"A strange natural mutation leads to one of the rarest coffees in the world."
Josh Tarlo, Head of Coffee
The Laurina coffee looks almost like any other bean. Slightly longer, perhaps slightly skinnier. But after being ground and brewed, inside the cup there is one critical difference: it has almost no caffeine at all. Your regular Arabica coffee is usually about 1.6% caffeine, while Laurina is – at most – usually 0.6%. That might sound like a small change, but it’s actually only slightly more than regular decaf, which clocks in at around 0.16%.>
What really separates the Laurina, though, is the taste. There are lots of different ways to create decaf coffee – the most common we use here at Kiss the Hippo is a process called Swiss Water or C02. The unroasted coffee is submerged in warm water, which makes the beans expand and swell. C02 is then added which turns it into sparkling water. C02 molecules bind with the caffeine molecules so that, when the water is removed, so is the caffeine. The coffee is then dried and sent to us for roasting.
But this process also has the habit of changing the characteristics of the coffee itself. The all-important acidity which is critical in what gives coffee its signature flavour is usually greatly diminished. It also seems to affect it quite a bit in how it is roasted. It’s much harder to get the coffee to have that deep sweetness, which is signature to so many great cups. But all of this is avoided in the Laurina.
The Laurina cultivar is a natural mutation of the world’s most important cultivar, Bourbon. Named for the small island off the coast of Madagascar where it was first cultivated, Bourbon is the mother cultivar that so many others have mutated from. In the 18th Century, Laurina became a sibling of cultivars like SL28 and the Caturra. But the low caffeine meant that, unlike its siblings, it was incredibly vulnerable to diseases and pests.
Caffeine is part of the coffee’s natural defenses. As a poison, it’s effective in dissuading much of the things that would do it harm. But caffeine is also part of what gives coffee its unique flavour. We perceive caffeine as bitter, which is why Robusta – the cousin of Arabica – is much easier to cultivate, but often also much more bitter.
Because of its unique vulnerability, Laurina almost went extinct, with very few farmers willing to take the risk in growing it. Fortunately, a few farms and cooperatives kept it alive and growing. It wasn’t until 2002 when a farmer by the name of Edgardo Alpizer found a lone Laurina on his farm in Costa Rica and decided to begin planting it. Edgardo’s planting led to a global resurgence in Laurina.
The renaissance of this lost cultivar is good news for the humble decaf drinker. Finally, they get to experience a truly unique and exceptional cup.