Friday, August 20, 2010

Green Coffee Grading and Decaf

At the SCAA show in Anaheim (April 2010) I was able to take the Roasters' Guild's "Green Coffee Grading" course. It helped me learn about the various types of defects. It's almost like a "processes at origin" course on it's flipside - they are primarily talking about and showing you throughout the class what happens when those processes at origin are not done well.

As we witnessed the kind of stones, little sticks, "blacks", "withereds", "pre-matures" and other defective beans, my thoughts turned to what must be going into a lot of decaf coffee in North America. Each defect found in a 300g sample downgrades the quality of the coffee, and therefore the price. That's why more often than not, it's the cheap, low quality coffee (with blacks, whites, sticks, brokens, etc.) that is getting thrown into the brutal decaffeination processing plant, and then the giant roasters at commodity coffee production plants throw it into a wicked 7 minute blast roast. It's no wonder most decaf in the US tastes miserable!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The power of the word - what decaf method is it?

Here's another rave related to Coffee Review's July article on decaf coffees. I appreciate the non-inflammatory language the author found to use when he had to describe the different decaffeination processes. Given that there are basically four different decaffeination processes in use today (water, super-critical CO2, methylene chloride and ethyl acetate), and all of them are allowed by the FDA with no controversy, it seems safe to say that none of the four are "unhealthy." So it's helpful that Ken Davids uses the term "synthetic solvent" instead of "chemical" to describe the methylene chloride processed coffees. It seems obvious to me that when the water (and CO2) process marketers were designing their campaigns, they cleverly chose a word that had some negative baggage, "chemical", to describe their competition. Over the years, they and many others have used this term a lot and it's been successful. Three cheers for marketing! One should never underestimate the power of it.

But when others who are not marketers for the water-process brands use the term "chemical process" to describe methylene chloride and ethyl acetate processes, it irks me. A more objective, less negatively charged term, such as synthetic solvent, should become the norm and the standard amongst specialty coffee professionals.

Not only that, I propose that the industry move away from defining the decaffeination processes by the solvent used, to something that helps the consumer understand how brutal the process is on the coffee bean. When brevity and amount of material that remains in tact are the focus of the descriptor, the potential for negative baggage quickly shifts to the other foot. The most "precision" process is the super-critical CO2, followed by a tie between methylene chloride and ethyl acetate. The water processes could be described as "brutal to bean and very long" (sometimes days, I understand). So "soaked" might be the appropriate term, versus "precision."