Drink More Decaf!

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Throughout my many years of brewing, serving, roasting, and teaching people about coffee, one of the most frequent and derisive conversations I have had is about decaf. There’s an old-school attitude among coffee drinkers that decaf is a waste of time. “Death Before Decaf!” they chant. Even decaf drinkers themselves will admit that the brew they often end up with is weak, flavorless, and disappointing. To those who discredit decaf, who don’t bother sourcing it or roasting it, who believe you’d be better off with a cup of herbal tea, I am here to change your mind.

A Fresh Perspective

There are many reasons that a person may choose decaf coffee. Pregnancy, caffeine sensitivity, sleep problems, negative interaction with prescription medications, and cultural or religious practices are all reasons someone might avoid a fully-leaded cup. To decide to serve a significant group of people a lower quality coffee or, worse, not have an option for them at all is bad customer service and bad business. Decaf drinkers’ money spends the same as anyone’s, and if you don’t source, roast, and serve a delicious decaf, that’s money you’re leaving on the table.

When I worked as a retail trainer, I would encourage baristas to see our decaf drinkers as the biggest coffee fans. Here is a group of people who are ordering coffee not because they need the jolt of caffeine, but because they love the flavor and the ritual of drinking it. These people are perhaps most deserving of an extraordinary experience. But more often then not, they get something that’s stale and bitter. They get a coffee that hasn’t been properly dialed in by the roaster or the barista.

Why Decaf?

We’ve heard the arguments about why you don’t offer a great decaf. There’s not enough demand. The greens age out before you can get through them. It’s hard to figure out a good roast profile. It doesn’t sell.

Consider reframing these ideas. Think about what might happen if you started carrying a really good decaf. What if the person who orders decaf and unexpectedly experiences an incredible cup of coffee? Maybe they order another cup, maybe they buy a bag to take home, or maybe they tell all of their decaf-drinking friends where they can get a crazy delicious decaf!

There are so many great uses for decaffeinated coffee in cafes and restaurants. A house-made coffee liqueur prepared with decaf can be enjoyed late into the evening with no adverse effects. A decadent chocolate cake baked with shots of decaf espresso can be ordered by customers of all ages without worrying about a sleepless night. Customers visiting the café in the late afternoon or early evening may find themselves looking for something other than hot chocolate or chamomile tea. An enthusiastic recommendation from the barista to “try the delicious decaf” may be just the encouragement they need to change their mind about what decaf coffee can be. Specialty roasters across the country often feature their decaf in a half-caff blend as a retail option, increasing their retail sales and diversifying their menu.

Quality Matters

At Mill City, we source high-quality decaf coffee from our partners at Cafe Imports and sell it in 10lb retail bags. EA Decaf, sometimes referred to as the sugarcane method, is processed using a totally natural, chemical-free technique that leaves the coffee tasting incredible. As with all of our green coffee offerings, we share our recommended roast profiles and flavor notes. These smaller bags of decaf can be ordered anytime, ensuring that the decaf in your inventory is always fresh.

I love decaf so much, I recorded a three-part roast along series about it on our YouTube Channel. In the series, I share some of the thoughts I’ve explained here and I roast three different decaf coffees on our MCR500 Sample Roaster. I include a few tips that have helped me roast better decaf and avoid the mishaps that can occur when working with these types of delicate green coffees. Each of these coffees tasted unique, but no one I drank them with would have guessed that they were decaffeinated.

Take a chance on a better decaf and see what happens. You may find yourself excited to brew a pot after dinner to share with friends. You may discover a new rallying cry, one I’ve been chanting for years, “Decaf Before Death!”

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