is it coffee?

robusta coffee marked xxx

There are laws concerning the maximum number of defects per 300 gram sample of coffee is allowable to import into the U.S. I guarantee you this exceeds the maximum, but it happens anyway. Who is out there sampling and checking all the incoming lots? nobody. this sample was something i pulled from a bulk sack (a giant pallet-sized poly bag that crap coffee, unworthy of the expense of burlap 60 kg bags) down at the annex coffee warehouse. it was marked xxx! i wouldn’t care except for this: if there was no market for this coffee, if it could not be exported, if it was forcibly destroyed, there would be an sea-change in the coffee market, benefiting every farmer from those with a backyard of coffee to those with many hectares. banning below grade coffee and triage coffee (the coffee that even the best mills produce as a byproduct from unripe cherry, broken beans, everything the density sorter removes, etc), then bottom-feeding buyers of this crap would be forced to purchase low-grade-yet-wholseome, non-defective coffee, and competition would increase at the lower-rungs of the coffee supply ladder, buoying the middle and upper end too. It has been suggested before by people (unlike me) who actually understand the global coffee commodity trade, but as long as this level of coffee is allowed, there is no incentive for big crap roasters to behave any better.

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21 Responses to “is it coffee?”


  1. 1 Vicki Smith

    So, Tom, where does this sort of thing actually end up?

    Vicki (eagerly awaiting a shipment of your Yellow Bourbon and Moka Kadir blend that I guarantee looks nothing like this)

  2. 2 admin

    Believe me, whoever IS receiving this off-grade coffee doesn’t want anyone to know. I know that Superior Coffee receives bulk bags like this, other than that … not sure. It’s institutional level roasters that are going to be using this. Whether they steam the robusta first to clean up the flavor or not, this has so many black beans (literally, a dead coffee bean) that you can’t remove defective flavors like that with steam or other treatment. By the way, bulk bags like this are old school for huge roasters at this point: now they have full bulk containers, a bag lines the entire shipping container and the coffee is blown in pneumatically! -Tom

  3. 3 Simon Hsieh

    But I do hand-pick every single lot of coffee before roasting. :)
    I admit that I roast very little amount of coffees per batch. But that helps prevent the un-infected beans from being bitten by the beetles or infected by the already mildewed ones. I can drink without fear of the mold….

  4. 4 admin

    Seriously Simon, do you roast coffee that looks like the XXX photo?!? What’s the point … I mean, if you cull out the defects there would be NOTHING left! ;-) -Tom

  5. 5 Simon Hsieh

    Yap~if I get something like the photo, I certainly will feed the trash can immediately. But in fact I never got a chance to have such thing. That looks really terrifying… :wink: -

  6. 6 Ken

    WOW! To think I might have been DRINKING that junk before I learned what REAL coffee is supposed to taste like! I’ve seen better looking mouse droppings that that display! YUCK!
    The saddest part of all is this: someone, somewhere will drink that stuff and think it’s some of the best they ever had!

  7. 7 Bruce P

    We’ll call that the “Granola Morning Blend”. I think I see some apricot pits, a couple pine nuts, a raisin here or there…

  8. 8 John

    Ken,

    I don’t think those droppings are from a mouse. Most likely something larger.

    Yuck!! I don’t know how anyone would consider roasting that stuff.

  9. 9 Bob Brashear

    My parents lived in Saudi for 10 years. They would send me kilogram packages of “Yemen” beans, just stolen from the docks. I had to pick out some interesting stuff, but nothing like in the picture. I have to agree with John. Who would roast that stuff?

  10. 10 admin

    There is some reason to be unamused with this coffee, and it makes mouse droppings seem a minor complaint. It would be a family of molds found in poor quality Asian and Indonesian coffees called Ochratoxin A. It is such a problem that there is an advert in many coffee trade mags for a very expensive Ochratoxin A detection device, and I think the ad is targeted at robusta buyers, or any situation where coffee has become moldy, or wasn’t dried right. It’s a bit above me, because it exists in corn and other commodities, is part of a greater family called mycotoxins, and has a relationship to the presence of fungi. Anyway, there is a good web site about it sponored by NGO’s and the ICO: http://www.coffee-ota.org/mycotoxins_what.asp

  11. 11 Robert Schaefer

    The cooperative movement to eradicate bad coffee is a noble one. Unfortunately, once Starbucks opens it 40,000 store (which is the global plan according to the company), perhaps they will start supporting junk like this! ;) Afterall, once you char a bean to a French Roast they all turn black!

    Seriously though, just to play devil’s advocate here, suppose you are a farmer who sells all of your top lots to speciality outfits like Sweet Marias, your mid-range and lower-range stuff to any number of gourmet companies and coffee houses. The rest is pretty much…well, JUNK! Oh well, it’s only $ money $ being tossed into the compost heap. But what else is a grower to do? This is nothing but dead, nearly dead, moldy, or otherwise sick beans anyway. I even think there are a few rocks and clumps of dirt there as well. Alas, no coffee grower is a “six sigma” producer. Heck, even La Minita Estate in Costa Rica has a garbage pile of reject beans somewhere, you know?

    But wait a second! What’s that you say? It is a broker from “Superior Coffee” on the phone? The guy says that he wants to buy your garbage pile reject beans for 50 cents a pound? Hurray!

    So what else is a grower to do?? As they say, don’t hate the player, hate the game (okay I actually despise that saying, but it fits here). The problem is that people are happy drinking this junk. , Think about your average truck stopconvenience store, or 7-11 type place, where coffee is allowed to become “dark roasted” on the after-burner until it tastes like someone just french-pressed a few Kingsford charcoal briquettes. A friend an I used to joke that this was “American Roast.”

    Like the war on drugs, the answer here is to attack the demand side of the equation, NOT the supplier. To be honest with you, I think we are winning this war!! I have been noticing in the last two or three years that the hot burner carafes are being replaced by satellite thermal systems. I was in a Quick Trip gas station and saw Kenya, Costa Rican, and Columbian offerings. I am seeing different roasts being offered, light, medium, and dark. People are starting to know what a half decent cup should taste like! Perhaps we just need to continue to educate people and preach the Gospel According to Joe (cuppa Joe that is). I think I will copy this photo to my hard drive and send it out to my friends. Friends do not let friends drink Ochratoxin.

    Sincerely,

    Robert

  12. 12 admin

    Robert – you have hit the nail on the head. a farmer who can get full value out of his crop by selling each quality “level” of coffee to it’s appropriate client will get the best return. But selling the triage, broken beans, detritus from around the tree, stuff that legally can be called coffee but really isn’t … well, that serves the farmers short term interest but damages them (and everyone) in the long run. How do you get people to recognize something that is of longterm benefit, when it makes them put aside a short term gain? it’s a question not only for coffee farmers, but something we probably all face … it’s a tough one.

  13. 13 christmasdawn

    Boy, I sure am glad (newcomer) I placed my order for the sampler yesterday, before I saw the above photo.
    Thanks, Now I kinda know what to be on the lookout for.

  14. 14 DigMe

    “Heck, even La Minita Estate in Costa Rica has a garbage pile of reject beans somewhere, you know?

    But wait a second! What‚Äôs that you say? It is a broker from ‚ÄúSuperior Coffee‚Äù on the phone? The guy says that he wants to buy your garbage pile reject beans for 50 cents a pound? Hurray!”

    Wait a minute…are you saying that I can score some La Minita from Superior Coffee?! ;)

    bc

  15. 15 JIm

    funny you should mention those hypothetical piles of lousy beans at La Minita…

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/jim1992/111045899/in/set-72057594079942604/

  16. 16 Bill

    After enlarging the photo and studying it for some time, I found what looks like one coffee bean. But . . . . . then, I COULD be mistaken.

  17. 17 Tim

    My goodness that is horrible looking stuff. I can’t believe anybody would sell that as coffee but, then, what do I know.
    I know my beginner’s roasts of decent beans are surely better than that stuff.

  18. 18 steve

    Triage coffee is very commonly exported and bought.
    it is often used in freeze dried blends

  19. 19 Steve

    Your analysis is flawed. The only reason those beans were exported in the first place was the fact that the international price was higher than the domestic market where the coffee was grown. Preventing its export (read: restraint of free trade) forces the grower/exporter to sell at a cheaper price, hurting him even more. Don’t try to do them any favors.

  20. 20 admin

    destroying crappy coffee would raise the price for all coffee, so some people argue. when grading was more controlled and the ICO imposed quotas, both buyers and sellers enjoyed stable coffee prices.

  21. 21 Rob

    That picture looks like the layer of gravel at the bottom of my fish tank. Perhaps if I replace the gravel with that stuff, my fish would be perkier?

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