One of the saddest parts about growing older is discovering that caffeine and I are not good friends. This is heartbreaking, because I love coffee and would happily drink it all day long if I could. But I can’t. And I don’t mean I have to ask Monterey to cut me off at four cups of their bottomless pours on the weekend, or that I can only have it before lunchtime. I mean I am now at the stage where one cup affects my sleep so badly that I can now only drink it on Fridays, when it doesn’t matter if I get to sleep late because I can get up late on Saturday. This SUCKS.

Sure, I could have tea, or something else, or go without completely, and for the most part I do. But this is Wellington, and I love my lattes. So I’ve started drinking decaf. In fact, I have been doing a lot of research into where I can get drinkable decaf, and here are my results. In the interests of SCIENCE, I should point out that coffee places are chosen based on their proximity to where I was at the time that I wanted a coffee, as opposed to being specifically sought out.

  • Mucho Mucho, Manners Street: the coffee is spooned out of a cannister, and tastes stale. Also the milk is overly hot – which is a feature across their chai lattes and regular lattes too. Alas. 
  • Charlie Bill, Tinakori Road: Charlie Bill does the most amazing brunches ever. However, their decaf lattes are pretty dire. to be fair though, they use Caffe Laffare beans which are my least favourite anyway. Drink champagne instead with your delicious orange & cinnamon french toast.
  • Trade Kitchen, Jervios Quay: Actually, this was Caffe Laffare too, and made exceptionally well. Still a bit of an aftertaste though.
  • Fuel, Waring Taylor Street: made okay, decent temperature, but just tastes a little flat. Fuel hot chocolates, however, taste like chocolate mousse, so I’d recommend them instead.
  • For the purposes of SCIENCE, I even tried a (free!) decaf Nespresso  at the Food Show. It was a long black, so no chance for them to mess up the milk, and I was rollingly drunk pleasantly tipsy by that time, but it tasted pretty much the same as what I imagine their regular long blacks would taste like. ‘
  • Mojo Airport: Mojo charges an extra 90 cents for decaf. This means a large decaf latte will cost you $6.10. Yeah, not really very happy about that eh, especially when it took 20 minutes.
  • Lamason: Now THIS is the business. Beans freshly ground, beautifully made, full of flavour with no chemical aftertaste, served with a smile. These coffees are so good and so drinkable they are dreadful for the bank balance. Just avoid the 10am rush.

With Lamason being a clear winner, I contacted their bean supplier, Peoples Coffee, to find out just why their decaf was so good, and their lovely roaster René Macaulay answered my questions.

I wanna know, what the heck is decaf anyway? How is it made? 

Decaf is normal coffee which has been put through a ‘water process’ to remove caffeine as it is water soluble, this is done in green bean form before roasting, and involves special filters to remove the caffeine. Ours is processed in Mexico.

Interestingly many flavours in the beans are also water soluble and must be added back to the coffee once the caffeine has been removed from the water. This process of water soaking smooths out some of the flavour and changes the bean structure a lot for roasting, making it a challenging roast to get tasting nice.

However our decaf is treated with much care, as I am very aware many people want coffee without caffeine, and every cafe buys it!

As with all our roasts we are very careful to repeat the optimum roast every time for each bean, and decaf is suffers no snobbery here, I also have quality controls on site here which eliminate undesirable beans which can be created during the decaffeination process (which means each cup will be the same goodness) I have worked hard to get our decaf tasting like “normal coffee’ people often don’t believe it’s decaf during a blind taste!

Why is it Lamason is the only place I’ve tried so far that makes it taste like real coffee?

The last link in the chain is the brewing, apart from being a brewing genius team, Lamason has a decaf grinder which is crucial for espresso, 1 minute old ground coffee is dead for espresso. Some cafe’s are using pre-ground decaf which might be a week old can never produce a nice cup, however decaf grinders are often only in busy cafes who can warrant $800 for a separate grinder just for decaf. 

As for volume, many cafes would be doing under 50 cups a week of decaf as apposed to 100’s of cups a day of normal coffees.

Am I able to do any fancy coffee drinking (syphons etc) with decaf?

Usually decaf isn’t the most premium beans as the process changes the flavours, and it is destined for espresso in cafes. Fancy expensive coffees don’t usually get processed into decaf as it’s so expensive to do, it must be done in bulk (18 ton) and you might lose the nice flavours during the process.

I personally wish coffee had less caffeine so I could drink more of it, I enjoy a decaf flat white from time to time, especially at night.

So there you go. Anywhere else doing decaf worth drinking? Let me know!

[Photo by Jakub Dziubak on Unsplash]