Guaranteeing Provenance in Finished Coffee Product
Ar Aromo – Monkey, Monster and myself pride ourselves on delivering to your door step the freshest and finest ESE Easy Serving Espresso pods
This is isn’t as easy as it sounds! To make the perfect espresso is not about being a Barista or a cool dude who has hopped about a few origin territories. It is about knowing and understanding coffee in all its guises… focussing only on premium coffees is easy…they are either available and in season or they are not!
However, like all industries, the coffee trade has its ‘secrets’…things which the usual ‘punter’ wouldn’t know about and may not care about…this article covers one of those topics…blend engineering within flavour families
The origins of coffee consumption are lost in the mists of time.
Commonly, we accept that the Abyssinian goat herder Khaldi, was the first to roast and consume coffee in 850 AD, having noticed the ‘strange’ effect the coffee cherries had upon his grazing flock.
Today, more than ever, the coffee trade is at the cutting edge of western consumer society. The emergence, in the last 10 > 15 years, of the premium priced coffee bar chains, being the most obvious change to both our high streets and lifestyle aspirations.
There are several species of coffee plant, usually grown at altitude, between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Most commonly, the coffee cherries used for consumption are called Arabica and Robusta.
Typically, Arabica coffee beans are more highly valued for their flavour and performance than Robusta beans, which tend to have a harsher, more basic taste profile
The International Coffee market
The international coffee market is huge and growing – Consumption (+2% pa) and value (+5 >8% pa).
Annually, c 130m x 60 kilo bags of green, or raw coffee, is produced from approximately 100 origin countries.
On today’s terminal market, this values the raw coffee market at c 30 > 40 B USD $.
However, a precise valuation of the total market is difficult, because each and every original coffee trades at a different value.
This variation in value between original coffee types and qualities is called the differential.
The differential is a price premium which reflects both supply and demand fundamentals and also the perceived qualities and taste attributes of each particular coffee bean.
As a simple example, a good quality Kenyan coffee will today have a differential of c $2 / Lb over the terminal market price. So if the terminal market price is $2.25 / Lb (as it is today) a Kenyan quality would be traded at $4.25 / Lb.
Conversely, a low grade Brazilian origin would typically today have a differential of – 25 c / lb. So on the same terminal market base value, the Brazilian coffee would have a traded value of $2.05/ Lb.
If we consider the extremes of differentials that exist between the lowest quality Robusta and the best quality Arabica coffee bean, a random variety of Robusta could today be purchased for less than $1 / Lb and the most highly prized Jamaica Blue Mountain or Kopi Luwak for $75 / Lb or more.
Against this back drop, we today also have a market which is at or near 20 year price highs. Like all commodities, coffee is been driven by speculative fund activity. In this volatile environment, recipe value engineering and economy is the king vs the traditional ‘pillars’ of provenance and authenticity.
Harvesting / Preparation and Production
Broadly, once the ripe, red coffee cherries are harvested, they are either washed, or sun dried to remove the cherry pulp which encases the coffee bean.
The beans are graded, packed and sold at local market, to the trading community before being shipped to factory.
Although in origin consumption of roasted coffee is growing, the developed western markets remain the key consumers.
Upon arrival at factory, the beans are stored and ‘cooked’ via conduction or convection for anything from 2 > 20 minutes. Through this roasting, or cooking process, caramelisation occurs and starches within the bean are changed to sugars.
At this stage, a whole roasted coffee bean is produced – Typically used in espresso cafe bars.
As appropriate it is then crushed, or ground, to produce roast and ground coffee – Typically used domestically in a French press or filter machine.
And / or a concentrated liquor is made from the ground coffee, which is then freeze dried to produce instant or soluble coffee.
The Art of the Blender
In a highly competitive commercial environment the ‘art’ and skill of the coffee blender and roaster has become increasingly important.
The coffee blender can chose from c 100 different original coffees, and mindful of the commercial impact of the differential, which all of these beans will have, has over the years developed what are commonly called Flavour Families.
Flavour Families are baskets, or bundles of original coffees, which collectively have very similar visual, taste and performance characteristics.
Originally, Flavour Families were developed to deliver a consistent product throughout the harvesting cycle which varies from origin to origin.
However, increasingly Flavour Families are used today to deliver a like for like product at a lower cost.
The Commercial Reality
In any super market you will find a 227g pack of Colombian coffee.
As a consumer we expect that the pack contains 100% Colombian coffee.
The part time coffee connoisseur may know and love what he or she considers being the light, fruity and acidic characteristics of a good Colombian.
However, many roasters will in fact be supplying a recipe with perhaps 10% Colombian coffee and a range of other cheaper original coffees which are in the Colombian Flavour Family.
In today’s coffee market the Colombian Flavour Family has grown as follows:
Colombian > Today with a differential or premium of + 55 US cent / Lb
Central American 1 > Guatemalan or Salvador coffees > Today with a differential or premium of + 30 US cent / Lb
Central American 2 > Honduras or Peru coffees > Today with a differential or premium of + 25 US cent / Lb
East African 2 > Zimbabwe/ Burundi or Malawi coffees > Today with a differential or premium of +5 US cent / Lb
Special Mild’s > Vietnam Arabica and Others > Today with a differential or premium of + 0 US cent / Lb (So trading at the Terminal market price- which today is $2.25/ Lb)
Guess what beans the commercial blender will choose?
Visual identification is partially possible.
Washed vs dried preparation is clear.
Size and defects will be visually obvious and occasionally Robusta vs Arabica beans can be distinguished by colour and shape.
However, the fact remains that in 95% of cases, even the expert coffee trade taster will be unable to identify and specify the changes to a finished recipe.
Certainly, the average savy buyer at a large super market chain or contract caterer will not be able to discern this adulteration.
What chance has the consumer to verify that they are getting what they are paying for?
The coffee market is complex and very large.
Coffee consumption continues to grow and with this audited accreditation schemes such as Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance have grown in popularity. However, in the context of the total coffee market these schemes remain small and are able only to audit from a volume perspective.
In an environment of rapidly rising commodity prices, there is no known method, or tool, to robustly audit standard / unaccredited product recipe and therefore, by default to confirm authenticity and provenance of coffee product.