Customers could be buying inferior coffee, says study

A study by British researchers has revealed a possible unpalatable truth about the coffee for sale on the shelves of UK supermarkets. In around 10 per cent of cases, packets labelled 100 per cent Arabica contained a mix of inferior beans as well. The study was performed as a test for a new and more accurate way of testing coffee.

Arabica beans sell for higher prices than Robusta as they are harder to grow and have a superior taste and complexity. The cheaper Robusta beans are used in cheaper blends and products such as instant coffee granules. Up until now, it hasn’t been that easy to identify what’s actually in a blend, particularly when the beans have been roasted and sold as ready-ground. The technique that’s been used to date is expensive and takes three days to process, so it hasn’t been practicable for regular checks. The new test is far more sensitive, detecting Robusta at one part to a hundred, and takes only half an hour to complete. The study looked at 60 samples from outlets around the world, including 22 from the UK, and found several ‘suspicious’ samples. These showed the presence of a much higher proportion of Robusta than could be accounted for by accidental contamination. Two of these samples came from the UK, and one showed levels of over 20 per Robusta in a blend that was labelled as 100 per cent Arabica. One US sample showed Robusta levels of a third.

The Food Standards Agency’s National Food Crime Unit said that they would be ‘looking to explore the results further’. The British Coffee Association welcomed the study as helping to improve assurance measures, but also pointed out that the vast majority of products were unaffected by the findings.

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