Flavors, coffee seeds maturity and fashion trends​


By Luigi Odello, chairman of the International Institute of Coffee Tasters (Iiac)

The biological world, on which we rely on for food and many of life’s pleasures, is selfish. We should not think that fruits develop flavors for the enjoyment of humans. Actually, they do so as a means to find “collaborators” for the propagation of their species. Consequently, until the seeds are ripe we shouldn’t dream of an appealing flavor, and we shouldn’t expect a rewarding tactile or taste sensation. Only when the seeds are ripe, and the plants reduce their defenses against external attacks do the fruits become sweeter and reduce their astringency. Unfortunately, most of the fruits that are available commercially are acidic, sometimes astringent and often flavorless, because (amongst other reasons) they have been picked too early. 

This is a straightforward concept, but historically various trends have managed to quietly push against it. Remembering wines of the 80’s, there was a movement that encouraged the picking of grapes before the point of physiological maturity. A little acidity was convenient and the wines were surely easier to preserve. The results however weren’t great.

Now this is happening to coffees, sometimes by necessity and sometimes by lack of competence. On one hand, labor cost increases have lead to mechanical picking wherever possible. The effect of this is that in many places only a small part of the coffee fruits achieve sugar levels of 20 Brix (which is the threshold required to get minimum flavor) and an even smaller part achieves 25 Brix, which is the level necessary for a first class coffee.  In addition to this, to avoid surprises in the logistic chain, many coffee farmers resort now to accelerated drying. In addition to these factors, there is the modern trend of lightly roasting to maintain acidity. Together these lead to a failure to develop even the minimal precursors of flavors that exist in beans.

Some roasters would like the public to believe that coffee that contains a mix of citric and malic acids is the best coffee there can be. Among the supporters of this new trend there are some who, if the coffee has citric acid, will comment that it has citrus notes, and if it has malic acid, they will say it has apple notes. For us, these are reasons to mistrust many representatives of these new trends, and to reaffirm the philosophy of the fathers of our Espresso Italiano: roast slowly and roast fully, using only perfectly mature coffee beans. We’re happy to be out of fashion.

Translated by Cris and Martin at www.caffedelbar.com, a Swiss and UK based website dedicated to gourmet Italian coffee and the Italian espresso bar culture.

Is caffeine good for us, or for the plant?

Luigi_Odelloby Luigi Odello (president of the International Institute of Coffee Tasters)

When a country does not feel threatened, it dismisses the army. This is precisely what the coffee plant does to caffeine, which in practice represents one of its weapons against attacking diseases. The tendency to produce caffeine is however part of a plant’s genetics, and as such is difficult to change.

However, the Brazilian researcher Mazzafera achieved just this, through genetic manipulation, to obtain a plant that produced no caffeine at all, but when reproduced, this same plant then returned to producing the traditional caffeine content. The fact remains that when the plant no longer needs to defend itself against external attack, it produces less caffeine: the Robusta coffee plant, when grown in a healthy environment, such as at high altitudes, reduces its own production of caffeine.

This is the same case of the Arabica. In a virtually parallel manner, the trend of chlorogenic acids acts in the same way, constituting another essential defence mechanism for any compounds exposed to the risk of mould, as these acids neutralise their enzymes by acting on the protein part. Thus for humans, it is important to obtain coffee from plants that had less need to defend themselves, as doctors generally agree on the maximum recommended daily intake of caffeine: 300 milligrams.

This means that we can actually drink 6 or 7 espresso coffees, if the alkaloid content is around 40-50 milligrams, but we should halve this in the case of coffee with a high caffeine content. Here is another advantage that the world would have passing to Italian Espresso: an Italian moka coffee can contain twice the caffeine and a filter coffee even three times. But we were talking of Italian Espresso: 7 grams of coffee to obtain a cup of 25 millilitres in 25 seconds. Obviously, that changes if we take the case of the recent inventions of 9/10 grams.

Pesquisadores da Embrapa procuram minimizar os efeitos do aquecimento global na cultura do café

do correspondente Antonello Monardo *

Desenvolver as pesquisas para minimizar os efeitos do aquecimento global na cultura do café, esta é uma das prioridades do programa de pesquisa coordenado da Empresa Brasileira para a Pesquisa Agropecuária (Embrapa) e conduzido por instituições que fazem parte do Consorcio Brasileiro para a Pesquisa e Desenvolvimento do Café.

Segundo a pesquisadora da Embrapa Café, Miriam Eira, nos últimos anos foram feitos grandes trabalhos na planta de café, como o desenvolvimento de materiais genéticos em potencial e de café a maturação diferenciada.  Os novos desafios parecem porém, ser a seleção de cultivos resistentes a seca e situações térmicas estremas e o desenvolvimento de técnicas de cultivos em grau de fazer frente as mutações climáticas e ao aquecimento do planeta. Particulares técnicas de irrigação e adensamento e arborização da lavoura serão por isto, estudadas para reduzir a vulnerabilidade climática da planta.

Estudos que envolvem a esfera da biotecnologia, da agroclimatologia e da fisiologia do café trabalham juntos para procurar atenuar os efeitos negativos do aquecimento global para fazer assim que o Brasil continue na liderança, como produtor mundial de café.

Um estudo realizado por especialistas da Embrapa e da Universidade de Campinas (Unicamp) concluiu de fato que o café, milho e soja, são as culturas mais suscetíveis aos efeitos do aquecimento global. Segundo o coordenador técnico da pesquisa, Eduardo Assad, a principal causa da vulnerabilidade do café são de fato o déficit hídrico e o calor intenso que causam o aborto da florada. Porém, ele acredita que a biotecnologia e a genética possam mudar esta situação, tornando as plantas mais tolerantes a estas ameaças. Para os pesquisadores a resposta as mudanças climáticas poderão ser o cruzamento entre cafés da espécie Arábica e Robusta.

Fonte: Ministério da Agricultura

*Antonello Monardo, mora desde 1992 em Brasília è delegado da Câmara Ítalo-Brasileira de Comércio e Indústria. Torrefador de café gourmet e especiais, ganhador da medalha de ouro do International Coffee Tasting 2008. Organiza e ministra cursos para baristas, participa a palestras e eventos em instituições e universidades, divulgando a cultura do café de qualidade.


The markers of non-quality

by Roberto Zironi

He is professor of Food Industries at the University of Udine and president of the Department of Food Science in the same University. In addition, he is the chair of the scientific committee of the International Institute of Coffee Tasters and vice-president of the International Academy of Sensory Analysis.

Coffee is a drink that expresses most of its sensory characteristics in its smell and its aroma. The aroma is the sensory characteristic resulting from a combination of smells contributed by the chemical substances and by their intrinsic synergies and is the result of high-quality raw materials and of technological steps for the processing of the green matrix into roasted coffee which are thoroughly carried out. It is important to point out that the aromatic precursors are already present in the green bean which, exposed to roasting, develops new substances that contribute to the complexity with more than 800 volatile components found in a cup of coffee.
With regard to coffee, quality is based on two main aspects: the hygienic-sanitary quality, defined by regulations in force, and the sensory quality, defined by the aromatic and sensory profile.
Let us start with the hygienic-sanitary quality. For both the Arabica and Canephora (Robusta) varieties there are regulatory restrictions re the quantity of Ochratoxin A (OTA), secondary metabolite of moulds, mainly belonging to the Aspergillus type, present in both the green and the roasted coffee. Such restrictions are the result of proven negative effects on the consumer’s health. It is interesting to point out how the presence of OTA often goes hand in hand with a low sensory quality given that the attacks of moulds also bring about the formation of several secondary metabolites capable of influencing both the aroma and the taste of the finished product.
The contamination by moulds, coming from the raw material as well as from inadequate conditions during harvesting, processing, storage and transportation is among the factors which have the greatest impact on the sensory quality of a coffee. Components produced by moulds such as the 2-methylisoborneol, the geosmin and the 2,4,6-tricloanisole (TCA), for example, are responsible for major off-flavours: they create sensations of mouldy, earthy phenic, and rio flavour. It goes without saying that the absence of the said flaw-producing elements can be deemed as the first step towards impressive productions. Therefore, the above-mentioned elements can be seen as markers of non-quality to be determined, alongside the traditional parameters, during the qualitative assessment of a batch of green coffee.

In collaboration with: E.Cossio, F.Battistutta

The Brazil Santos Supreme

by Manuela Violoni

Head of R&D and trainer of the Taster Study Center, she is specialised in semiotics and in synaesthesia of marketing. She is the panel leader of the sensory analysis laboratory of the Center and trainer at the International Institute of Coffee Tasters.

Right on the Atlantic Ocean, with more than 180 million inhabitants, Brazil is the world leader in coffee production.
The history of coffee in Brazil dates back to the Eighteenth century when the Botanic Garden of Amsterdam, after having received a plant of Java coffee, only a few years later, sent its seeds to Suriname. The French themselves sent those seeds to the French Guinea in 1718 and from here the coffee reached Brazil.
The Brazilian origins, just like many other origins, are classified according to a set of criteria among which: the botanical species (Arabica and Robusta – or Conillon), the number of defects, the size of the bean (screening), the processing method (dry or wet), the taste, the year of harvest, the geographic origin. With regard to the geographic origin, Santos comprises the origins produced in the States of São Paulo, Minas Gerais and, sometimes, Paranà, i.e. those origins that historically have been exported through the Santos harbour.
The harvesting in Santos begins in June and export starts in July. Based on the classification defined by the NY, the Santos is of the type 2/3 (9 flaws), screen 17/18. It belongs to the group ICO natural Arabica. This coffee is a good match to the Robusta quality.
The strongest aromatic note of this coffee is undoubtedly the cocoa, with its chocolate nuances: the intensity of this smell is almost identical to that of the famous Jamaica Blue Mountain. The difference with the Jamaica Blue Mountain is that it has a stronger – medium intensity – burnt note (ash and coal). The marked merit of this coffee compared to others is in its floral aroma, decidedly clear, with sensations of honey and beeswax. Also the fruity aroma is rather good: fresh and dried fruits, with a peak on the nuts (walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts), finish off the picture of a nice Arabica – difficult to believe that it is not wet process. Other positive notes can be sensed: the fine herbs, for example, accompanied by sensations of tee, liquorice, tobacco and similar spicy notes, but also all those toasted notes such as caramel, cereals, toasted bread and biscuit. A touch of green (comprising the grassy, the artichoke, the tomato, the cooked vegetables, and the bitter grass) comes in, but with lower levels compared to other origins. The same goes for an almost unperceivable sensation of mouldy. While, more than in others, but very much in the background, there is a bit of a plastic note. This is a coffee characterised by a good range and amplitude of aromas and by an overall low presence of negative odours.