Decaf is not the enemy. Long considered a less-than, also-ran, or undesirable, the launch of Swiss Water‘s Manhattan decaf pop-up has been met with open opprobrium from the likes of Jezebel, Quartz, and The Debrief, to name just a few. People are, in general, freaking out, which is at least in part the whole point of this pop-up enterprise: to get people talking about the role decaf plays in the wider coffee world. Halfway thru their week-long cafe experience in Manhattan, you'd have to say mission accomplished.
Swiss Water—whom it should be disclosed here are advertising partners of this website—aren't out there sheepishly making apologies for decaf, but rather, boldly proclaiming the benefits of a caffeine-less cup of joe. It's their goal to make you banish from your mind those orange-handled carafes, and to instead think about decaf in the context of all those great coffee roasters you know and love, many of whom offer decaf coffee through a partnership with Swiss Water. They’re hoping to open the minds of the “death before decaf” set; not to switch from regular coffee, but to consider that they don’t have to have their last good cup of coffee at 5:00 p.m.
It is fair to call Swiss Water's pop-up in Manhattan ambitious. It's certainly opened them up to criticism, and the attendant media dogpile—much of it written by people who give zero shits about any of this—has been about as shrill as you'd expect. But this week-long residence is more than just pouring a few cups for curious shoppers and tourists. They’re highlighting all the ways their decaffeinated coffees can be brewed, featuring decaf options roasted by locals like Nobletree and Café Grumpy. During my recent visit, I tried pour-over cups with single origin coffees (including beans from Ethiopia's Duromina, Guatemala’s Finca San Jose, and Panama’s Paso Ancho); two espresso blends for shots and milk drinks (for your decafaccino fix); and even some decaf cold brew for dessert. Swiss Water has also set up a station for public cuppings and free home brewing classes with a variety of demo equipment.
For the pop-up location, Swiss Water started from scratch. The space is an old garage space slated for demolition just south of Houston Street, in the heart of Manhattan. They cleaned it out, gave it a fresh coat of paint, and set up shop to demonstrate to the heavy SoHo foot traffic that one shouldn’t be afraid to order a cup sans caffeine from their usual cafe. In NYC alone, Swiss Water boasts more than 20 companies brewing beans decaffeinated by Swiss Water Process. But they work with roasters and cafes internationally, so out-of-towners can take this knowledge home with them to their favorite local roaster.
The space hosts local musicians and DJs while the coffee gets poured. Moreover, they’ve commissioned four paintings conceptualizing four of the major steps in a coffee bean’s life: the growing, processing, roasting, and brewing. Each of these paintings has been donated to Grounds for Health and is available for purchase at www.groundsforhealth.org to benefit the organization. One of the artists, Dasic Fernandez, also painted the outside of the shop with an explosively colorful mural.
Swiss Water Coffee is also giving away a Linea Mini from sponsor La Marzocco in a social media hashtag contest for anyone visiting the popup, which is almost as crazy as setting up a free decaf cafe pop-up behind a gas station on Houston (and inviting in a bunch of grumpy media types) in the first place. Swiss Water's chemical-free means of caffeine extraction has been around since the 70s, utilizing water, green coffee extract, and the basic scientific principle of diffusion to draw the caffeine out of green coffee beans, leaving all of the other solubles you’ve come to know and love from your cup of specialty coffee—the ones that make it taste so good.
It’s a strange feeling, to know that I've had four cups of coffee this evening without any of the associated caffeine effects, but not at all unwelcome. If you’re in NYC this week, be sure to stop by and get over your fear of decaf. Halloween is over, and this isn’t a haunted house.**
**Probably not haunted, but a Chemex was mysteriously knocked over during my visit.