I admit that I'm a coffee purist, which is really just a nice word for snob. I like simplicity, quality over quantity, no added flavors or condiments that get in the way of the experience I get from a perfectly good, pure cup of coffee.
Naturally, I have a personal vendetta against decaf.
It's not because I'm a hopeless caffeine addict who brags about the amount of java he can down before going to sleep for three hours and pop up fully rested. In reality, I rarely drink coffee after 4pm so that what sleep I do find to fit into my schedule can at least be worth the sacrifice of not drinking the beverage later in the day. I'm an all or nothing kind of guy – if I can't afford to enjoy a cup and be able to sleep well that night, I'll choose one over the other, depending on how my day tomorrow looks.
This attitude is the reason I have a personal issue with decaf. When coffee undergoes the process of decaffeination, there are parts of the bean that get removed. Obviously, caffeine is the major product removed, but there are other things that tag along for the ride or simply don't survive the process. This results in coffee that tastes objectively different than its caffeinated counterpart. In my subjective opinion, it tastes less delicious, so I don't drink it. All or nothing; either I have all the deliciousness there is to offer or I'll stick to water.
This is not to say I dislike or judge those who choose a decaf option for one reason or another. While I wish everyone had my same ideals of purity in coffee, there are still plenty of legitimate motives why someone does not want or cannot have caffeinated beverages, and that's perfectly fine and acceptable. I would never tell somebody with a sensitivity to caffeine that they shouldn't have any sort of coffee because my opinions are different then theirs. I may be a snob, but I at least try not to be a jerk.
That being said, I will admit that I was a bit less than thrilled to ponder the reality that as Boxwood grows its own brand, I would eventually have to roast our own branded decaf coffee. Which means I would need to start regularly cupping and tasting it for quality control and ensuring top quality. Ensuring top quality in something that you personally find difficult to find quality in is not always exciting, and this case was not an exception. So I trundled my beat up '99 Prizm down to our trusty green coffee suppliers at Royal NY and challenged them to 'wow' me. They said “sure thing!” in a tone a bit too excited for my own attitude and set up some options for us to taste. As we got started in the cupping, something horrible happened.
The decaf coffee tasted good.
Like, I could easily drink a few cups of this stuff and never even assume there was no caffeine in it. My world melted, fantasies of getting a tattoo that read “Death Before Decaf” over a skull chugging black coffee were ripped from my head, I felt I had been living a lie.
The truth is, technology has come a long way, and people are becoming more scientifically aware of the organic workings and tricks that coffee has up its sleeve. This results in decaffeination processes like the Swiss Water Process that does not rely on chemical reactions to obliterate caffeine but instead soaking them in water in ways that allow the caffeine molecules to be filtered out, leaving most of the good stuff intact. Yeah, it may not taste as fantastic, but it's still pretty fantastic, and that is taking me some time to come to terms with.
This is all to say, I have learned to swallow my caffeinated pride with a bit of decaf and will now begin my process in roasting Boxwood's first decaf coffee, an incredible single origin offering from Colombia that all of you cool people will soon find on our shelves this week.
Or not, I guess.
Hayden Kaye is our Master Roaster and head of the Say Interesting Stuff department.