Coffee Fraud

Recently, a farmer in Napa was caught labeling Lake county wine as Napa, selling inferior wine as Cabernet and stealing grapes from other growers. He has been arrested and probably will go to prison.
Could the same thing happen with coffee? Of course, the answer is “Yes.” Any place there is money, there are people willing to cheat to get it.
Fraudulent coffee occurs all over the world. The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention lists coffee as one of the seven most commonly adulterated foods. An American roaster who buys coffee from a foreign distributor may not even know that the coffee is fraudulent. A roaster buying Costa Rican coffee may actually be buying Honduran coffee. Roasters take trips to coffee countries to pick out the coffees they want to buy. But unless they escort the coffee back themselves, anyone in the several steps between the farmer and the roaster can intentionally or inadvertently switch the bags. Coffee fraud is pandemic.
Some of the most common coffee frauds and how you can protect yourself are :
Selling Defective Coffee by Flavoring it
When we were first growing coffee we took several hundred pounds of green coffee to a new mill. When we got it back it was yellow and shriveled. We complained and were told “Just put some flavoring in it, the buyers won’t know the difference.” We threw the coffee out and thankfully that mill is out of business today.
If you want to drink flavored coffee buy inexpensive coffee beans, then buy coffee flavors from Amazon and put your own flavoring on them. At least you will know what you are drinking.
Selling Defective Coffee by Dark Roasting it and Grinding it.
One way to mask damaged coffee is to dark roast it and sell it ground. Dark roasting takes all of the flavors out of coffee. Grinding makes it difficult to tell whether the coffee is old, bug damaged or from discarded broken beans.
Buy whole bean coffee and inspect it before you grind it.
Selling Stolen Coffee
Stealing coffee beans is a common problem all over the world. Sometimes, the thieves cut down the whole tree then pick the beans off when they get it home. More commonly thieves break into barns and warehouses and steal coffee parchment and green beans. A bag of green coffee can sell on the black market for $1000. There is no way to tell a legal bean from a stolen bean.
It might be very good coffee or it might have been stored next to pesticides. The thief doesn’t care but you should. Stolen coffee often shows up for sale at below farmer’s cost of production. If a coffee is cheap there is a reason for that. It may be that the coffee was stolen.

Mislabeling Low Grade Roasted Coffee as Higher Grade.
Many countries have grading systems for their coffees often based on size and quality.. The lower the grade the cheaper the coffee. However, most of these systems are only for green coffee beans. A roaster who wants to make more money can mislabel her roasted coffee as high grade. Since roasting changes the size of the beans and masks many of the defects she probably won’t get caught.
Mislabeling the Coffee Origin
The fastest way to make an extra buck in Kona is to buy cheap non-Kona coffee and sell it as Kona. One of the most common rumors in Kona is that this or that distributor buys out of district coffee and sells it as Kona. Twenty years ago one distributor got caught selling Central American coffee as Kona, he went to prison.

Selling Old Roasted Coffee.
If you go to Ross they have shelves of roasted coffee at very low prices. The coffee is old and was roasted months, maybe years, before they got it. At Ross you know what you are getting but some coffee distributors aren’t so honest.

Selling Past Crop Coffee
Every year we get a new crop of coffee. After processing we store the coffee until roasting. As green coffee ages it loses flavor and picks up flavors from the things around it. One of the most common is the taste of burlap, if the coffee is stored in burlap bags. Farmers can slow down the degradation by storing the coffee in special bags in humidity and temperature controlled rooms. However, sooner or later nature is going to catch up. Wine gets better with age, coffee gets worse. If the farmers doesn’t sell out his crop before he has a new crop, he should sell off the old coffee at a discount to distributors who don’t care about freshness. If he doesn’t and sells the coffee to customers he is defrauding them.
What can you do to protect yourself from unethical roasters.
1. Know who grew the coffee.
2. Ask questions: Where was this coffee grown? When was it picked? When was it roasted? What variety of coffee is this? Is it all the same variety? Is it graded?
3, Buy your own flavoring. Amazon sells coffee flavorings that you can add to your coffee. That way you know you are drinking good coffee.
4, Buy whole bean coffee. When you open a package smell the bag. Does it smell like fresh coffee? Pour some beans out. Can you see defects like bug damage, misshapen beans,lots of chips, mold or fungus? When you grind it and add water does if raise up. Fresh roasted coffee blooms when hot water is added. Old coffee stays flat.

Kona Coffee is expensive because it requires a lot of hand labor at American rates. If the price on your Kona coffee is a bargain look again. If it is too good to be true, it probably is.

Karen Jue Paterson is the owner of Hula Daddy Kona Coffee, a 33 acre coffee farm in Kona, Hawaii. Hula Daddy is the winner of the 2014 Kona Coffee Cupping competition. Karen is a member of the Hawaii Coffee Association, the Kona Coffee Council, the Kona Coffee Farmers Association, the Holualoa Village Association and the Specialty Coffee Association of America. She is also the author of a number of articles on Kona Coffee including: Coffee Fraud Kona Coffee Farmers at a Crossroad ;How Typica is Your Kona Coffee? ; Are Roasters Eroding the Kona Coffee Brand?; Coffee Cupping Competitions – Real or Random Chance? ; Seven Easy Steps to Become a Gourmet Coffee Taster ; How to Brew Coffee Using a Pour Over Filter; Before You Buy an Automatic Single Serve Coffee Brewer; Siphon Coffee Brewers Suck!; Sweet Coffee;What Color is Your Coffee Roast? You can email her at #huladaddy #konacoffee

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