Decaf returns to the Crown Jewel menu, this time from Sidama in southern Ethiopia. We took a look at a few strong contenders, but in the end we felt like the smooth maple syrup sweetness and subtle fruit and floral character this coffee offered made it the most Jewel-worthy.
As with all of our Royal Select Decaf options, we screen the green coffee first. After preselection by our cupping team here in California, it shipped 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 using water “charged” with green coffee extract – basically everything that makes coffee coffee, except for caffeine. The slurry of coffee solids in water, when exposed to raw green coffee will extract just the caffeine. It’s then drained and filtered, and then the process is repeated until the coffee is at least 97% free of the stimulant alkaloid.
If you’d like to read a little more on caffeine, decaffeination methods, and Royal’s decision to discontinue Methylene Chloride method decafs, check out this article from October, 2016.
Descamex water process decafs retain a brownish hue, so calling this a “green” analysis might be a bit of a misnomer. Regardless, once the coffee reaches Maillard reactions in the roaster, it begins to look a little more normal, so fear not.
As far as physical specs are concerned, the coffee is pretty unremarkable. It’s medium-smallish in size, relatively dry, with a slightly higher than average water activity (pretty normal for a decaf, given the rehydration process). The Kett MC% meter has trouble with consistency on decafs, so I tend to defer to the Sinar for reading discrepancies like we see here. Given that the coffee has surrendered its caffeine—and perhaps some other soluble material as well—during the decaf process, the most noteworthy aspect of this batch might be its high density.
Back in my production roasting days, decaf coffee used to be the warm-up batch, usually tossed into an idling machine first thing before I was awake enough to pay attention to a profile. However, as evidenced by this week’s Ikawa roasts, small changes in profile, including the charge temperature, can have significant impact on the resulting flavor, even—and perhaps especially—for decaf.
I used a small variation in charge temperature on two otherwise relatively similar profiles, with dramatic differences on the cupping table. I was surprised to find that, in contrast to my old production habits, this coffee responded more favorably to a high charge temperature (Roast 1, Blue) than the lower charge temperature (Roast 2, Red). Especially surprising is the early first crack on Roast 2, which lead to a far longer than intended time spent developing afterwards.
The cupping panel was in unanimous agreement, Roast 1 offered Peachy flavors with a chocolatey base and creamy viscosity, while Roast 2 presented some melon notes, but was marred by a bitter smokiness, the result of the long PCD.
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.
This decaffeinated Jewel shines with its original Sidama character. I am a steadfast believer that there is a place for decaf, and coffees like this just go to show how delicious decaf can be. I mean, people aren’t drinking it for the caffeine…
I followed my standard operating procedure for this Jewel, which you can find in my blog posting linked above. Essentially, I hit the coffee with as much heat as possible from the outset, and adjust the development later in the roast with the Program buttons in manual mode. In this case, I reduced heat to 75% with the P4 button 30 seconds after first crack. I then rode out the roast for 1:30” longer and cooled the coffee manually.
This coffee made a great showing on the cupping table, with green apple, jasmine, and a curious Maraschino cherry note. I know those cherries can be divisive, but this flavor reminded me very favorably of the beginning of a sundae experience as a child. Very sweet, and very enjoyable.
Many of us know the flavor of decaffeinated coffee, and could identify a decaf almost immediately. This tasty Sidama Natural could sneak by even the most experienced cuppers; doesn’t have the characteristic oiliness present in so many decafs, and instead abounds with flavors of cherry, jasmine, mandarin orange, and fennel on the cupping table.
We tend to ask a lot of our decafs; often there is only one decaf option on the menu, and so it’s asked to perform well on a wide range of brew devices. With this in mind, I dialled in on a C70 brewer and then also on the GS3 – a significant feat considering how little coffee I had to work with, and an indication of how easy this Sidama is to work with.
On the C70 pour over I brewed a 1:16 ratio which ran just past the 5:00 mark – longer than I like my brews to go, but not unusual for decaffeinated coffees which tend to be siltier. The cup tasted of raspberry, black currant, lemongrass, and tamarind. On espresso, I pulled a 1:2 ratio shot and enjoyed the flavors of salted caramel, honey, and candied citrus that it had to offer. With just a few more grams of coffee I’m sure I could have pulled out more fruit sweetness from the espresso by tightening the grind just slightly to extend brew time.