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Sumatra - Lake Tawar - Decaf

May 23, 2008

This will be a combined review, both of us having received samples. For a description of Bob and Jim's evaluation procedure, see our reference page.

The story of decaf coffee until quite recently has been garbage in, garbage out; the decaffing process didn't matter, since only the worst coffees were decaffeinated. This has changed. Royal has opened its own water process plant in Mexico, and is decaffing many of the coffees on their standard import list. Swiss Water will decaffeinate medium sized lots, and roasters like Intelligentsia are taking advantage to offer their most popular blends as decaf.

Now a UVVW (Ultrasound Vacuum Vapor and Water method) has opened up in Texas, and will do decafs economically in even small lots, so that even small roasters can take advantage. This process is similar to standard water, except that a vacuum/ultrasound process is used to remove the caffeine from the solution. How good is the process? Miguel Meza decided to try it on his well-received Lake Tawar Sumatra.

Bob's Review:
Truth be told, I've never been much of a decaf drinker. Early on, they tasted like sandwich meat - baloney or salami to this palate, and drinking them was worse than gulping down medicine. But as mentioned above, Royal's Select process changed all that for me and at least now they were bearable.

This coffee goes well beyond, even the best Royal coffees I've cupped. The aromas, the flavors are so close to the "real thing" that many may not be able to tell the difference in the cup.

But the point is, this is a fine coffee, decaf or not. It has a spicy but very classic aroma, and in the cup it's sweet and smoky like its caffeinated counterpart with pleasant woody tones and a spicy edge. It's an outgoing coffee that declares its presence in loud tones. On the bottom, there's chocolate and caramel.

As one would expect, it's heavy-bodied with low acidity but works well brewed as a French press beverage. And what a finish - loooong and flavorful.

Jim's Review:
The beans are a very dark grey-brown, and almost translucent. The first surprise is that the roast proceeded without the usual off aromas. Decaf roasts are darker than regular, and it is best to roast a little darker than regular, but still at a slightly lower finishing temperature. I adjusted by lowered my cupping roast by 5F.

Decaffing has not affected the acidity of this coffee, and there still is enough to provide a mild juiciness that balances out the deep flavors. These however are slightly flattened, and the coffee scores around a point lower than the regular version. However, it is still powerful, with peat, molasses, smoked wood and tobacco. The finish in particular remains long. Like the regular Lake Tawar, this is a very clean coffee.

The espresso shot reproduced the cup flavors almost perfectly, but like all decaf espresso, is a little low on oils, and so has reduced crema and mouthfeel. However, by decaf standards it makes a very tasty, albeit, low toned shot.

Bobs Score
Dry Fragrance: 4.0
Wet Aroma: 4.0
Flavor: 7.8
Finish: 8.0
Acidity: 7.1
Body: 8.6
TOTAL (subtotal + 50): 89.5

Jim's Score

Dry fragrance: 2.5
Wet Aroma: 3.8
Flavor: 7.3
Finish: 8.0
Acidity: 7.0
Body: 8.4
TOTAL (subtotal + 50): 87.0

  • Lighter Roasts: Oak and baking molasses, mildly juicy acidity.
  • Darker Roasts: Not recommended for any decaf.
  • As Espresso: An unusual SO: Very good taste, same as brewed; but missing oils and thin tasting.


UPDATED: May 23, 2008