• QA 096
    What could cause different taste experiences in (decaffeinated) coffee?
    One of my clients suggested that decaffeinated coffee sometimes does not taste as expected but I have not been aware of this. Is this so and if so, what could be the cause?
    Asked by:
    Café/restaurant owner - Italy

    We daresay there are many instances when people may find a particular coffee different or disappointing in terms of taste and expectation, not just decaffeinated coffee but also regular coffee. 

    We are aware of suggestions that some decaffeinated coffee may contain lower quality green coffee because techniques as steaming, cleaning and negative substance extraction make this possible. Here our only comment  is however to say that using lower quality green coffee always results in a lower quality brew, irrespective of whether the coffee has been decaffeinated or not. The decaffeinated coffee marketed by well-known brands and served in quality establishments is in our experience as good as any other, i.e. one gets what one pays for…

    Nevertheless, there are reasons why some people have disappointing experiences with the coffee (decaffeinated or regular) they are served. Some of the more usual ones are that the quality of the coffee that was served was poor because a particular wholesale delivery was below standard or, the coffee was past its sell-by date, i.e. it was old. Other causes are that the brew was improperly prepared: too little coffee was used; the water quality was unsuitable; the brewing temperature was too low; the coffee was allowed to boil; it had been allowed to stand overnight and was simply reheated, and so on.

    In addition, extra care should be taken with decaffeinated coffee… 

    First, resellers of decaffeinated coffee do not always use a dedicated coffee grinder, i.e. a grinder that is used for decaffeinated coffee beans only. Using a dedicated grinder is advisable because the texture of decaffeinated beans is different, more fragile, than that of regular coffee. As a result grinding decaffeinated beans produces thinner particles and it is recommended therefore to use a separate grinder, set especially for the type of decaffeinated grind you wish to achieve. To retain freshness it is also recommended to grind decaffeinated coffee on demand, i.e. as and when it is to be brewed.

    Second, decaffeinated coffee may remain longer on the shelves and therefore age. Partly because of its relatively low market share (about 18% in the United States and 8% in the European Union), and partly because cafes and restaurants serving it may keep opened packages for too long under incorrect conditions. As a result the coffee deteriorates and, in extreme cases, may cause disappointment simply because it tastes 'old'.

    There are many sources of information on how to maintain coffee quality and how to prepare it correctly. Some of these are www.scae.com, the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe; www.scaa.org, the Specialty Coffee Association of America; www.ico.org, the International Coffee Organization; and in Italy itself for example http://www.decoffea.it/cont/2000/hom which is the website of the Consorzio Promozione Caffè. Websites offering information on decaffeinated coffee itself include www.demus.it, www.coffein-compagnie.de and www.swisswater.com. Many individual roasting companies of course also offer hints and tips on coffee quality and brewing.

    Posted 27 May 2006


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