Coffee is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world, one of the most heavily traded agricultural commodities on the planet, and one of the most valuable exports from developing countries. And as our taste for fancy single-origin beans that save our livers from the night before has risen, the world’s coffee producers have risen to meet it despite ongoing ecological problems. So how do our coffee producers pull it off? By lying through their teeth, and Italian researchers have had it with fake blends.
Unsurprisingly for a country that invented tiny, highly caffeinated drinks, Italians take their coffee very seriously. Contrary to popular belief, almost nothing about coffee is mandated by law, so you have to take a coffee producer at their word, and they’re not always trustworthy. Most of the world drinks the milder Arabica bean, but some growers will throw in cheaper Robusta beans, better known to most people as “instant coffee,” to bulk up their profits.
The Italian method looks at a chemical called homostachydrine, which is harmless and found in every coffee bean, and is 20% more prevalent in Robusta. By mixing a sample batch with formic acid and water, and running it through a custom instrument that measures how quickly the chemical flows through it, they can nail the percentage of beans right down to the single digit.
That said, though, you might have to get used to Robusta anyway. Global climate change is killing off the genetic diversity of Arabica bean, which may, in turn, wipe out Arabica and leave Robusta as our only coffee option. Of course, it’s also worth pointing out that taste is based as much on perception as it is on reality. Science is proving that wine judges have no idea what they’re actually doing, and the taste of coffee is dependent on so many different factors, from storage to roast to temperature, that the actual flavor might not be very different. So, while you can find fakes, take heart in the fact that even if your fancy coffee is really just Bob’s Roast, you’d probably never notice anyway.
(via The Washington Post)