Decaffeinated coffee was once treated a lot like robusta: as some kind of crude, faux coffee that caters to consumers with the misfortune of a biological defect. But just as high-quality, expertly prepared robusta beans started appearing on the market from places such as India (for blending into quality roasts for espresso, etc.), decaf coffee — or at least the drinkers of the stuff — started getting some love and respect: Demand is growing for rich decaf coffee (syndicated from the Los Angeles Times; new working link).

As I mentioned in a previous post, earlier this year, decaffeinated Fair Trade and organic specialty beans were being bought up en masse by the likes of Wal-Mart. Although I never buy decaf coffee for myself, I typically buy it for caffeine-free friends who come over for dinner (and most often I buy Stumptown decaf beans from Ritual Roasters). And I have noticed that the quality and variety of decaf beans have become much more appealing. When I have good decaf left over, now I don’t hesitate putting it in a stovetop espresso maker or French press.

There’s something purist about good decaf coffee that I like. With so many people who primarily crave coffee for its caffeine buzz, the quality of the coffee can seem irrelevant. In the world of beer, this is like the difference between buying a microbrew for its flavor versus buying a 40 of Colt 45 for the dead brain cells. But let’s not take this analogy too far — I still don’t see the point of non-alcoholic beer. Just as I don’t get why some vegetarian restaurants serve tofu made to look and taste just like chicken. That’s just crazy.

UPDATE: Mar. 10, 2010
The New York Times published a similar article today, oddly taking them 3 1/2 years after the L.A. Times‘ piece: New Breed of Brewers of No Buzz – NYTimes.com.