Is there great decaf coffee that tastes EXACTLY like caffeinated coffee?
December 3, 2020 7:10 AM   Subscribe

Do you know of a really good decaf whole bean (ideally available via mail order) that tastes exactly like caffeinated coffee?

I don't drink coffee.

A friend really likes coffee but finds decaf versions undrinkable. They tend to prefer French roasts, whether from the bulk section at the co-op or from Trader Joe's; they grind their own beans just before brewing in a French press.

They've tried some decaf whole beans from the same co-op store roasters and found them different enough to be not worth drinking.

Does anyone know of a really good decaf whole bean (ideally available via mail order) that tastes exactly like caffeinated coffee?

(I have seen this previously, but it is ten years old.)

posted by kristi to Food & Drink (16 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Our local coffee shop does a bold roast decaf in whole bean that is quite good and ships! We normally mix it with their caffeinated to do a half-caff, but it is great on its own as well.

I think you will want to look for "Swiss Water" process for the least impact on the flavor. That is the process our local shop uses.
posted by chiefthe at 7:26 AM on December 3, 2020

Savorista Coffee was basically created to fill exactly this market niche. My partner and I have a standing order for their half-caf, but that's a somewhat newer offering - decaf as good as regular was the original intent and is still the main focus. And they use the Swiss Water process chiefthe refers to above. They sell whole bean and pre-ground.

Disclaimer: I am totally friends with the founder, so my opinion may be somewhat biased. That said, I have no financial relationship with her and do not benefit in any way from any sales.
posted by solotoro at 7:37 AM on December 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

Not a recommendation for a specific coffee, but a process: EA decaffeination. This process leaves the coffee more intact than other processes (the exception being supercritical co2 caffeine extraction, which isn’t commercially available). Getting decaf that is exactly like regular coffee is technically impossible, but EA decaf is the closest technology we have to getting there.

I was a coffee roaster for a decade and routinely snuck these coffees into tastings to show off how good they are. On a couple occasions I had the chance to try a the same coffee before and after The EA process was performed. Acidity is left largely intact, if muted a little bit, sweetness is fully intact, and body is dented the most (but not nearly as much as other decaf methods). From a roaster side, coffees done up with the EA process are more similar to the unprocessed coffees, which allows roasters to deal with them normally (when your one or two decaf offerings are only 2% of your portfolio, you just don’t gets enough time spent with them to do a great job sometimes).

I would actually work backwards and call an importer or two (cafe imports is a good one, not just in Australia; that post on their AU branch is just better), and ask them who they sell EA decaf to. You might find some on your area.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:56 AM on December 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

I get cold brew concentrate from a local chain (French Truck Coffee in New Orleans). The water process tastes great, and is very pure in terms of extracting the caffeine, which is great for me since any trace will give me a headache. I wonder if there are any equivalent coffee places in your vicinity that do this.
posted by umbú at 8:25 AM on December 3, 2020

Caffeine has a flavor all by itself.
posted by aniola at 8:30 AM on December 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

I like my Cafe Vita decaf more than my morning (caf) cup. Looks like they have an EA version and a water process version.
posted by 10ch at 8:31 AM on December 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Check out Sweet Maria's. I've been ordering their beans for several years. They mainly sell unroasted coffee beans. But they have a very good selection of pre-roasted decaf. Much better than any decaf you can find in a supermarket.
posted by mono blanco at 8:38 AM on December 3, 2020

I have been very happy with the decaf coffees for boutique roaster George Howell. If your friend prefers dark roasts, I can particularly recommend their Decaf Colombia Jardín Espresso.

If your friend likes bulk-bin coffee from the co-op, I can virtually guarantee the decaf Jardín espresso will be better than what they are used to. Of course, this stuff ain't cheap considering that a five pound bag runs 85 bucks. But in a case like this you get what you pay for.
posted by slkinsey at 9:34 AM on December 3, 2020

Yes! This single-origin decaf is fantastic. I always keep some of this around for evening coffee or for friends that that prefer decaf. The roast is medium-dark leaning more towards medium.
posted by forbiddencabinet at 10:00 AM on December 3, 2020

I stopped consuming caffeine five years ago after I realised that it was responsible for my persistent adult acne and most decafs are gross! I feel like a lot of roasters are trying to do some kind of all purpose roast that works well for both brewed coffee and espresso or something? But this is changing and I have found that what has helped me to find ones that I like is looking at the specific tasting notes on websites. When I drank caffeinated coffee, I liked a smooth, chocolate-y coffee, medium roast so that is what I looked for in my decaf tasting notes and I am easily able to find what I like.

French roast seems to have sweet but bitter, fruity or flower-y flavours, with a bitter finish (the exact opposite of the coffee that I like!) so check tasting notes for those elements. It's a process but it's worth it!
posted by urbanlenny at 10:22 AM on December 3, 2020

It's not about brands (though beans from some geographical areas taste a lot better than others). For the best-testing coffee, you need a roast within the past few days, and the beans should be ground just before brewing. Don't expect good taste from beans that were ground last month, or from roasted decaf beans that've been sitting on a shelf for weeks.
posted by Rash at 11:08 AM on December 3, 2020

I’ll also add that no matter the processing, decaf appears darker than its unprocessed counterpart. If you like medium roasts, don’t be shocked at a darker appearing decaf; they’re going to be darker, they may not taste like it (if the roaster has done their job correctly).
posted by furnace.heart at 11:36 AM on December 3, 2020

I am a big fan of gimmie! coffee's Columbia La Primavera Decaf. I buy whole bean and grind right before brewing. I drink it every evening and it's outstanding. I find it equally good (and often better - no, seriously) than caffeinated coffees. I liked it so much that I investigated whether there's a caffeinated version but the distributor (grower?) only makes decaf. Beans usually arrive within 1 week of roasting.

Important caveat: all my coffee drinks come from a home espresso machine and I have not tried drip brewing.
posted by alrightokay at 12:53 PM on December 3, 2020

in San Francisco, you have many choices. Castro Coffee Company offers good, and relatively inexpensive, decaf blends including a Swiss Water Process blend.

Four Barrel's decaf is awesome. So is Hunky Dory from Sightglass. But my favorite in the City is Decaf Los Gigantes from Ritual.

I believe all of these roasters offer mail service.
posted by blob at 3:21 PM on December 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

My two favorites these days are Cafe Mam Decaf Italian and Pachamama Decaf French.

(You don't mention price, but I'm also on the hunt for the best cheap decaf. Of the five or so I've tried, Trader Joe's decaf organic French roast is the best. Just throwing this out there in case anyone drinks as much coffee as I do and pales at some of these prices.)
posted by slidell at 12:52 AM on December 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

These are all GREAT answers! I marked as best answer the ones that seemed to be on the west coast, and the ones that had some good general guidance. But they're all most helpful, and I'm delighted to have a bunch of options to explore.

Thank you all!
posted by kristi at 6:38 PM on December 8, 2020

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