New method identifies coffee cut with cheap, bitter beans

For years, the fabled coffee apocalypse was predicted to come in the form of coffee shortages. As it turns out, though, this particular apocalyptical horse wears a mask and it resembles the real thing — counterfeit coffee, and the growing issue plaguing coffee lovers everywhere. Just like the wood-pulp cheese and fake olive oil, counterfeit coffee resembles the real thing but isn't what consumers think they're buying.

The issue revolves around two different types of coffee, the tasty Arabica beans most people know and love, and the cheaper, less tasty Robusta coffee beans, which are hardy, easy to grow, and cheaper to acquire. If you're a frequent coffee drinker, you can easily tell the difference between an Arabica coffee beverage and a Robusta coffee beverage. A mixture of both beans, though, is harder to spot depending on the ratio.

The higher caffeine content in Robusta coffee means a more bitter taste, while the overall flavor is less agreeable – more earthy in a bad way, and with a lingering burnt flavor that many don't enjoy. If you've ever gotten a batch of coffee that tastes a little off, a little bit of not-quite-right in a way you can't put your finger on, you probably got "counterfeit" coffee.

Such coffee is advertised as Arabica beans, but includes a mixture of cheaper, less tasty Robusta beans. Per a newly published study, researchers have developed a new way to test coffee to determine its bean ratios, doing so in a way that's cheaper than past methods.

As it turns out, Robusta coffee beans have about 20 times the amount of homostachydrine as Arabica, making it easier to identify when Robusta coffee beans are present in products claimed to be 100% Arabica. It's the first solid way for brewers to test the authenticity of the coffee beans they're importing, and spells bad news for traders who are illicitly mixing cheaper product into their 'pure' beans.

The method is fairly simple — brewers only need to grind up the beans, shake the grounds with a certain acid, and then run it through a high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) instrument. The results will show whether something is really 100%, or if it has been "diluted" to rip off buyers.

SOURCE: Washington Post