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Kosher coffee.

Myths have a long shelf life, and misconceptions about kosher foods, and their consumers, are no exception. Fact or fiction: a single-origin bean, green or roasted, is inherently kosher. True or false: kosher food is blessed by the rabbi.

The first is "fact," according to Rabbi David Heber of the STAR-K of Baltimore and Rabbi Yosef Wikler of the magazine Kashrus. Roasters and blenders of pure coffee beans from any plantation around the globe do not need rabbinic certification to prove their product is kosher.

The second is "false." Kosher food is neither blessed nor cursed by the rabbi, but checked for nonkosher ingredients. Additives, from decaffeinating agents to flavors, do require kosher certification. A roaster featuring flavored as well as singleorigin beans needs rabbinical supervision for both in order to reach the kosher market.

How can a flavor be unkosher? Without getting into complex chemical compounds or Talmudic law, it's safe to say the problem begins at the source. For the kosher consumer, a flavor derived from animals, grapes, or alcohol is problematic. Glycerine and oleic acid, which impart creamy notes and mouthfeel, are sometimes made from nonkosher beef tallow. Civet, a strawberry-flavor enhancer, can come from a cat. What many roasters and tea blenders don't know is that many flavor companies including Flavor & Fragrance Specialties (FFS), Flavor Technology Corporation, Melchers, Flavor Dynamics, and Beck all produce kosher flavors synthetically at no greater expense.


In October, 1994 Green Mountain Roasters of Vermont received kosher certification from the Orthodox Union, and The Coffee Beanery, Ltd. was approved by Organized Kashruth Laboratories. In May, Gillies Coffee Company of New York was certified by the STAR-K of Baltimore. Since 1990, Cadillac Coffee of Michigan has been selling 600,000 pounds annually of gourmet coffee certified by the Chicago Rabbinical Council. What motivates these companies to switch? What changes are necessary and at what cost?

"We were getting inquiries asking if we were kosher from our wholesale department, especially in New York and New Jersey," said Betty Omansky, assistant to Robert Stiller, president of Green Mountain. Queries arrived from retail and specialty food stores, a university, mail-order customers, and bulk carriers.

"The idea of kosher certification," said Donald Schoenholt of Gillies, "is driven by the perception that it's of higher quality. I see it in my customers in Kansas and Nebraska. And it's carrying the specialty food market with it."

Foodservice operations, a yacht club, and a country club asked Cadillac Coffee Company to become kosher, according to Guy Gehlert, president.

Step I entails submitting a list of ingredients to the supervisory agency. In Step 2, a rabbi must inspect the plant and examine the process.

"There was no need for us to switch equipment," said Omansky. "One or two flavors were dairy and we switched those to nondairy."

Working in the industry's favor is a "kosher-friendly" method of flavoring fresh roasted coffee beans. To begin with, beans roast in dedicated equipment. Second, they're flavored in batches and in isolation. As it happens, Green Mountain had been using kosher certified flavors even before they contacted the Orthodox Union, further simplifying procedures, as had Gillies and The Coffee Beanery.

Dairy ingredients, though kosher, nevertheless concern those abiding by Jewish dietary laws, which proscribe mixing meat and milk products and equipment. A kosher consumer in the mood for a good dessert coffee immediately following duck a l'orange couldn't have it if the beans absorbed dairy Irish Creme concentrate.

Gillies's STAR-K certification confirms three facts: their equipment is dedicated; their flavors are kosher; and they're nondairy. The Coffee Beanery and Green Mountain's certification states the same. Cadillac, however, opted for separate dairy and nondairy certifications. For each category, written confirmation is crucial because kosher consumers will ask to see it.

The expense of certification varies, but all have to develop new film to add the kosher logo. Also, there is an annual fee to pay for periodic inspections and kosher renewal.


How interested is the kosher consumer in specialty coffees and teas? In March 1994, G.W. Communications of New York commissioned Bruskin/Goldring Research, a national market research firm in Edison, New Jersey, to conduct a study. The study, among other things, asked that question of kosher consumers who reside or work in New York City, and of the 183 phone interviews completed; 87% said they keep a kosher home. The sample comprised several Jewish groups: 91 undergraduate and graduate students (30 males from yeshiva University, 31 women from Stern College; and 31 coeds from Columbia/Barnard); 71 professionals -- lawyers, accountants, and media-related careerists; and 21 adult residents of Manhattan.

All were asked to describe their ideal cafe and to rate, on a scale of 1-10 (where 10 means very much and 1 means very little), how much they'd like to see world coffees, flavored coffees, world teas, and herbal teas at a kosher cafe.

The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) estimates that approximately 23% of Americans nationwide consume specialty coffee. The results of the Bruskin/Goldring survey indicate that in New York City, the kosher market is poised to exceed the national average by a wide margin.

Responding to "How much would you like to have coffees from all over the world at a kosher cafe?" 31% gave the item a 10, and 7% gave it a 9, making 38% the "top banner" for world coffees. Flavored coffees fared even higher. Top banner was 41%: 31% gave it a 10, and 10% gave it a 9. Among them, 43 out of 91 Jewish students, and 30 out of 71 professionals keep kosher. Teas were a close runner-up. Top banner for herbal teas was 37%; world teas garnered 34%.

For the open-ended "Describe your ideal cafe," interviewees talked not only about ambience and clientele, but 21% free-associated their ideal with "good coffee," "different types of coffee," and "a large selection of coffees."

Willy Palmer, vice president of sales at FFS, observes: "Coffee is an urbane drink -- and Jews live in urban areas. We view the kosher population as a market expander."

Is the kosher market receptive to specialty coffee and tea? Yes, in areas with significant concentrations of Jews. The correlation between specialty coffee or tea and education, sophistication, and affluence is borne out in the kosher market as well. But it's still largely untapped.


Kosher certification can be bewildering. A specialty coffee or tea company needs to consider several questions:

* Is the target market regional, national, or international?

* How will you reach the kosher consumer once you're certified?

The Orthodox Union, OK Laboratories, the Kof-K, and the STAR-K are the best-known certifications domestically and abroad. All four also have their own PR apparatus -- in-house magazines, access to Anglo-Jewish media nationwide -- to update the kosher consumer. A relatively unknown regional certification, though perfectly reliable, may not see the interests of a company with plans for national distribution.

And let the industry beware. There are some rabbis who don't adhere to the rigors of reliable certification; such sources need to be checked to avoid fraud. Nor may roasters append the aforementioned logos without authorization. Maximizing kosher status means getting to know the neighborhood as well as the highlights of the Jewish calendar and lifestyle.

Take Sue Berndt of Cuppers, a small batch roastery in Baltimore, Maryland, that opened in December, 1993. Today, the beans are STAR-K and Berndt is attracting the local Jewish market through holiday gift baskets and PR/advertising in the Baltimore Jewish Times, Jewish calenders, and synagogue bulletins.

Historically Jews have lived on every continent and imbibed an international gamut of hospitality traditions involving coffee and tea. Multicultural marketing is in vogue, and kosher consumers are clearly part of the ethnic mosaic inside that global village.


Orthodox Union, 333 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10001. Tel. (1)(212)563-4000, Fax (1)(212)564-9058. Contact: Rabbi M. Genack. Clients: Green Mountain Roasters, Barrie House, Fairwinds, Brother's Cafe du Jour, Ellis Coffee Co., Firmenich

STAR-K Kosher Certification, 11 Warren Road, Baltimore, Maryland 21208-5324. Tel. (1)(410)484-4110. Fax (1)(410)653-9294. Contact: Rabbi David Heber. Clients: Gillies Coffee Company, FFS, FTC, Melchers, Western Flavors, Quest International (Owing Mills, Md). Most but not all their flavors are kosher; a list of kosher flavors is available from each company.

Organized Kashruth Laboratories, 1372 Carroll Street, Brooklyn, New York 11213. Tel. (1)(718)756-7500, Fax 718/756-7503. Contact: Rabbi Don Yoel Levy. Clients: The Coffee Beanery, Ltd., Gevalia Coffee (Gavli, Sweden), David Michael & Company (upon request), Flavor Dynarnics (customizes kosher flavors upon request), Flavor Innovations, Inc.

KOF-K Kosher Supervision, 1444 Queen Anne Road, Teaneck, New Jersey 07666-3514. Tel. (1)(201)837-0500, Fax (1)(201)837-0126. Contact: Rabbi Dovid Senter. Clients: Comax Manufactuing Corporation, Givaudon-Roure.

Kashrus Magazine, P.O. Box 204 Brooklyn, New York 11204 Tel. 718/336-8544 Fax 718/336-8550 Contact: Rabbi Yosef Wikler
COPYRIGHT 1994 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:issues in getting coffee certified as kosher, evaluating market for such a product; includes related article on helpful organizations
Author:Wachsman, Goldie
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Nov 1, 1994
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