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Decaf, Decaf Everywhere: Onyx Coffee Lab’s Decaf La Serrania

It’s always good news when a favorite roaster brings in another decaf.

Being a strict decaf coffee drinker can leave you disappointed when browsing roasters. We often get the short end of the stick when it comes to portfolio variety. A token decaf bag is the standard (and still not always guaranteed). Two bags is a nice surprise! Three bags is very rare. Anything more than three might as well be a blue moon, and you should savor it just as much.

I check back with my favorite roasters every few months to see if they have anything new. While most roasters keep a consistent rotation of their default decaf bag, some shake things up by cycling in new ones a few times per year. Onyx Coffee Lab gives me plenty to love as a decaf drinker, keeping their portfolio dynamic with new decaf and half-caf options. While I still can’t drink the latter (yes, I’m that sensitive), I’m glad it exists.

If you’re as eager to try different kinds of decaf coffee as I am, check out my Decaf, Decaf Everywhere series (which has a variety of specialty and non-specialty options). I recently took a look at a Washington coffee roaster that slipped my notice, as well as revisited another favorite roaster of mine.

Why is Colombian coffee so good and a regular favorite on my review lists? Let’s see why Onyx Coffee Lab and this origin have earned such a positive reputation:

Origin

This is a Colombian coffee from the La Serrania origin. It’s decaffeinated using the ethyl acetate method, also known as the sugarcane method. The beans are of the Castillo and Caturra variety.

Onyx Coffee Lab is very up front about the limited nature of their single-origin specialty coffee: every coffee bag comes with a bar that shows how much is still in stock. I snagged this bag when the bar was nearly empty.

As of now? It’s sold out on the site, with no evidence it’ll be back again. That’s not to say they can’t get another harvest later on (like when Counter Culture Coffee brought back my beloved Decaf K’yuichi). It’s up to you if you want to play it safe and wait for another batch the next year…or take the plunge on the likely chance this is a one-of-a-kind deal.

The reasons why harvests are unpredictable are broad and varied. Sometimes a coffee lot shuts down because it’s not profitable enough for the farmers (and this is an issue that only gets worse by the day). Other times? Roasters want to experiment with their portfolio, seeking out new flavor notes or different partnerships.

Roaster

Onyx Coffee Lab is a wholesale, single-origin specialty coffee roaster from Fayetteville, Arkansas. They ship worldwide and run several cafes in the state.

This is one of the most well-known roasters I’ve reviewed in Decaf, Decaf Everywhere: they boast a wealth of awards to their name, regularly raking in top spots in regional roasting and barista championships. They’re also the regular recipient of the Good Food Award and have been featured in Sprudge Magazine.

Their specialty coffee portfolio bounces between experimental, small-batch, and seasonal. They frequently dip into Ethiopia and Colombia (two of my favorite origins), but also explore Guatemala, El Salvador, Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, and Kenya. Each coffee (and cascara!) has rich, lengthy descriptions diving into the history of the region, the life of the farm, and the processing methods used. I always enjoy reading their behind-the-scenes.

They’re also one of the rare roasters that posts what they pay for green coffee on their site. Now, that’s only one part of the equation — transparency needs oversight — but it’s a start. We’ll see if coffee roasters around the country decide to follow suit over the coming years.

Packaging

I’m a big fan of Onyx Coffee Lab‘s art direction. It’s confident, elegant, and instantly memorable.

This slightly smaller 10 oz bag comes in a meticulously designed brown and gold wrapper, a styling that reminds me of old botanical journals. Unwrapped, the coffee bag is nestled in an ornate box, hearkening to antique knick-knacks tucked away in a forgotten cupboard. Snakes and leaves coil around the top in a delicate filigree, sandwiched between the coffee’s name and description up top.

It’s such a delight for the eyes. The entire look straddles a fine line between minimalist and complex. I’m happy to have more of this in my collection.

Their art direction of the entire Onyx Coffee Lab line-up leans hard toward the monochromatic, shaking up their snakes-and-leaves design with soft pinks, pale tans, and rich blues. Skulls are another popular motif, popping up in their logo and merch designs.

I’d love to see more merchandise that lets the delightful art breathe on its own, which is very much a personal taste thing. I don’t usually go for logos in my fashion, preferring to let designs or illustrations speak for themselves. If they ever offer up more shirts or sweaters that focus on the illustrative aspects instead of typography, I’ll be first in line to buy it.

Aroma

Mmm. This coffee is divine! If Onyx Coffee Lab told me it wasn’t harvested, but instead dropped down from the heavens, I’d believe it.

The aroma is rich and fruity from the whole beans, while the ground beans have a powerful apple scent. It’s sweet and scrumptious and instantly got my stomach rumbling for autumn.

Roast Level/Mouthfeel

Despite Onyx Coffee Lab‘s much higher level of detail on every other aspect, I’m not sure what the roast level is. The Decaf La Serrania looks like a medium-dark roast, judging by the color and shine to the beans.

Flavor Notes

This decaf specialty coffee bag has a luscious blend of flavor notes to its name. Caramel, red apple, vanilla, and cream? It’s practically begging to be a dessert drink.

The pourover started things off with a fruity and fullbodied approach, wrapping things up with a creamy aftertaste that lingered. It reminded me a little of that pasty sensation you get after biting into a slice of cake. The French Press was lighter and milder, going easy on the fruit in favor of a creamy milk chocolate and vanilla.

The Moka pot was the brightest and zestiest of the bunch, silky smooth with a powerful apple flavor. You might be tempted to think coffee flavor notes are theoretical at best, but this was pretty unambiguous.

Final Verdict

Oh, I love the hell out of this roaster. The level of care put into every single layer of their business is palpable.

I’ve said before there are certain coffees (and roasters) I point to when praising specialty coffee. Onyx Coffee Lab’s Decaf La Serrania embodies both the tastiness of great coffee and the artistic experience surrounding it. From the beautiful packaging onward I was consistently impressed. The apple flavor pops in the espresso, while the pourover and French Press lean hard toward gentle, chocolatey baking spices. All brewing methods were delightful and pretty consistent for a Colombian coffee.

As of writing this they have a new decaf in stock, the sweet and nutty-sounding Decaf Colombia Inza. I normally get one or two bags of coffee per month, but I’m going to make an exception before this one’s out of stock.

(and as of posting this, Decaf Colombia Inza is already sold out)

Why is Colombian coffee so good? Try it out for yourself! You can find Onyx Coffee Lab at their site here.

What else is going on in the world of coffee? Check these posts out:

Should roasters and cafes raise their coffee prices? The real question is whether or not they should keep them that way. I recently wrote a piece on why high coffee prices are the way of the future, not a temporary trend.

Coffee certifications are varied and complex. The Jaguar Friendly Program caught my eye for its commitment of animal conservation and its meticulous oversight for participating roasters.

Coffee and alcohol are beautiful creations…but not necessarily for your sleep. This short video dives into why you should time your drinks so you’re not missing out on healthy rest.

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