Jenna Gotthelf is one of our favorite baristas—we'll admit it. When you take the care that we do at Swiss Water to make sure each coffee has as much of the flavor—and as little of the caffeine—as possible, there's nothing that makes us happier than seeing the end result: a wonderful coffee prepared by a talented barista, landing in the hands of a happy customer. When she's not out on the competition circuit, Jenna can be found behind the bar of New York City's esteemed Everyman Espresso. We spoke with her about her own decaf experiences, and who orders decaf in one of the coolest shops in Manhattan.
Swiss Water: Who orders decaf in your shop?
Jenna: All sorts of people order decaffeinated coffee at Everyman Espresso! Some of those people are moms. Some of those people have "already had too much coffee today." Some of those people really just like the taste of coffee, but caffeine makes them feel sick. I think something all these different people have in common is that they love coffee. People who love coffee order decaf!
Do you think people who like specialty coffee expect to get attitude when they order a decaf? Some cafes won't even offer it.
Sure! So many people order decaf while apologizing. Folks say things like "I know this is sacrilege.." or "please don't judge me..." before they order their decaffeinated coffee. I can't speak on behalf of all baristas, but I'm no Judge Judy. Drinking decaffeinated coffee is nothing to be ashamed of! Everyone has their own way of drinking coffee, and it blows my mind a little anytime someone brings sacrilege to the counter—whether it be about decaffeination, milk, or sugar. We're not out here brewing coffee with goat blood, forcing people to rob graves and hail satan. We just want people to enjoy their coffee.
It's true that some cafes don't offer decaf. I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt and think that the decision to not serve decaf is a quality control-maintaining-freshness-cost analysis decision. I am not a business owner though, so this is just speculation. Maybe it is an attitude thing.
What was your worst decaf experience? Your best?
Hmm...best and worst comparisons are objectively difficult. It's always a bummer when you can tasted the neglected dial-in of a decaffeinated espresso.
When I was living in New England some years ago, I shared a decaffeinated French press with a friend in my home. The French press is not my favorite brewing method, but the pleasantness of the coffee was a stand out experience. We engaged in a meaningful conversation that still stands out in my memory one of those milestone-friendship-moments. It was a nice coffee time, if you will.
When do you drink decaf? Why?
I drink decaf whenever I feel like it, really. I try not to consume caffeine past 3pm (unless it is competition season), so if i want to drink coffee later in the day I'll drink decaf. I'm a sucker for an early evening scenic autumnal walk and some decaf cappuccino. Balanced decaffeinated espresso and nicely textured milk at the right temperature is a great compliment to changing leaves and a sunset.
You've competed in coffee competitions before. What did you do, and is it true you considered using decaffeinated coffee?
It is true! In fact, I did compete with a decaffeinated coffee at the Big Eastern in November 2014. It was my second time competing, so I was a little more familiar with putting together a routine than the first time around. I opened my presentation with an anecdote about seeing a barista wearing a t-shirt that said "your mom drinks decaf" to which I responded "yes, my mom drinks decaf, and I love my mom, so by virtue of the transitive property that is my own logic, I love decaffeinated coffee." I then rolled into the espresso course, followed by cappuccino, and concluded with a theoretically half-caffeinated coffee-tonic signature beverage.
What do you like about the Swiss Water method versus other chemical methods? Can you taste the difference?
More often than not, when you are drinking decaffeinated coffee, you can taste that you are drinking decaffeinated coffee. I have tasted more than one coffee from Swiss Water that I could not tell was decaf. Probably my favorite part about working with Swiss Water coffees is serving beverages, and after a customer's first sip they do the look back and ask "are you sure this is decaf??"
Finally, what do you say to people who hate on decaf?
It is the year 2017, people still think the earth is flat, and it takes a lot of energy to hate. Put your energy into something else! There's no shame in decaf. Rather than "death before decaf," Live your best life and drink decaf!
Thank you, Jenna. We agree!