The holy grail for coffee companies? A coffee bean that’s naturally low in caffeine.
That sounds like an oxymoron, but according to the Wall Street Journal, major international roasters like Illy have spent years and millions of dollars deliberately selecting and breeding low-caf coffee varietals. They’re looking for a coffee bean that doesn’t have to be decaffeinated—the rare plant that’s full-flavored but has less than half the caffeine of conventional beans. Decaffeinating coffee inevitably strips it of some of its flavor (for more on why, see CHOW’s guide to decaf). A naturally low-caffeine bean would be a genetic end-run around the problem.
Illy unveiled its new low-caffeine bean, Idillyum, in the United States this week, nearly 20 years after first acquiring the plants of a low-caf varietal, Laurina. Major growers and roasters in Latin America are starting to export their own Laurina-based low-caf beans. And why are these coffee companies pursuing an oxymoron, you ask? Ah, right: “[A] great-tasting, lower-caffeine coffee could result in bigger profits, in part because caffeine-seekers might be inclined to drink more of it.”