Sunday Cupping Notes
Today’s Sunday cupping featured Mike Strumpf and Jinnie Cho from the Swiss Water Decaffeinated Coffee Co. There is no denying that the process of decaffeination does involve a degree of stress to the bean, the goal is to make that process as gentle as possible to preserve the unique qualities of each coffee. That is what the folks at Swiss Water have sought to do and especially within the last five years they have made remarkable improvements to their proprietary decaffeination method. These people know their product well and they shared with us their knowledge about the role caffeine plays in coffee, about the history of decaffeinated coffees. They also explained some of the alternative methods used to decaffeinate coffee including, of course, the Swiss Water method. Finally we examined some of the myths associated with decaffeinated coffee and we tasted some very fine decaf coffees.
So why drink decaf? Is decaffeinated coffee necessarily healthier for you? Studies have shown that in moderation caffeine poses no significant risk to the average person. Some though may have sensitivities or a medical condition that requires an avoidance of caffeine. Or some, like myself, may simply prefer to drink decaf later in the day to avoid the stimulating side effects of regular coffee. It is for these reasons that people choose to drink decaf and thanks to companies like Swiss Water, we have access to some great decaffeinated coffees.
So how long have decaffeinated coffees been available? The first commercially successful process of decaffeination was developed in 1905 using a brine solution to steam the coffee and applying benzene as a solvent to remove the caffeine. Over time various methods were developed using different chemicals and processes. In the 1930s a company in Switzerland began developing a process of decaffeination using no chemicals only water. This became the method used by the Swiss Water Decaffeinated Coffee Co. operating in Burnaby, British Columbia. It is at this point that I will refer you to the Swiss Water DCC website for an explanation of their decaffeination process. They explain the process better than I ever could!
Finally, a few common misconceptions about decaf coffees that impressed me:
– “Decaf coffee tastes bad” This was perhaps due to the fact that poorer quality coffee was typically used for the decaffeination process. A dismissive attitude toward decaf being a factor. Now with better coffees being used, better decafs are available. Remember, the decaf coffee drinker would be just as concerned about flavor than the non-decaf drinker. This person is not after the “buzz” one usually gets from a regular “cup-a-joe”, but they still crave the flavor and aroma of a good cup of coffee.
– “You lose flavor along with the caffeine” Caffeine is a flavorless compound, so removing the caffeine should not alter the flavor of the coffee. Granted the caffeine removal process does affect the bean, if the operator is careful, the difference can be minimized.
– “You lose the health benefits associated with coffee” Not true, with only the caffeine removed from coffee, the beverage will still retain the antioxidants and disease preventive compounds inherent in the bean.
I was so grateful to the people at Swiss Water to come visit us. It is nice to know that we can enjoy great coffees that have been decaffeinated without the use of harsh chemicals and that still retain much of their original qualities.