Decaf is often the unfortunate stepchild in any coffee roasting operation. Most roasters offer only one decaf coffee and if there are two, then the other decaf is usually referred to as the organic decaf. Decaf is mistreated at roasting facilities around the world every morning as the first batch of the day. I admit that I have also used decaf to warm the roasting machine at the start of my shift. Most of the time, decaf is roasted dark and without much attention to detail. With the rise in decaffeination technology, there are plenty of delicious and traceable decaf coffees available. I’m talking about true specialty-grade offerings with origin and variety characters that you can taste in every roasted batch. If decaffeinated coffees are tasting better and better these days, then why are we not seeing more of them?

Let’s get the elephant out of the room, decaffeinated coffee is more expensive. It also lacks a certain buzz that many of our customers line up for. Let’s put both of those reasons aside for a moment and look at it from another angle. On our menu, we have a high-scoring, traceable specialty coffee that we pay a premium for. Why are we using this coffee to warm up the machine? Why not take the extra time to profile these coffees for optimum flavor?

Recently I was asked to roast some decaf offerings for a Swiss Water pop up in Los Angeles. Royal was there serving coffees, teaching Crown classes as part of our Crown on the Road series & exploring incredible coffees that happen to not have caffeine. I roasted them as I would any caffeinated single-origin coffee, created two profiles for each, and saw some great results on the cupping table. Below is a quick description of the roast and flavor profile of each coffee. Two profiles were created for each coffee so we could experience a broader range of flavors that each coffee has to offer. More information can be found for each coffee by clicking on the links.

The roasts for all of the decafs in this article were all roasted between 8 and 9 minutes long with an average of 2 minutes post crack development on a one-kilo probatino roaster. On a larger production roaster, your roast times will differ. If you have the chance to roast a stellar water-processed decaf, try a shorter roast time, whether you are roasting light or dark profile.

Coffee One: Peru Royal Select SWP Decaf

PR-0360 (medium roast) chocolate covered raisin, pecan, and purple plum

PR-0361 (second crack) black cherry, dark chocolate

Coffee Two: Costa Rica Roberto Montero Zeledon SWP Decaf

PR-0362 (medium roast) lemon, floral, jasmine, chocolate custard

PR-0363 (light roast) Juicy orange, cherry, very clean and sweet

Coffee Three: Ethiopia Royal Select SWP Decaf

PR-0364 (medium roast) grape jelly, fig, honey

PR-0365 (light roast) strawberry, blackberry, vanilla, roasted cashew

Coffee Four: Ethiopia FTO Natural Yirgacheffe 3 Worka SWP Decaf

PR-0366 (light roast) mango, pineapple juice, chocolate cream

PR-0367 (medium roast) lemon, grilled pineapple, caramel

Water processed decaffeinated coffees can be difficult to roast because of their low density and loss of organic material. The integrity of the seed has been compromised because they have literally been processed again. Roasters can find them easy to burn because the green coffee is visibly darker and as is the surface of the roasted coffee. On the graph below we have several roasts indicated by the different colored dots that correspond to the PR#s that we mentioned above. The y axis represents the temperature reading from the bean probe at the end of the roast. The x-axis is the ColorTrack reading. The ColorTrack, like the Agtron and other devices, is a color meter that helps roasters use as an objective metric to discuss and compare degrees of roast in coffee. Lighter roasts are represented by lower numbers and darker roasts are represented by higher numbers. On the graph below you will see PR-0361, our dark roast that went into the second crack, on the upper right corner because of its high-end temperature and high ColorTrack number.

With our wide range of roasts with different processes and varieties, we can see that the range between the whole bean ColorTrack readings are pretty narrow (6.34). When we view the ground sample readings that range practically doubles (12.35). This is significant because it is difficult for roasters to gauge the degree of roast from visual cues alone. Below is a picture of the roasted samples that are in the infographics arranged by PR# top to bottom and left to right. This picture was taken 7 days off roast and the samples are beginning to oil. In the lower left corner is PR-0361 our darkest coffee on the table, which is easy to identify. It also happens to be right next to PR-0363, our lightest roast on the table. These two are very different side by side, but the rest of the roasts are difficult to label or rank visually by roast degree. The only real way to profile your decaffeinated coffees is to do due diligence when you roast and cup them.

decaf roast comparison photo

Decaf no longer needs to be the runt of the litter. Of course there are plenty of decaffeinated coffees that can taste “processy.” Here at Royal Coffee, we recently chose to discontinue the sale of Methylene Chloride Decaf, which you can read about on our blog here. To learn more about all the kinds of decafs out there, check out Chris Kornman’s recent article, Decaffeination – Stimulating Discussion About Stimulant-Free Coffee.

If you are like me and you want to get more out of your decaf, I would like to urge you to spend more time profiling your coffees and give them the attention they deserve. Step out of your normal routine and apply different roasting techniques. Decaf can taste good – just give it a chance.