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Choosing good Decaf Coffee (It’s hard)


Coffee has over a thousand different compounds in it, the most well-known of which is caffeine. While many consider caffeine a desirable stimulant (and sometimes the only reason to drink coffee), a significant number of people can’t have or don’t want to have caffeine. That’s where decaffeinated coffee comes in, of course.

In a world full of coffee drinkers, the word decaf makes most shutter. Nowadays, that idea of decaf coffee not being real coffee is beginning to fade. With so many new practices and break throughs with coffee, there are actually some decaf coffees that taste pretty darn good. 

Before, beginning your search on finding the decaf for you, let’s talk a bit about how decaf is made. We all know Caffeine is inherently present in coffee, therefore, in order to extract the caffeine from the coffee, the coffee must be manipulated. This can be done in many ways, however, the most common way is by using chemicals. There have been many improvements in the world of decaf coffee; one of which being boiling the beans in hot water to extract the caffeine. While this a chemical-free way of decaffeinating coffee, it does result in some loss of flavor. Recently, there have been some interesting improvements in methods to help decaf coffee loose its stigma of being so nasty. While all decaffeinated coffee beans do have to sacrifice flavor on some degree, there are certain things you can look for on packaging that will point you to coffees with the least amount of flavor loss. When choosing a decaf coffee you want to look for a lighter roast when given the option. When brewing a dark roast decaf mixing the water usually results in having the least amount of flavor. You want to choose a lighter for a more unique flavor profile. Another thing you want to look for is a blend instead of single origin. Look for blends that have a mix of beans from two or three regions – that way their complementary strengths can smooth out and mask deficiencies from the decaffeinating.

All decaf coffees do taste different from their regular counterparts, and there are a couple of reasons for this.First, caffeine itself is a bitter white powder that acts as a natural pesticide in part because it does taste bitter. The reason people put sugar in coffee isn’t just to sweeten it up, but because the sugar molecules actively surround the caffeine molecules and block some of them from reaching the tongue. When a bitter compound like caffeine is removed, the resulting taste will change some — although the decrease in bitterness may not be enough for everyone’s liking. Second, other subtle tastes change during the decaffeination process because it’s virtually impossible to extract only caffeine and not also remove at least a few other compounds. Coffee’s nuanced flavors come from a rich array of different compounds, and a small portion of those will inevitably be lost during decaffeination. The extraction of other compounds will lead to a slightly duller taste in decaf coffee, as some of the compounds that give coffee its more nuanced flavors are lost. This doesn’t mean that decaf coffee is bad, however, for many decaf coffees are quite good. Additionally, there are ways to mitigate the flavor loss in roasting and brewing. There’s no debate that decaf coffee is different from caffeinated coffee. It lacks caffeine, and there are some subtle changes in the coffee’s flavor. Those changes don’t justify an inferior reputation, though. Decaf coffee lets many people who would otherwise be unable to have coffee enjoy the beverage, and many decafs taste quite good when roasted and brewed well. If you start with good coffee and remove the caffeine, you can still have coffee that’s quite good. 

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