Confessions of a Coffee Snob: Decaf isn’t that bad

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I am a coffee snob. I have been for ages. By coffee snob I don’t mean “I like these two specific coffees because they were agreed upon at the Annual Coffee Snob Convention.” I mean I like it a certain way that’s particular to me even if another coffee snob may think my tastes are horrible. Yet I agree with other coffee snobs when they say Tim Horton’s or Folgers is toxic waste, not coffee.

I prefer coffee that stands on its own. If you have to put milk or sugar (or both) into coffee to make it bearable, it’s not good coffee. It’s not necessarily bad or terrible coffee — it’s just not good. That doesn’t mean I drink my coffee black — I prefer sweetened coffee. If I’m making coffee at home, I’m adding honey or agave to it. But the coffee I buy to make at home can stand alone, sans milk or sugar. (That doesn’t mean all the coffee I have at home is like this; I’m currently in an economic state where most of the coffee I have was given to me by people who love me and, moreso, prefer dealing with me after I’ve had my morning coffee. None of it is bad coffee, but some of it doesn’t stand so well on its own.)

If I choose to go out for a coffee, I’m not looking for black coffee. I do not expect the coffee I get at a coffee shop to be coffee of my liking; my tastes are particular. Hence, when going out to a coffee shop, I get one of those flavoured drinks that most coffee snobs sneer isn’t coffee. Sorry to disappoint you, fellow snobs. It is. It’s a coffee-based drink and so long as it’s not Timmy’s or Folgers, it’s still coffee. It may not be great, good, or even bad coffee — it may be terrible. But it is coffee.

Turkish coffee

Turkish coffee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I like flavoured drinks, especially holiday inspired ones. They’re a form of comfort food for me. Despite my lack of money I try to get a pumpkin spice latte each autumn, or it doesn’t feel like fall to me. Christmas has become my favourite time of year, because there are at least two special holiday drinks that I adore on the menu. There’s coffee in them — enough for me to taste, enough for me to get a shot of caffeine if that’s what I need. And it’s not bad coffee. (Lots of people complain that Starbucks coffee tastes burnt. I don’t complain, because I kind of like that burnt taste. It reminds me of Turkish coffee.)

I’ve been drinking coffee since I was a teenager, and I’ve been a snob about it since I worked as a barista. For many years, I was in complete agreement with my fellow snobs about decaf. Decaf isn’t even real coffee. Decaf is pointless. Decaf is disgusting. DEATH BEFORE DECAF. Friends of mine have even said they’d consider getting that as a tattoo.

I never considered it, and I’m really glad. Because three years ago, I ran a restaurant.

(Sort of. I was managing the restaurant but because of a lot of issues that were beyond my control, we never officially opened. So I did a lot of before-opening, behind-the-scenes work, hoping to get it set up so another person could take over my management at the end of the summer, when I left the small town to go back to school. Powell River is basically dead in the winter anyway. Regardless, it never happened.)

A page from my planner during the time I ran a cafe. Filled with copious notes.

Two pages from my planner during that time. It’s a lot of work.

Part of my job in the pre-opening stages was deciding on what coffee we would serve. (I should say, this wasn’t really a restaurant; it was a café, with plans of food, coffee, live entertainment, books, and vintage furniture…exactly my type of place.) First, we went around town and sampled the competition, to see what we were up against. It was not stiff. If you want a decent cup of coffee in Powell River, your only bet is Breakwater Books. They scored an 8 out of 10 on our rating scale. Starbucks was a close second, scoring a 6. All the other coffee places didn’t even make a 5.

So I wanted to go with Salt Spring Coffee. They were local, which was important to me, and they were no doubt far better quality than the coffees mainly available in town. Most cafés in Powell River go through the same supplier.

The person I chatted with at Salt Spring, Kevin Burk, was amazing, and it makes me sad that the café never got off the ground, because I would have loved to continue having a professional relationship with him. He sent me a box of sample coffee. Not just tiny bags — full bags of Salt Spring coffee, so I and my team could try them and decide if Salt Spring was the way we wanted to go.

Included in that, of course, was decaf, which we had to try. (The Peru single origin.) I had never had decaf in my life before; I was not looking forward to it. But I couldn’t make an informed decision without trying it, so I brewed up some in our French Press and gave it a whirl.

To my ultimate amazement, it was quite good. It reminded me of, again, Turkish coffee. It certainly wasn’t something I’d choose to drink on a regular basis, but this decaf led me to wonder from where all the ire had originally come.

Yes, caffeine is amazing, and surely I cannot live without it. Yet I wonder how much of my good mood after a cup of coffee is attributable to the caffeine itself, and how much is psychosomatic? Does coffee put me in a better mood because of the chemicals, or does it put me in a better mood because it’s a comfort food for me?

I think it’s a combination. I still drink decaf, after all. I have to, now. Before, when I was young and carefree and able to sleep anywhere, at the drop of a hat, I could drink eight cups of coffee and go to bed an hour later. (Not just in my teens, when caffeine apparently has different effects on your body, but in my early and mid-twenties, too.) Now, in my late twenties, if I have caffeine after noon I’m risking being up until 4 in the morning. If I drink decaf, I have a chance of actually sleeping. This is so important to a person with a as-of-yet-undiagnosed-but-definitely-real sleep disorder.

Most importantly, I’m still in a good mood after a cup of decaf.

I no longer agree with my fellow coffee snobs when they scream, pitchforks and torches in hand, DEATH BEFORE DECAF. Now my rallying cry is I’D REALLY RATHER PREFER REGULAR COFFEE BUT DECAF BEFORE ANOTHER SLEEPLESS NIGHT, PLEASE.

It may lead to my getting kicked out of the clubhouse but I won’t waver on this. Decaf tastes fine to me, and that’s okay. If it doesn’t taste fine to you, that’s okay too. My approval of decaf coffee does not, so far as I’m concerned, revoke my Coffee Snob membership card, and you can pry it from my cold-because-I-haven’t-slept-in-three-days fingers. Because the second I give into peer pressure, I’m just another conformist douche incapable of forming an independent opinion and sticking to it. And I’d rather not have that be the only definition of coffee snob.

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2 thoughts on “Confessions of a Coffee Snob: Decaf isn’t that bad

  1. Decaf coffee is kind of like nonalcoholic beer. When I was in Russia, I toured the Baltika brewery, and one of the beers that I sampled was nonalcoholic, which I thought at the time was completely pointless. After tasting it, I totally got it. The flavor was just fantastic, and it was one of my favorites that I tried there. Not something I’d order regularly, but nice on occasion.

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