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Questioning the authenticity of brewed decaf.

Questioning the authenticity of brewed decaf

Since the advent of freshbrewed decaffeinated in many restaurants, I never order coffee any more, a colleague recently remarked. "I realize that most operators are honest, conscientious and make a sincere effort to supply what the patron requests. But with the frequent use of low-paid service help who are indifferent, ignorant or careless, too many times have I been served regular coffee disguised as decaffeinated."

The use of red topped decanters for the caffeine-free brew and black for regular, is not always a guarantee of the identity of its contents. Mistakes may occur in preparation by the inadvertent use of the wrong envelope in the coffee maker or cap switching after preparation. What is needed is some kind of marker to identify or differentiate the two beverages in the cup.

"I really can't tell the difference between the two, even after I've swallowed a whole cup," my associate went on. "I never see any difference in stomach comfort or physiological effects after either. Still my physician directed that I stay away from caffeine. As long as I'm under his care, I feel I should faithfully observe his dictates. My wife, on the other hand, has a much more sensitive psyche. She maintains that, if she has regular coffee for breakfast, it interferes with her sleep that night."

Obviously, a simple means of differentiating the two brews would be valuable in situations of this type. Other industries, facing similar problems, have taken steps to rectify this difficulty. For example, in the distilled liquor area, venal bartenders will substitute inexpensive bar whiskey for high priced premium brands. Patrons, particularly after several drinks, may be unable to recognize the substitution, but it represents a serious loss to the distributor. The U.S. Treasury Department now permits the inclusion of an insignificant quantity (one part per million) of a harmless trace element in highly advertised brands so that a simple chemical analysis can identify the substitution. A number of publicans have been discouraged from this practice by substantial fines. This could be utilized for generic decaffeinated coffee, but lacks economic incentive and would require a delay for completion of the analysis.

A simple differentiation by other attributes of the beverage by the consumer would be more desirable. This might be in the realm of either color or flavor.

Difference of depth of shade in cup could be readily recognized providing standards could be agreed upon by all producers. If the industry decided that a light roast would be specific and reserved for the caffeine-free beverage, while darker roasts would be restricted to the regular brew, consumers would soon become accustomed to this readily observable degree of hue and would be immediately assured that they were receiving the beverage of their choice. This would be concomitant with the concept of decaffeinated coffee being a "light" drink. It would run into contradiction with the industry effort to assure drinkers that no-caffeine coffee is indistinguishable from regular.

In the realm of flavor, a broad spectrum of both natural and synthetic aromas are now being added to afford distinctive beverages. Many of these demonstrate that consumers will accept other food flavors such as cinnamon, peppermint, vanilla, chocolate, etc., in their beverages. If one of these, by industry agreement, could be reserved for decaffeinated, imbibers could immediately identify the brew of their preference. Again this would run counter to the promoted image of the caffeine-free product being identical in taste to regular coffee.

Some years ago on the course of experiments on spray drying solubles, we added some pure grain alcohol to the coffee liquor before pumping to the atomizer. Since alcohol evaporates much faster than water, essentially all of it was removed during drying. However, a minute fraction was retained in the beads as a component of the flavor and could be detected by acute coffee tasters in blind tests. The alcohol appeared to impart a delicate brightness to the aroma and flavor. This is probably too subtle a differentiation for most consumers, but if a more pronounced and pleasant flavor could be devised, public education to accept such a mild distinguishing characteristic might not be too difficult.

Further remarks by my colleague illuminated the pharmacology of decaffeinated beverages and illustrated a key aspect of the long term significance of these types of drink.

"Since switching," he stated, "if I skip my morning coffee, I hardly miss it. Before changing, if I didn't have my first cup, I suffered. I became nervous, restless, with even a sensation of anxiety and weakness. I experienced a prolonged feeling of discomfort, sometimes even a severe headache, which was alleviated as soon as I had my cuppa. Now I barely notice if I have to forego my first cup or even at any other time of day."

In any event, there is a ready-made solution to the problem of restoring and maintaining confidence to skeptical decaffeinated fiends. When they order this beverage in public dining places, the server should inquire "Fresh Brew or Instant?" Most, of course, will select the former. But for those of little faith, soluble decaffeinated served in an individual sealed envelope with a pot of hot water will allay any suspicions as to the authenticity of their beverage.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
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Article Details
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Author:Lee, Samuel
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Article Type:column
Date:Oct 1, 1990
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