Caffeine-free coffee lovers, rejoice! We’ve taken a small selection of our first Crown Jewel, sent it to Vancouver, and let the fine folks at Swiss Water gently remove its caffeine while leaving the lovely character of the coffee we admire intact. It’s a pristine example of water-process decaffeination, and our very first Crown Jewel is now also our very first decaffeinated Crown Jewel.
The green coffee comes to us by way of Hacienda La Amistad, located in Coto Brus, a canton in the province of Puntarenas, Costa Rica. The farm is owned and operated by Roberto Montero Zeledón, a third generation coffee farmer. Roberto’s family has returned more than 6,000 hectares of land to the government of Costa Rica for the preservation of La Amistad International Park, the largest natural reserve in Central America. Only 300 hectares of land are utilized for coffee cultivation while the remainder of the 4,000 hectare estate is preserved forest teeming with wildlife. Roberto’s commitment to organic farming pairs harmoniously with his commitment to his community. During the coffee harvest, Roberto provides housing and free access to medical care for the seasonal pickers. A video from La Amistad available for your viewing here, and Roberto was featured in an article by Mayra Orellana-Powell here about organic coffees and coffee rust.
Swiss Water has made famous their chemical-free decaffeination method. To remove the caffeine, warmed water is loaded with green coffee extract (everything that makes coffee coffee except for caffeine). The water is so saturated with “coffee stuff” that the compounds in the beans being decaffeinated are not absorbed by the water – only caffeine is extracted. When this indirect method is employed, there is no need to re-saturate the coffee, as it will retain all its natural flavor. In Swiss Water’s patented method, the caffeinated liquid passes through activated carbon filters.
Two common hybrids make up this lot, and they’re related. Caturra is a naturally occurring dwarf mutation of Bourbon first seen in Brazil in the early 20th century. Catuaí is also a dwarf variety, originating from a hybridization of Caturra and Mundo Novo in Brazil. Both cultivars are resistant to wind and rain, relatively high yielding, can be planted more closely together than larger cultivars, and require some precision in fertilization.
Two major changes occurred during decaffeination to this coffee: its density decreased and its water activity increased. In both cases, this is related to the fact that the coffee is soaked in water as part of the process, and then re-dried. The result is a relatively low-density coffee with a slightly high water activity. Keep an eye on Jen’s roasting recommendations for this unique Crown Jewel.
Water processed decaffeinated coffees can be difficult to roast because of their low density. The integrity of the seed has been compromised because they have literally been processed again. Roasters can find them easy to burn and will notice that they easily express oil after the roast compared to caffeinated coffees that have the same degree of roast. The two roasts below ColorTracked similar to other caffeinated coffees which is a testament to the improvements they have been making in decaf technology over at Swiss Water.
Most people roast decaf coffee much darker than their caffeinated counterparts because of the loss of organic material and flavor through the water process. Below we have outlined two roasts: the first is a lighter roast, PR-348, and the second is a darker roast by 10 °F. The timing of the roast are not terribly far apart. My reasoning was to roast this decaffeinated coffee quickly so that we can retain as much organic matter as possible, yet still allowing for ample sugar browning. A nice decaf coffee like this Costa Rica should showcase some elements of terroir and taste like specialty coffee. The lighter roast, PR-348, was bright with citric and malic acids present: green apple, peaches, and cola. The darker roast, PR-349 was the preferred roast on the table. It was very complex and sweet: dark chocolate, plums, raisins and cacao.
I had a bit of fun with Jen’s second roast, PR-0349. Using a Chemex to brew a low coffee ratio, and a Kalita to brew a much higher one, I ended up with somewhat different cups of the same coffee. The extraction on both took me by surprise: even the long, low-dose brew in the Chemex produced a relatively low extraction percentage. As ground coffee, this batch offered very little resistance to water in the brew basket, at least for the first few minutes. The Chemex stalled, however, at around 7:00 to just barely a dribble and took a full eight minutes to complete.
Despite all this, the coffee tasted quite nice. Richard and I expressed a preference for the Kalita: it had a round mouthfeel and a smoothness that seemed perfectly acceptable as a digestif or an accompaniment to either a breakfast pastry or a decadent dessert. Both brews offered lots of chocolaty flavors, but the Kalita just seemed easy, smooth, and right. Feeling pretty proud of the coffee, I offered it to our sales team without telling them what it was. They were all surprised to find that I’d just served them coffee sans caffeine. It was a hit.