How Can You Detect Counterfeit Coffee?

The best coffee is Arabica coffee. The coffee with the most caffeine per bean is Robusta coffee.

If you are looking for a pick me up, robusta coffee beans contain more caffeine than Arabica beans. And Robusta coffee futures are sitting at around $1.10 a pound while Arabica futures are more than $2 a pound for lowest quality Arabica beans. So why buy Arabica coffee? People buy Arabica coffee because it tastes better and has a better aroma. Arabica is higher quality coffee than Robusta.

As high quality coffee becomes more popular and profitable to see there is a temptation for coffee traders to mix a few Robusta beans in with the Arabica to increase their profits. If they go too far you can taste the difference but how can you detect counterfeit coffee before the coffee fails the taste test?

Chemistry to the Rescue

According to The Washington Post scientists are using chemistry to fight off counterfeit coffee.

The Robusta species of coffee bean (which, as its name suggests, is quite resilient to disease and adverse growing conditions) is cheaper than the complex Arabica bean, so the former is frequently used in instant coffee. In a study published earlier this month in the journal Food Chemistry, Italian researchers analyzed each bean – and came up with a chemical that could be used to tell the percentage of each species of bean in blends. The scientists think their method is cheaper than current blend identification methods, and could help brewers catch coffee traders who mislabel their blends – which is especially important given the rising popularity of specialty coffee among Americans.

The group observed 20 times more homostachydrine (a harmless, naturally occurring chemical) in the Robusta beans than in the Arabica beans. They also noted that the chemical remained even after roasting. Servillo’s team was able to use the chemical to verify the percentage of each bean advertised in store-bought blends, like “100 percent Arabica” vs. “60 percent Arabica, 40 percent Robusta.”

Although this test would be useful for coffee roasters to spot check shipments it is too expensive for individuals or even coffee shops to test for the percentage of Robusta beans in a batch. As noted in the article anyone with a few thousand bucks, lab goggles and a chemistry kit could try out this process to check for the percentage of Robusta beans in a one pound bag. For us mere mortals it comes down to taste and aroma. Arabica has the distinctive set of flavors that coffee lovers crave while Robusta has the punch that keeps you awake on a long drive across the American heartland. We recently wrote about Death Wish Coffee which is enhanced with Robusta.

If you watched Super Bowl 50 you may have seen the commercial for Death Wish Coffee. Vikings rowing a long boat on a stormy sea that turns out to be… Death Wish Coffee! So what’s with Death Wish Coffee? Forbes published an article about the commercial, the company and a small business ended up with a Super Bowl commercial.

Mike Brown, the founder and owner of Death Wish Coffee, a blend with twice the amount of caffeine of most coffees, won a contest for small business owners who wanted to advertise during the Super Bowl. In the commercial a Viking ship forges through stormy seas, which turn into a river of strong brew that flows into the mouth of a satisfied coffee drinker. The contest sponsor, Intuit QuickBooks, paid for the production plus the cost to air it during the Super Bowl, a reported $5 million for 30 seconds.

Mr. Brown started packaging and selling his coffee online in an attempt to add some profit to his coffee shop business. While the commercial was running the visits on his web site went up to 10,000 a minute and his sales have doubled. But, what’s with Death Wish Coffee and why is it so strong?

It’s the Robusta!

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