Decaf coffee is pretty great. No, really!
It’s a healthy alternative for people with hypertension, high blood pressure or anxiety disorders. It’s useful when you want a cup at night, but need to get to bed at a certain time. For me, it’s the only option: too much caffeine makes me nauseous, gives me a headache and, in one particularly egregious case, gave me a bad panic attack. Fun times. Even caffeine junkies will turn to decaf to wean themselves off their daily limit (which, according to recent studies, shouldn’t be more than three or four cups per day). You name it, there’s a person who benefits from it.
Unfortunately, all these perks don’t stop decaf from being the buttmonkey of modern coffee culture.
When it’s not being denounced as an inferior brew twisting coffee’s good name, it’s being neglected by most American roasters as a side-option with few choices. ‘Death before decaf’ and all that jazz. There are signs, however, that decaf coffee is starting to take priority. More roasters are offering several decaf options in their line-up, with recent decaffeination techniques such as the Swiss Water method finding the perfect balance between effectiveness and quality. Many ongoing health studies are also spreading the good word on the benefits of a less caffeinated lifestyle.
In other words? It’s time to give decaf the shine it deserves.
Which beans are worth a purchase plus shipping? How do they stack up in today’s competitive industry? That’s what we’ll find out together: this is the first review in an ongoing series called Decaf, Decaf Everywhere, exploring the complex origins and flavor notes of all sorts of delicious whole coffee beans. The great equalizer? These are all decaf, without exception.
Let’s take a look at Counter Culture Coffee’s Slow Motion and whether it’s worth a try:
Counter Culture Coffee was one of the first on my list. I bought a bag over on Seattle Coffee Gear since I was already on the site browsing for affordable homebrewing equipment. While ordering directly from retailers is often the best bet when it comes to freshness, I’m happy to say my bag arrived with a roasting date of just three weeks prior. The fresher the roast and the fresher the grind, the better the coffee.
It is, quite literally, science.
It crossed over neatly with another bag by Partners, as well: both of them are medium-roast Peruvian, giving me the opportunity to see just how similar, and just how different, this origin can be. I’ll be reviewing the latter in the next post, but for now, let’s see what makes Slow Motion special.
This single origin, specialty decaf coffee bag hails from Ihuamaca, Peru, with a certified organic label from the USDA and a chemical-free water processing method.
Counter Culture Coffee is a specialty roaster based in North Carolina. They’ve been around since the 90’s, are certified organic and boast two whole decaf coffees to their name (which by coffee industry metrics is, like, twenty).
Their site emphasizes a commitment to sustainable business practices (such as fair trade) and subverting the deep-rooted damage in the coffee industry. It’s a bold claim, one I hope they actually uphold. I recently purchased their Decaf Kuichi, as well, which I’ll be reviewing here soon.
As an illustrator and occasional graphic designer, coffee packaging is just as much of a joy for me as the beans themselves. I keep every single bag and plan on turning them into an art project (which I won’t reveal quite yet).
Counter Culture Coffee boasts a minimalist approach overall, preferring solid color blocks and simple layouts to pop out on the shelf. The product copy is neatly organized and you learn a lot about the coffee inside at a glance. The little squiggle above the roaster’s name goes a long way to keep the bag from appearing unfinished, with the entire line-up a bevy of cheerful blocks and stripes.
While I personally prefer more illustrative design choices, I can confidently say this bag doesn’t resemble many other roasters out there. When I think of Counter Culture Coffee, happy colors and incredible aromas immediately come to mind.
Ever smelled something so delicious you have an out-of-body experience?
Oh, this was the perfect bag of beans to start with. Both the whole beans and the fresh grounds are the best part of this coffee, bar none. Slow Motion immediately greets you with a vivid pop of the sweetest, happiest chocolate you’ve ever encountered. Not content to end it on that note, there’s a subtle, yet powerful hint of raisin that brings the experience to a dizzying head. I fully confess to standing and breathing it in for nearly a full minute. I spent $15 on this bag, let me get my money’s worth!
In fact, it had me wondering if that fruity scent is what contributed to the unexpected flavor notes…
I used the French Press to start, then switched over to the pourover to continue experimenting. I’m leaning toward the former method for this particular decaf coffee.
Due to the coarser grind, the French Press had a thicker, yet still smooth mouthfeel with a great aftertaste. The pourover was a little thinner, with a slightly lighter color and slightly lighter taste. Overall, the flavor was pretty consistent.
We’re working with a medium roasted bag of decaf beans here, almost smack-dab in the middle at 58. So far this is the darkest decaf I’ve tried, though my eyeball is very keenly rolled in the direction of 50 or so for future purchases.
I don’t get overly attached to flavor descriptions on the bag, as these can change depending on the freshness of the roast, the brewing method and each person’s individual tastebuds. That said, I was a touch disappointed to start with.
Let’s start off with the positives (and there are quite a few!). Chocolate is the dominant flavor by far, with a light, tart aftertaste that lingers on the tip of your tongue. It’s a pleasant detail I didn’t see coming and went a long way to reaffirm why freshly roasted whole beans are worth the purchase. Honestly, Slow Motion‘s pretty darn good! The only reason I’m not dazzled is because, after using this coffee in both a pourover and a French Press, I didn’t get much in the way of molasses. That’s a pretty vivid flavor to miss out on and has me wondering if an espresso grind could bring out that coveted profile.
I love to mix in a splash of milk and a little brown sugar in my day-to-day coffee. I’ll occasionally drink it plain, especially if I’m munching on something sweet. That the tart notes managed to withstand all those additions impressed me, to say the least.
Despite a slight disappointment in missing out on molasses, I highly recommend Slow Motion if you want a single origin decaf coffee that has several tasty flavors, but stands just shy of robust.
It’s not so mild it’s forgettable, smooth and tasty with enough qualities to guarantee a standard spot on the shelf when you’re feeling fancy. The chocolaty, raisin-esque aroma is absolutely brilliant and the tart aftertaste is a great addition that makes up for the lack of molasses (which could still be prominent with an espresso method). It’s the kind of brew you whip up when making a point of just how damn good a cup of coffee can be.
If their Decaf Kuichi doesn’t win me over, I’ll be purchasing this one again.
You can find Counter Culture Coffee‘s website and blog here.
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