Hi, so I was just wondering if anyone has any thoughts about decaf espresso.  I know that it behaves a little differently from regular, just from experience, but I was wondering if anyone has found tricks or techniques that help make a better shot of decaf.

I looked briefly for this topic and couldn't find it, but if this is a double, please let me know.

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We use decaf that is more fresh than our regular espresso. Normally, we're pulling shots of espresso from 3 days out to 9 days out. For decaf, we try to get just enough so that we're not pulling shots any longer than 5 days out. It's pretty simple. Caramel-y, raisin-y. Not offensive anyway.
ours seems real raisin-y as well. the only problems I seem to have is that I need to adjust the grind alot more often, and the shots are a bit thinner. But every now and then I pull myself one just to check it and it's not amazing, but not terrible. Our decaf grinder tends to clump alot more, so my distributing is a little different, but not far from my regular approach.
I've done a little experimenting, and you might try it too. Add about 5-10% of your REGULAR espresso in with the decaf, and see how the shot pulls!

I have this whole big theory about decaf coffee, and that the cell structure is compromised so much that the grinds don't provide as much flow-restriction as 'regular' would, so adding a little of the non-decaf (heh) espresso in might serve as a bit of a 'binder' that would then help the flow, and let you coarsen up your grind a bit.

Just a theory. Haven't had decaf around to play with in a while.
My understanding regarding decaf espresso rests on two points:

1.) From the moment you open the vac-sealed bag in which your coffee comes, it is degassing at a far greater rate than before it was opened. Over time, this degassing will negatively effect your coffee, but it will especially effect your espresso, most notably in the crema.

2.) Decaf (at least decaf made decaf by Swiss Water Processing) has already had one "strike" against its molecular structure. I concur with Nick on this point - there seems to be a weakening of the cell structure which leads to an increased degassing of decaf coffee blends, especially darker roasted decaf blends.

SO - in my own working and reworking of decaf espresso, I re-read Schomer, and he suggests a pretty extreme solution: order your decaf in half-pound bags, and as soon as they are delivered, put them in an airtight container and refrigerate them. Then, only remove one bag at a time, and only keep that bag's beans in your decaf hopper. He claims to have gotten the best results from this method, though he may have since changed his methods.

At our shops, we have gone from 5lb bags of decaf to 1lb bags of decaf, never using more than one bag's worth of beans in the hopper at any given time, and our decaf espresso showed immediate improvement.

My advice would be to contact your roaster, and see what the cost would be to get your decaf in the smallest retail vac-sealed bags available. If it's reasonable (and if you do a large amount of decaf espresso business, consider that decaf drinkers are your purest espresso souls), I'd recommend switching to the smaller bags, and only open one at a time.

Airtight containers and refrigeration I can't comment on - but it worked for Vivace!
I find that, because decaf has been compromised so much (ie, brittle cell structure), the fines tend to move much more quickly through the puck as a result of the lower flow resistance. As a result, I updose as much as possible. Generally, I can get a lighter roasted, younger, triple ristretto decaf shot to taste similar to it's more delicately treated, caffeinated counterpart. The danger in updosing decaf, though, is that those quickly-moving fines have a tendency to choke the shot if you're not careful about keeping on top of your grind.

Also, I like the Vivace solution. I haven't tried their decaf but counteracting the weak points of that abused bean at every point and treating it like a hot potato once the bag is opened seems wise.
Nick...We have been doing this for years. Our customers are not affected at all and now that I have read your theory it all makes sense to me.
I was just thinking one morning -- "dang these decafs aren't flowing good and have thin crema ... Hmm ... I'll put a bit of reg in and wowo ... now I can make art on decaf caps too!!!!"

Note: We are using Intelligentsia Classic Black Cat for caff and decaf. Sometimes using Small World Coffee as well (house blends)


Nick Cho said:
I've done a little experimenting, and you might try it too. Add about 5-10% of your REGULAR espresso in with the decaf, and see how the shot pulls!

I have this whole big theory about decaf coffee, and that the cell structure is compromised so much that the grinds don't provide as much flow-restriction as 'regular' would, so adding a little of the non-decaf (heh) espresso in might serve as a bit of a 'binder' that would then help the flow, and let you coarsen up your grind a bit.

Just a theory. Haven't had decaf around to play with in a while.
Please correct me if this is bad practice but:
keeping the opened bag well sealed and of course dumping what's left in the hopper at the end of the day, and only grinding when you're actually making a decaf drink are key (I know, this is a given for you vets)
but mainly: I do a coarser grind and pack more grounds into a shot to up the crema (is that bad?) and then keep a close eye on how the shots are coming out and adjusting accordingly throughout the day. Haven't had any complaints, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's great, I don't think most decaf drinkers have very high expectations. Putting exposed beans into a sealable container and buying smaller bags sound like the best solutions. Isn't it bad to refrigerate coffee?

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