Introduction by Chris Kornman
Every once in a great while, a decaf coffee turns up and really turns some heads. We’ve had some pretty spectacular fruit-dried natural Ethiopias this season, and this one retained plenty of its original character all the way through decaffeination. Characterized by its unmistakable strawberry flavor, it’s an easy coffee to enjoy, with the added benefit of being caffeine-free.
The coffee was sourced from smallholder farmers in Ethiopia’s Sidama region. Drying coffee in the cherry, as was the case here, is the original tradition in Ethiopia. Natural or dry-process, fruit-dried or cherry-dried – however you prefer to talk about this style of ‘zero-process’ coffee post-harvest production, it all comes back to Ethiopia. While farmers across the globe still practice this method of letting the coffee fruit dry like raisins around the seed, it all started in here. It’s still common to see smallholder farmers drying their daily harvest on their porches or lawns across the country. Unlike much of the rest of the world, many of these farmers will then roast and grind their own harvest – Ethiopia is the world’s only coffee producing country whose volume of consumption equals its export.
The green coffee was shipped, after preselection by our cupping team here in Emeryville, CA, from Ethiopia to Veracruz, Mexico, the location of Descamex and their chemical-free decaffeination method called Mountain Water Process. The technique involves hydrating the coffee beans, preloading the water with green coffee extract – basically everything that makes coffee coffee except for caffeine. The saturated coffee-solids water extracts just the caffeine, is drained and filtered, and then the process is repeated until the coffee is at least 97% free of the alkaloid.
Green Analysis by Chris Kornman
If you’ve ever set eyes on Mountain Water Processed coffee before, you’ll know that “green analysis” is a bit of a misnomer, as the coffee takes on a brownish hue after decaf processing. Not to worry, once you get into the Maillard Reaction during roasting things will start to look normal again, but it can be a little shocking seeing the effects of processing on the physical state of the coffee.
Decaf coffees must be handled with care during processing; the re-hydration involved means they must also be re-dried, and as a result even low moisture decafs can still have high water activity. This particular example has maintained the characteristic high density associated with Ethiopian coffees. The large discrepancy between moisture readings taken on the Sinar and Kett are a strange anomaly; check Jen’s notes on roast loss percentage and roast this coffee with care not to scorch or otherwise over-expose it to heat.
Roast Analysis by Jen Apodaca
I was lucky enough to taste this coffee on the arrival table and had the opportunity to sample roast this coffee for evaluation. With just 6 minutes in the sample roaster and 60 seconds of roast time after first crack. Although this coffee is a natural process, it was surprisingly citric, floral and thin bodied like a washed Ethiopian coffee.
I decided to lengthen the duration of the roast to see if I could tease out some jammy berry notes. Roast one progressed nicely with little to no manipulation. I finished the roast with 1:55 minutes after first crack. For my second roast I decided to lower my drop temperature and lower my heat so that I could extend the total roast time by almost a minute. Most of this extension of time happened during the drying stage and post crack development. The Maillard stage was curiously the exact same length of time in both of the roasts.
On the cupping table, the peach jam and juiciness of roast one easily outshone roast two, which displayed lots of floral character and roasty finish. This is a stellar coffee that easily received high scores on the cupping table. If you would like to retain the acidity of this coffee I recommend a short fast roast.
Roast one: Peach nectar, apple juice, orange blossom, cinnamon
Roast two: Jasmine, orange, cedar, lemongrass
Behmor Analysis by Evan Gilman
Unless otherwise noted, I follow a set standard of operations for all my Behmor roasts. Generally, I’ll use the 1lb setting, manual mode (P5), full power, and high drum speed until crack. Read my original post and stats here.
My experience with decaffeinated beans on the Behmor is one of soft whispers and understated gestures. That is to say, decaf coffees have a very quiet crack and it is sometimes difficult to determine when it begins. Mostly, I just go with my gut instinct and account for these idiosyncracies.
Though this was my darkest roast for this week’s four Crown Jewel coffees, this roast also had the lowest loss percentage. Not all of this was because of low moisture content – as you can see from Chris’ notes above, this coffee has relatively standard moisture content. I gave this coffee 1:30 of development time after first crack, but the high density seemed to ward away any significant roast loss.
This was a perfectly tasty coffee as a brew, and while it is obviously a decaffeinated coffee, it would be easy to fool the uninitiated into thinking this was your standard bright and delicious caffeinated Ethiopian coffee. It’s good that this one is decaf, because I could chug it all day.
Brew Analysis by Sandra Elisa Loofbourow
When brewing pour overs, I do my best to keep brew times under 5 minutes. This is an extreme challenge with a 6 cup Chemex, whose thick paper and larger volume make it difficult to achieve brews under six or seven minutes. My Sidama Natural Decaf brews all took well over eight minutes, and I know why: Mountain Water Processing creates silty grounds that slow drainage through the filer. However, after playing around with our Sidamo 4 Guji Natural Royal Select Water Decaf, I knew that although brew times might be prolonged, over extraction was unlikely to happen. Coffee fines have a high surface area and small particle size, which means that they extract very quickly, and won’t have anything more to offer the brew beyond that point. Meanwhile, the rest of the grounds are extracting at a normal pace. As a result, coarsening my grind for the previous Decaf analysis led to under extracted cups–the fines extracted the same amount as before and the rest of the coffee was ground too coarse to extract properly.
I chose first to brew on a Chemex because I thought the heavy filter and extended brew time this device offers would be an interesting experiment for my silty but delicious coffee. Chemex filters are thick and brew times are often between five and ten minutes–incredibly long by normal brew standards. All I could do to mitigate this was brew a slightly smaller volume of coffee than I usually would in a 6 cup Chemex. But sure enough, all brews came in at the 8 minute mark, but with with TDS ranging from 1.27-1.34.
These cups were delicious, full of cherry, blueberry, chocolate, maple, and green apple. But I couldn’t rest until I experimented with those pesky fines a little more. In the brew analysis for the Sidamo 4 Natural Royal Select Water Decaf, I chose to do aeropresses, whose combination full-immersion and filter brew method, combined with short brew times, seemed the perfect solution for allowing the coffee to extract thoroughly and not allow the fines to interfere too much. At the time, I remember wishing I could pull espresso, the one brew method that benefits from fines. Now that I have a La Marzocco GS3 at my disposal, I decided to try this Moutain Water Processed coffee on shots. Sure enough, this Sidama proved delicious on espresso and was a breeze to dial in, presenting notes of tart berries, molasses, raisin, milk chocolate, and passion fruit in a 1:2 ratio espresso.
Let me make one thing clear: this coffee does not taste like decaf! Chris Kornman actually wrote “what a delight!” as a tasting note for one of the Chemexes. Bob Fulmer, who was struggling between the desire to finish his scrumptious espresso shot and the knowledge that he was already over-caffeinated, was very surprised (and relieved) to hear that he was sipping decaf. This is a clean, sweet, and vibrant coffee that was a pleasure to brew.
This coffee may be available in full size bags as well. Contact Us to find out more.