Decaf

Stumptown are the source of one of my most troubling coffee experiences, one that still haunts and nags at me today.

No one in the coffee industry really likes decaf.  We excuse its taste, we get annoyed at how fast it stales, we treat it as a second rate coffee experience.  I was in that camp too for a while.  Coffee no good?  Well, it is decaf…..

Stumptown ruined that for me.  During our West Coast trip in 2007 we were hanging out with the former roaster Joel, chatting about the UG15 he was roasting on (we were just buying ours at the time), and having a great time.  Joel disappeared to the bar and came back with a shot for Anette and one for me.  It was very tasty, sweet, full bodied and clean.  It definitely wasn’t Hairbender.  I was nearly floored when he told me it was their decaf.  That caused a problem: I no longer had an excuse.

Anette does a great job roasting decaf, and I think that experience is one of the many reasons high.  As our memories improve and elevate that particular espresso it means our own bar will constantly be lifting.

I think we make a grave mistake alienating decaf drinks with tonnes of pre-ground, nasty coffee brewed without much care.  These are people who are buying coffee because they like the taste.  We are supposed to love these people – they aren’t the ones suffering through awful espressos or instant coffee just to get their caffeine fix.  And yet they are the people least catered to in the industry.  A shame.

18 Comments

  1. Spot on

    We grind on demand our decafe expresso and french press in the shop and the results are tip top great tasting and balanced coffee. Addmittedly it won’t compete with the big single estates of this world but beats all the chains normal caffine loaded or not as the case may be expresso hands down. Blind tasting or side by side creates results we wouldn’t expect. I’ve also played the decaf expresso trick on a couple of our regulars and they too were amazed at what good fresh cared for decaf can taste like.

  2. Annette roasts decaf? Is it available for the public to purchase? I’d like to try some!

  3. Its been a long time since i tried a decaf espresso.. it was a monmouth decaf and I really wanted to like it, but it wasn’t as nice, and i just couldn’t bring myself to have another. because i am a real light weight i find 1 strong coffee is enough for me per day. (i would like to drink more!)
    is it really the coffee though or the fact less people drink it, therefore the grind maybe isn’t so spot on/ the machines tweaked for that blend etc…

    i have been building up to try one from flat white, (it is Square mile decaf too right?) but i will have to wear some kind of disguise….

  4. I would ease myself gently into things – go to Flat White and get a decaf piccolo or decaf flat white, and then maybe work up to an espresso.

    Decaf is difficult because even the best decaffeination processes take something away from the coffee and they change the structure of the bean too making it harder to roast and more susceptible to staling. It can be delicious – it just takes a huge amount of work and skill on the part of many people. (Just like caffeinated coffee then I suppose….)

  5. I have to say your decaf coffee is primo—some of our news customers are surprised if they get a decaf americano because they go ‘I ordered a regular’ and we go ‘we know, that’s it’—it’s got a great crema to it!

  6. I so glad you’re giving decaf espresso, more generally, and Stumptown’s decaf, in particular, the attention it deserves. I’ve been clamoring about Stumptown’s decaf for a couple of months now. Just had a tasty shot last night! It’s true it won’t go head to head with better caffeinated espresso, but when done right, it’s very good. Do you happen to know whether/how the formula has changed since you tried it back in 2007?

    I also think it’s quite good as an Americano/Long Black (especially to help hide the imperfections that less than perfect shot). I haven’t yet had the luxury of trying out Square Mile’s decaf (hopefully someday soon), but for folks stateside, I’d definitely recommend both the Decaf Black Cat and Barefoot’s Sumatra Gayo Mountain Decaf as other worthy contenders in the decaf world.

  7. I just wish that consumer could learn to moderate. I mean, why not just have a single cappuccino or single latte… Do they really need to have that 16 ounce, 4 espresso, decaf latte. I don’t have issues with any of my customers who have to have decaf because they’re pregnant or have a medical condition… However, when you’ve had three lattes in the morning, and you need to have decaf on the 4th, maybe you should rethink somethings. It’s like non-alcoholic beer. I would never drink the stuff. If I want a beer, but I’m trying to keep it cool and not get drunk, then I’m simply going to stick with one beer. Maybe some food as well…

  8. Stumptown’s decaf espresso is killer. While I do have a hard time getting it dialed in, it makes a damn tasty drink. It does bother me when somebody gets decaf in a similar situation to what Ryan mentioned though. That’s kind of silly.

  9. yes! decaf is important!

    I keep a decaf available at home at all times, green, as well as my regular.

    I like it myself, in the evenings, but it’s also very pleasant to serve to friends – people who like coffee, but won’t have one because, “it’s late, I won’t sleep”, or to people who drink decaf regularly and are always disappointed by it.

    Offering a good CO2 decaf to someone who’s only ever had SWP pregrounds before is a really feel-good thing to do.

  10. After adding cream/sugar/ and some chocolate into my coffee, it would taste the same whether it is decaf or not. I’m not a coffee expert, but I can never taste the difference. I can’t drink espressos because that is the nastiest stuff ever on earth.

  11. then i would argue that you’ve never had a good espresso… blame your barista for your opinions about espresso.

  12. totally agree.

    same goes for non-fat/low-fat milk… why even? can’t you just order a 6oz drink that tastes good, rather than a giant “america-size” 24oz non-fat with tons of sugar to cover up bad shots and watery milk?

    we’re a society of addictions, us modern consumer capitalists… “what are you into these days?” just means “what’s your newest addiction?” with a heap of “addiction counseling” and 12-step programs making money off of it, rather than encouraging moderation.

    god bless michael pollard.

  13. So I get that this an old post, and I don’t know long it’s been availible for, but has anyone tried the Opus One natural decaf? It’s genetically modified to have as little caffeine as possible, but because it’s not treated, it pours and tastes great… One of my mates even used it as a single origin in the recent state Barista championships… Definately worth a look at…

  14. R. Willbur – I’ve heard comments like yours a lot, “you need to have decaf on the 4th, maybe you should rethink somethings”, and appreciate your message of promoting moderation. However, I hope coffee industry professionals realize that thinking like this is dangerously close to simply turning away business. Coffee professionals who would encourage consumers to drink NO COFFEE rather than order a decaf must have some rose-colored glasses about what will happen if you repeatedly tell people who drink coffee for the taste (James’ point in the blog) that you have nothing for them.

    If you truly want to encourage moderation in the 4-latte consumer, why not suggest he/she start with decaf on the 2nd, or even the 1st, so as to just enjoy the taste and not overload on caffeine?

  15. James:
    Thank you for your valuable and much-needed-in-the-coffee-industry comment about the decaf consumer being the one who is most dedicated to drinking coffee for the taste. They are the “epitomy” not the “evil stepchild” of the coffee consuming world.

  16. I just included Opus One from Daterra Estate (Brazil) in a flight of decafs cupped with the 8 baristas of a new high end coffee shop. The owner enjoyed the complex taste, unsweetened cocoa flavor, with hints of chocolate and lavender. He’ll offer it for a week to customers.

    The question is — how to list it on the menu? Technically, it is not “decaf” because the Opus One has 1% caffeine and the formal definition of decaf is <.01% caffeine. (Regular coffee has 3% caffeine, I've heard.) One of the barista's suggested, call it "Low Caffeine" coffee.

    Also, you might want to check whether "genetically modified" is a correct description. I believe it is genetically bred, with 12 years of work to get it right. Does genetically breeding a new variety = genetically modified?

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