We don’t and will never bulk out our coffee with other substances
Something that has recently caught our attention here at The Roasting House is ‘coffee bulking’. Coffee bulking is when coffee suppliers bulk out coffee with cheaper substances. These include but aren’t limited to soil, twigs, corn, flour and anything you could imagine reasonably hiding in a bag of coffee. Coffee bags are opaque so when they are sitting on a shop shelf, all you have is the feel and the smell which gives no indication that anything but coffee is in the bag.
Coffee prices have gone up this year and are predicted to continue to rise in 2015 (due to a bad 2014 harvest in the world’s largest coffee producer, Brazil and surrounding areas) and this is the reason for this dirty trick.
It is more commonly done to ground coffee as it is harder to tell if adulterants have been added when it is all ground down. Ground coffee is a bad idea from the start but I understand why people buy it. There is the convenience and how much better can coffee be by grinding your own? The answer is fresh and much better but that discussion is for another time.
We have been victim to coffee bulking ourselves albeit in a different form, from coffee farms including small stones to add weight to shipping bags (60kg in hessian are standard). It’s impossible for importers to check before haulage; it’s only when you start to break down the bag for roasting you notice the stones.
We would obviously never pass this on to customers and we will never buy from that farm again without some solid assurances first.
The clue is in the cost
We know how much raw coffee costs. The cheapest Robusta to the best Arabica has a price difference over 1000% (one thousand percent). The difference is evident in the taste. Most Robusta goes to instant coffee, lower grade to multinational roasters, and the premium to ‘third wave’ coffee roasters – previously known as ‘snobs’ but now accepted as in the know.
You can get bargains. The small plucky upstart farm promising excellent grade coffee but can’t command a premium price because they are without reputation do exist, but are few in number. However, if it is that excellent then hosting an event to the best cuppers is probably worth the expense to prove your claim.
Next time you see bags of coffee claiming to be premium but are on offer at a price that seems too cheap, then question it. Ask for information on the providence of the coffee and do a bit of reserch. There are some small farms that don’t have much information but usually there will be something online, often cupping reports. That question could lead to a ‘yes, this is a legit bargain’ but coffee roasting is a business of tight margins. Rarely will you see roasters able to offer large discounts because the price charged is representive of the costs which right now are only going up. However great coffee is the reward. A coffee bag with little to no information about the bean used or roasting date potentially means the roaster cares little about what goes into the bag.
Trust but ask questions of your local roaster as they want your business and recommendations to friends & family.
One of the best ways to make sure that you are buying pure coffee is to buy whole beans and grind your own as its impossible to hide anything else in whole bean coffee. There could be something hidden in the bag of course but you’ll soon spot it so there’s no risk of you consuming something nasty.
Because we roast in small batches, we can always tell exactly what goes in to the roaster and then in to each bag. In the comparatively unlikely event that there are hidden stones bulking up our green