Coffee. Without caffeine…
For some people, coffee without caffeine is like Obi Wan without a lightsaber, Captain America without a big flying shield or Michael Knight without a talking car. It’s just not powerful enough. But there are some of us who occasionally enjoy really good coffee without the kick, and some of us that have to abstain from caffeine altogether.
That’s why we work to make our decaf taste just as good as the rest of our coffees.
Dubious? We talk to Pact’s Head of Coffee, Will Corby, about our decaf offering compared to other decafs out there, and the secret behind what makes it so good.
Doesn’t caffeinated coffee usually taste better than decaf?
Lots of people think that. But it’s not necessarily the decaffeinating process that makes coffee taste a bit rubbish, it’s just that most people use rubbish coffee to produce decaf.
Why would they do that?
If a coffee producer has a coffee that’s not selling well, they’ll usually put that one forward for decaffeination. They turn it into decaf simply to help shift it, so people get the idea that decaf doesn’t taste that good. But it shouldn’t be that way…
So can decaffeination impact the flavour of the coffee?
It depends on the process that’s used to remove the caffeine but the important thing is, it doesn’t have to. I’ll describe the different processes below s0 you can see what I mean…
What coffees does Pact use for decaf?
We use the high quality, fresh coffee on our regular menu for our decaf options. There’s no difference, which means decaf fans certainly don’t get lumped with coffee rejects, as can sometimes happen.
How is the caffeine removed?
We arrange all our own decaffeination using the CO2 method (see below), which ensures our beans have 99.9% of the caffeine removed, while all the flavour remains. I’m really proud that our decaf tastes just as good as the other options on our website and significantly better than most you will find on the shelves.
Will Pact ever have a decaf Micro-Lot?
I’d like that. At the moment we can only offer decaffeinated coffees on our Select Plan. I’d particularly love our premium Micro-Lots to be available in decaf form too. The problem is that the minimum batch size for decaffeination is pretty big and currently Micro-Lots are (as the name suggests) pretty small. As ever, I’m not going to launch anything unless I’m absolutely certain that the quality will be good enough for our customers.
What decaf coffees can we look forward to?
Some of our customers will remember that last year we were able to offer Planalto – an all-time favourite for a lot of people – in decaf form. It flew out the door so I’m excited to announce that it will be returning again this year. In fact, this year’s harvest is currently on a boat, making it’s way here from Brazil. On arrival a portion of this fresh new crop of Planalto will be sent off for decaffeination; the plan is to have it ready for people to order in October, so watch this space!
Four ways to decaffeinate…
For this process green beans are soaked in near-boiling water, which removes the caffeine as well as other soluble molecules. This caffeine solution is then separated from the beans and the solvent is added. The solvent soon combines with the caffeine, so that when it is heated the solvent evaporates off taking the caffeine with it. Finally, the leftover solution is reintroduced to the original green beans to be reabsorbed.
Pros: Very small chance of toxic contamination.
Cons: Some flavour molecules can be lost.
Steam is used to open the pores of the green coffee beans. They are then rinsed repeatedly with solvent to remove the caffeine. Finally they’re steamed again to remove any remaining solvent.
Pros: Only removes the caffeine.
Cons: Potentially toxic chemicals can be left behind.
Swiss Water Method
Green coffee beans are soaked in hot water, removing the caffeine and other soluble elements. This water solution is then separated and passed through a charcoal filter, which removes the larger caffeine molecules but leaves the flavour elements behind. The original beans are then discarded and replaced by a new batch, which are added to the caffeine-free solution. Then, since the water is already saturated with flavour elements, only the caffeine is drawn out of the new green beans.
Pros: It’s very specific and uses no toxic chemicals.
Cons: A whole batch of coffee is wasted.
And last but not least…
CO2 Method (the method we use!)
Water-soaked green coffee beans are put into a sealed container and liquid CO2 is pumped in at pressures of 1000 psi. As it interacts with the caffeine and nothing else, the CO2 and caffeine solution separates itself from the beans and is removed. Then, once the pressure is released, the CO2 returns to its gaseous state leaving behind the caffeine in powder form. The CO2 is reusable again and the isolated caffeine can be sold on.
Pros: 99.9% of the caffeine is removed from the coffee and no elements are wasted.
Cons: It’s the most expensive method.