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Optimizing the Roast of Decaffeinated Coffee

By Aaron Braun, Coffee Quality, Swiss Water Decaffeinated Coffee Company With a growing market and an increasingly savvy customer base, it’s important to elevate your roasting game and to approach decaf with the same attitude we do any other coffee in our roster. In 2017, decaffeinated coffee consumption grew faster than that of non-decaffeinated coffee, especially in the restaurant and café segment. According to various research, the largest past-week consumers of decaffeinated coffee are actually young – 18-24 years old; a trend consistent in Canada and in Western Europe1. As younger consumers are also the heaviest drinkers of specialty coffee and it appears that they move fluidly between regular and decaffeinated coffee, it’s clear that a high-quality, great-tasting decaf coffee is more critical than ever for any specialty roaster or retailer. There can be a lot of trepidation and misinformation about roasting decaf, and I often get asked “How do I roast decaf?” This is a difficult question to answer as no two coffees are the same, so it’s impossible to develop a full list of ‘roasting rules’ for decaf. Never-the-less, here are a few tips to help you begin to get the most out of your decaf offerings.
TIP #1 – DECAF LOOKS DIFFERENT. THAT’S OK.
It’s important to remember that your decaf offerings aren’t going to look the same as non-decaffeinated coffee - green or roasted - no matter the decaffeination method. These differences in appearance from non-decaffeinated coffee can be challenging at first when roasting, so it’s crucial to know what you’re getting into and to get accustomed to how that appearance will change as the roast progresses. For instance, Swiss Water® processed coffee starts out a darker shade of green and has a matte finish. It will follow a similar roast progression to non-decaffeinated coffee and the exterior of the bean will maintain a darker color through the entire roast. Keeping this in mind, we have to move past the roasted whole bean color to give us an indication of roast development instead looking for other visual indicators such as internal ground color or surface texture. However, texture can also be deceiving. Coffees decaffeinated with chemical methods, such as Ethyl Acetate or Methylene Chloride can develop a shiny sheen at very light roast levels, while water processed decafs can remain matte even with deep development. Getting the most out of your decaf is all about learning about and embracing these differences and not letting a different visual appearance negatively influence your intended roast style.

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