Most people who work in coffee are more than familiar with the process of cupping to get to know any coffee and the effect of one's style of roasting on that coffee.
But is coffee cupping different for decaffeinated beans?
The Swiss Water Decaf Process team says both yes and no.
"To determine flavour notes, we cup all our coffees, subjecting them to the same rigorous evaluations that are applied to non-decaf," explains Chad Trewick, Green Coffee Consultant, Trading, at Swiss Water.
Trewick adds that coffees are scored according to standardized SCA cupping protocols. Of course, it's in this process we determine tasting notes we find in the process—like the hints of blueberry, mango, cinnamon, and black tea we taste in their latest Small Batch Series offering from Panama.
But are there differences in approach when cupping decaf?
To make sure we're accommodating some of the nuances of decaffeination—specifically our chemical-free decaffeination process, which doesn't impart new flavours like some other decaf methods—we look for a couple of other qualities, too.
Because of changes in the chemistry of the coffee bean when under decaffeination (which can affect the body and mouthfeel of a coffee), we also look specifically at things like thickness, texture, and what we call "overall likeness"—a score we give to assess how close to a coffee's caffeinated counterpart the decaf has landed.
While we often share the notes most immediately accessible to the end consumer, e.g. body and specific flavours we find, we’re recording far more data internally for our own long-term knowledge of how decaf works.
And because Swiss Water Decaf decaffeinate coffees from around the world, we've been able to observe that the effect decaffeination has on a coffee from one origin country, growing altitude, or processing method may vary coffee to coffee. We then take this knowledge and use it to bring the best out of every coffee we encounter. Like all science, it's a process, and one that is endlessly fascinating.
"We are always learning about which attributes are enhanced by, diminished by, etc. the decaffeination process," says Trewick. It’s our constantly growing understanding of these nuances that’s led to people entrusting us with rare, extremely special coffees that have taken the competition stage.
Trewick and the Swiss Water Decaf coffee team are excited for a future of continued experimentation and knowledge-gathering. And part of the fun is that every new thing we learn opens up more questions to explore.
So, what do we know for sure?
That the Swiss Water Process is analysed constantly to make sure we're providing the closest, most vibrant decaf rendition of any coffee we handle. And that we're able to do it without adding chemicals isn't just the cherry on top—it's our guiding principle. We hope you feel as good about our decafs as we think they taste!