Guideline for brewing decaf espresso?

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks for making espresso.

#1: Post by okaychatt »

Is there a general guideline for brewing decaf espresso? Higher or lower than regular, or does it simply depend on the degree of roast?

Higher temps for lighter roasts, and lower temps for darker? Or do I have that bass ackwards?

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Team HB

#2: Post by another_jim replying to okaychatt »

That's right.

The same bean decaffed will be a lot darker than its regular version at the same roast finish temperature, but will taste more acidic if roasted to a lower temperature so the color is the same. To get them tasting roughly the same (and brewing at the same temperature) one needs to roast decaf to slightly lower finish temperature, but still slightly darker colors than the same bean non-decaffed. The roast should be done with lower heat input, but should still run a little faster than for regular. All in all, it takes a great deal of expertise, practice and confirmatory cupping to pull off a good decaf roast on a commercial drum roaster.

A few good roasters do this, but for most decafs are an afterthought, and they tend to overheat and overroast them. This generally means decafs brew at lower temperatures and will still taste ashier than they would if roasted properly.

Here's a suggestion for the next roaster's retreat: same bean regular in a standard roast (profile supplied) and decaf still green -- whichever team gets the decaf closest in taste to the regular wins.
Jim Schulman

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#3: Post by HB »

Long ago when I was dabbling in decafs and complaining about the results, Jim suggested pulling them as very short ristrettos. It helped. The thread Decaf Espresso Blends has some good recommendations too.
Dan Kehn

Ken Fox

#4: Post by Ken Fox replying to HB »

One must pay attention to the first clause in Dan's post, e.g. "Long ago when I WAS dabbling in decafs . . . . "

Most people who get seriously into espresso, and who have no medical reason to avoid caffeine, tend to stop drinking and roasting decafs after a period of time. Obviously you don't, I know Jim doesn't, and I've given up on them as well.

In my case, I didn't exactly make a conscious decision to stop drinking them, rather I began noticing that I was throwing out the majority of each roast batch after it had sat around too long to use (with decafs, that can be less than one week). When it got to the point that I was throwing out basically the entire batches most of the time, I stopped buying green decaf altogether except when I was expecting company I knew would want decaf. That happens so seldom that it isn't worth warehousing any green decaf in my stash.

As a corollary, I'd always thought that drinking caffeinated coffee after the late afternoon was asking for trouble. What I've found is that I can drink a single double caffeinated espresso in the evening and it doesn't seem to effect my sleep. I wouldn't want to push it by having 2 or 3, but the 1 caffeinated espresso gives me much more pleasure than any number of decaf espressos.

What, me worry?

Alfred E. Neuman, 1955

okaychatt (original poster)

#5: Post by okaychatt (original poster) »

Hi Ken. I prefer regular espresso, but some of my guests want the decaf.

At times, depending on how my stomach is behaving, I have to resort to decaf for days at a time. Sigh.

The regular does seem to keep me awake if I drink it in the evening, so it's decaf at night for me. I'd like to be able to pull the best shot possible.

Mornings are the best for regular. Makes getting up a little early more the worthwhile. :lol:

Thanks, Jim, for the analysis and guidelines.

Off to perfect the decaf. May the Espresso Spirit be with me.

Ken Fox

#6: Post by Ken Fox replying to okaychatt »

I used to practice medicine but I'm obviously not your doctor, nor do I want to serve in that role. That having been said, I think that the effects of caffeine, especially in moderation, are blown way out of proportion in our society. I think caffeine is analogous to lactate in milk; while it is true that many adults cannot tolerate large amounts of lactate, almost everyone can tolerate a moderate amount. There was a famous blinded study a decade or two ago, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which proved that virtually everyone can tolerate the lactate in 8oz. of milk and most of those labelled "lactate intolerant" can tolerate more than that. But, the foods industry would like to sell you lactase containing milk for 2 or 3 x as much as the usual kind, so Lactaid brand treated milk is heavily promoted.

I think that if you did a blinded study on random individuals who claim to be unable to tolerate caffeine, you would find the same sort of thing. The equivalent of 2 or 3 double shots a day of espresso would be tolerated by most, yet there are those who have become convinced that they must drink decaf.

My father and several other members of my extended family have a familial heart conduction abnormality which is effected by caffeine and its related compounds found in chocolate. Fortunately, I am not effected. For people with this sort of thing, caffeine is to be avoided. And, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is very common in middle aged and older folks, and I'd bet a very small percentage of those effected should avoid caffeine (but the majority could tolerate it just fine and caffeine as a trigger for this, especially if taken early in the day, is not as bad for this as many would claim).

If you have repeated "stomach problems," the odds are that you have GERD, something you will have to live with for the rest of your life. I am among the afflicted, but caffeine is the least of my problems and I haven't modified my caffeine intake for this since it seems to make no difference whatsoever whereas some other things are obvious triggers (like in August and Sept. when I try to eat 3 lbs. of fresh Idaho tomatoes every day!; boy do I love caprese salads!).

If GERD is your problem there are much more effective ways to deal with it than avoiding caffeinated coffee, such as anticipating meals that will likely give you problems and then taking something like a Nexium a couple of hours beforehand. This is a problem better dealt with on the prevention side than on the treatment side.

What, me worry?

Alfred E. Neuman, 1955