans are dried and shipped. 2 3
Now, for this Palestina from Sump Coffee, this coffee had a dry fragrance that was really sweet and chocolatey, but man, it was bright! A really unexpected cup and a coffee I think a lot of specialty coffee drinkers looking for a decaf would enjoy. The profile is super bright and a bit tart, which orange acidity and a ton of melon. I got some savory notes and a bit of earth in the background, too, but think cantaloupe with a dash of salt on it and that’s where my mind went with this coffee! Very unusual, but I liked it a lot! This a really full-bodied cup and it is sweet and tart/bright at the same time. The finish is nice and round and lacks the dry chalkiness that I sometimes get from decaf coffees. It holds up pretty well down to room temperature, but I think this coffee was best closer to its brewed temp.
This is a weird coffee, no doubt, but I liked it! The flavors, although they sound sort of weird together, worked well and that melon note was awesome. This was certainly not a dirty, boring, half-dead decaf, so I hope Sump has more of it to sell and puts it back on the menu!