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Soluble coffee's new biotechnology.

Soluble coffee's new biotechnology

The massive soluble coffee industry with some 16 billion dollars in sales at the manufacturing level (primarily instant and freeze-dry) is about to experience a radical change in manufacturing procedure, according to Ralph L. Colton, president of Bramcafe International. This would be the first major innovation in the industry since the introduction of freeze-dried coffee in the mid-60's.

On January 8, 1991, U.S. Patent No. 4,983, 408 was issued to Ralph L. Colton. Its title, "Method for Producing Coffee Extracts," gives no hint, according to Colton, of the substantial economic, flavor-quality, and ecological benefits which the new biotechnology provides.

Liquid coffee concentrate (coffee extract) is the product stage following coffee roasting and prior to dehydration in manufacturing regular instant or freeze-dried soluble coffee.

The conventional system is based on technology developed in the mid-40's, as evidenced by the Morgenthaler U.S. patent No. 2,324,526, 1943. This system consists of a series of tall, stainless-steel columns (generally 7 in number), each containing ground roasted coffee. One is usually off-stream for discharge and reloading. Operation is counter-current with super-heated water at about 350 [degrees] F. (177 [degrees] C.) entering the most expanded column under about 160 psi steam-pressure. The water proceeds sequentially through to the most recently charged column where it exits at about 185 [degrees] F. (85 [degrees] C.) with a solubles concentration of about 20%.

The residence time from loading to discharge is 2-3 hours. The coffee flavor solubles are extracted in the first half of the system, according to Michael Sivetz in "Coffee Technology", 1979, AVI Publishing. The third column upstream from the one most recently charged reaches higher than home pressure-cooking temperatures which would degrade any coffee flavor solubles there obtained. Solubilization of portions of the expanded grounds (according to Sivetz) occurs in the last column where the super-heated water enters. There, part of the protein, cellulose etc. is reduced by aqueous hydrolysis to smaller, soluble molecules. This second product is necessary to prevent caking in the dried product and to aid in reconstitution to a beverage.

This second extraction replaced the "50% malto-dextrin added" by 1950 so that the product could be marketed as "Pure Instant Coffee". It was not better, only now "pure."

The solubilized portion of the expanded grounds now makes up 50-60% of the weight of most instant coffees.

Colton's method employs enzymes as organic catalysts to effect this solubilization, which takes place under low temperatures (120-130 [degrees] F., about 50 [degrees] C.).

This enzymatic approach to solubilization of the expanded grounds had been researched during the mid-40's by most major soluble coffee companies, but was abandoned because of disappointingly low yields of soluble coffee solids.

It took Colton almost two years to develop the technology to make this enzymatic hydrolysis practical. He had little encouragement. The principal reference text of the industry is "Coffee Technology", Sivetz and Derosier, AVI Publishing 1979. In a paragraph entitled "Useless Techniques", Sivetz states "the use of enzymes to solubilize cellulose portions of roasted coffee is impractical". But, the advantages of this method can be tremendous as will be evaluated below.

Colton claims that the potential yield of solubles is some 20% higher than that possible using the conventional technology. The current system relies mainly on residence-time and temperature to effect solubilization. A small growth in either to increase the present yield would cause processing problems and/or flavor degradation (according to Sivetz).

If the new biotechnology's 20% yield increase were confined to hydrolization of cellulose and other non-coffee flavor constituents, there would be a substantial dilution of coffee flavor. In fact, there is a flavor strength enhancement.

The conventional soluble coffee manufacturing system obtains about 20% of the weight of the roasted coffee as coffee flavor solubles, the balance being a non-coffee flavored filler. This gives a ratio of about 40/60 coffee to non-coffee flavor.

The potential yield of coffee-flavored solubles from roasted coffee (according to Sivetz) is over 30% using Soxhlet extraction at 212 [degrees] F. "overnight". Neither this system nor even the use of pulverized coffee which could provide a similar yield is practical for soluble coffee manufacturing.

However, Colton's method delivers the full 30% of coffee flavor solubles known to be possible. This means obtaining some 50% more of the all-important coffee-flavor fraction. This assures that the increased total yield of solubles results in no flavor dilution. In fact, the ratio of coffee flavor to the non-coffee flavored filler is substantially better than that using the conventional method.

Colton believes that this is the "Best of Both Worlds": a substantial cost reduction through a higher yield of solubles and a considerable flavor-quality improvement ("Coffier" soluble coffee). Can the soluble coffee industry ask for more?

Most successful, well managed companies are resistant to change until forced to do so by the competition. However, a conversion of the conventional system has been engineered which would cost a fairly nominal $5/bag (60 kg.) of coffee bean processing capacity. The annual cost-saving can be $20/bag and more.

With the current increased interest in coffee flavor quality, the "Coffier" soluble coffee of the Colton method may be more important thant the cost savings.

There are additional advantages from using this system, in cost-saving, less bitterness and environmental benefits.

Whereas, the conventional system solubilizes protein (10-12%) of roasted coffee weight along with cellulose etc. on an indiscriminate, "shot-gun" basis, enzymes are highly selective. Solubilized protein tends to be bitter but, if protease is not used in the Colton method, most of the protein remains in the final residue. So, there is less bitterness in the beverage.

In this method, the initial 10-12% protein in roasted coffee is increased to 25-30% in residue after the extraction of solubles. Since Colton's method also makes the residue digestible, it becomes a valuable by-product as a nutritious cattle-feed base.

The soluble coffee industry generally dewaters its residue for use as fuel. It is estimated that this industry pollutes the atmosphere with over three-quarters of a million tons of particles and carbon dioxide each year. Use of this new biotechnology would greatly reduce this ecological destruction.

Colton anticipates that the first use of this new biotechnology will be at Bramcafe's coffee extract manufacturing operation in Brazil, once financing can be obtained. This subsidiary, CSN-Cafe Soluvel Natural S.A., of Sao Jose dos Pinhais, Parana, was the first in Brazil to manufacture coffee extract for the burgeoning canned, ready-to-drink coffee market in Japan. Approximately 50% of Japan's coffee consumption is soluble, with about 12% being canned coffee vended hot in winter, cold in summer. Japan is close to replacing France as the fourth largest coffee-consuming nation.

Kanebo Foods, the third largest marketer of canned coffee, was the first to use liquid coffee concentrate imported from Brazil. This product was manufactured by CSN, filled in drums for shipping, frozen, to Japan.

UCC (Ueshima Coffee Company) which started the marketing of canned coffee, is now the second largest and is soon to be receiving liquid coffee concentrate from a Mitsui joint venture in Colombia.

Coca-Cola is now No. 1 in the Japanese canned-coffee market and has contracted to import 500 tons of coffee extract annually from Brazil.

Colton has filed for patent protection in the U.K., all major European coffee-consumers, Canada, Australia and Japan.

His plan is to establish the manufacturing subsidiary CSN-Cafe Soluvel Natural S.A., in Brazil, as a demonstration project using the new biotechnology. The patent and Colton's proprietary technology developed over the last 26 years will then be licensed to select soluble coffee manufacturing companies wishing to increase both manufacturing efficiency and beverage flavor quality.

The highly favorable economics and the incredible increase in beverage quality, a truly "Coffier" soluble coffee, should overcome the inertia and resistance to change common in most large companies. It will be interesting to watch developments in the well-established and highly profitable soluble-coffee manufacturing industry as the potential of this new biotechnology becomes more widely appreciated.
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Title Annotation:offers improved quality and yields for instant coffee
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Feb 1, 1991
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