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I was recently gifted with a sample of Earthen’s new CO2 processed Colombian decaf, Café Noir, and like the discerning connoisseur I had my entrenched opinion that a coffee sans caffeine is simply no coffee at all, as it defeats the entire purpose. Well my opinions have taken a turn as this is a decaf that certainly has challenged my ideas on what is artisanal coffee? And certainly, how is this idea defined?

There is no better feeling then standing in the early morning hours with that first coffee of the day, warming your hands as you take the first sip. A sip that warms the depths of your soul. So, I embarked on a challenge, could a discerning and strongly opinionated caffeine coffee drinker have their mind changed considering a brilliant brew of decaf?

To fully explore this conundrum, it is best to identify what is decaf and the processes of decaffeination. By stating the obvious, we already know caffeine occurs in coffee naturally. Therefore, the belief of extracting this stimulante goes against the natural order of things. Sounds about right to a true connoisseur and sceptic. Can you have a good cup of coffee without caffeine?

There are four main different types of decaffeination processes, however these processes have a few things in common.  Firstly, coffee is decaffeinated while the beans are in an unroasted state, basically while they are green. Then it is difficult to separate the caffeine from the beans without removing other chemical properties from the beans, the flavours and aromas of the bean are derived from these chemical properties, of which there are 100’s. Each of which is key to the brew of that specific bean and place of origin. Finally, methods of decaffeination use an agent, which helps speed up the process of decaffeination, minimizing the “watered-down” effect that water alone has on the taste of decaffeinated coffee. Essentially minimising the stripping of the flavours and aromas of the bean that can occur. This is where the four main different methods of decaffeination meet their point of divergence. These methods are split into two overarching practices, solvent based processes, which is an indirect-solvent process or a direct-solvent process. Then, the non-solvent based process which includes the swiss water process and the carbon dioxide process.

We will particularly focus on the non-solvent based carbon dioxide process. As this is the process Earthen has used in their new artisanal Colombian CO2 process decaf, Café Noir.

The Carbon Dioxide process is the latest method to extract caffeine from the coffee bean. It was developed by Kurt Zosel and it uses a liquid form of CO2 in the place of chemical solvent in the process. The benefit of the CO2 process is that it acts solely on the caffeine and therefore does not interfere with the other chemical compounds of the coffee bean, having little to no effect on the flavours or aromas of the bean as those chemical compounds are not watered down by the extraction process. Basically, the carbon dioxide interacts solely with the caffeine alkaloid, effectively releasing it in the extraction process.

So then, how does this process work?

The silver skins are loosened via steam treatment and then by gentle water treatment to open the cellular structure of the bean. The beans are placed in a steel container, called an extraction vessel. This extractor is then sealed, and liquid carbon dioxide is forced into the steel extractor.

The carbon dioxide acts as a solvent to dissolve and extract or draw out the caffeine from the bean, then leaving the flavour profiles in larger chemical molecules behind.

After saturation, the solvent is taken out of the extraction vessel. The caffeine is then separated and the solvent is recycled. Depending on the original caffeine content, this process step is repeated until the caffeine level is below the required limit.

This is the extraction process used in Earthen artisanal CO2 process Colombian decaf, and forms apart of this unique brew. The extraction is from Colombian beans, lets take a closer look.

The Colombian origin. Colombia is one of the worlds largest coffee producing nations, and with its smooth characteristics, chocolate and fruity notes to it’s flavour palate, its easy to understand why. Coffee in Colombia forms a part of their cultural landscape.

Colombian coffee beans are unique. They have medium to high levels of acidity and body, and can be roasted dark, without turning overly bitter. This makes Colombian origin perfect for espresso-based drinks. It’s used often in blends as its tasting notes range between citrus and fruity, with hints of cocoa powder. Well balance and a perfect easy drinker. An ideal bean to be used for a decaf, as it is in it’s own right full of well-rounded flavour.

To the discerning connoisseur believing a coffee without caffeine is simply not coffee, has now been challenged to find a new definition in the face of a remarkable decaf. Has my mind been changed? In the word of artisanal coffee, coffee surely has become more about flavours, aroma’s, methods of processing, roasting and production, to the point of brewing a beautifully crafted cup of brew to your exact preference. This has changed the landscape of coffee, and in it’s own right changed the very definition of coffee. As caffeine forms an aspect of the complex coffee bean. Has Café Noir managed to change my morning ritual? Because its definitely changed my opinions of decaffeinated coffee as a discerning individual of the brew.

Paige Langley

Loyal Earthen Artisinal Coffee Customer

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