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I will not go into details, or reasons (political, economic, logistic or otherwise), but in my country, coffee has been scarce and expensive in the last couple of years.

I've been suspecting that some coffee producers have been cutting it (mixing it) with cheaper things. The unmistakable aroma of coffee is now mixed with some bitter tones sometimes, fishy tones some other times. The flavor is not quite coffee also. It's been so long since I've smelled the unmistakable aroma of real, honest to God coffee. I'm almost 100% convinced that they are mixing it with roasted black beans or something.

My questions is, what other grains, nuts or whatever do coffee produces usually mix ground coffee with in order to make it cheaper?

How can I check whether or not the ground coffee has been mixed up?

9

I will not go into any political discussion, theory or similar, but I can give you a few historical facts.

There have always been times in the last few centuries when coffee was a rare commodity. And it has always been expensive to some degree, making it "something for special occasions" in the poorer parts of European societies.

People used and still use various "substitutes" from grains (barley, spelt, rice), roots (chiccory, dandelion), fruit (acorns, dates), typically roasted, ground and prepared like coffee beans, resulting in a somewhat bitter, dark drink more or less resembling genuine coffee. (For a more extensive list, see the link above.)

Instead of replacing coffee, they can also be mixed with coffee, "stretching" the yield of the coffee beans.

If you want to check your coffee for "fillers", buy whole beans - none of the coffee substitutes look even remotely like coffee beans.

  • Roasted chicory root is a particularly (regionally) common additive; one example is Cafe Du Monde. – hoc_age Dec 11 '15 at 1:53
  • Would that cause a watered down serving of coffee compared with the brew obtained with the same proportions of water and "good coffee", needing much more coffee to be added to make the same quantity of the drink? – Tulains Córdova Jun 4 '17 at 4:43
6

An easy (but unscrupulous) way to lower the seller's cost of coffee is to add coffee that is cheaper, older, or unfit for consumption because spoiled or contaminated. The frequency and severity of this problem is almost impossible to quantify because the resale of such coffee is by definition illegal and, when discovered, probably not front-page news.

Commodity coffee may be especially susceptible to this sort of chicanery because, although it is highly regulated, it may be stored in large quantities and even a slight delay in delivery (perhaps to influence the market) can result in spoilage. Penicillium mold is present in most unroasted beans as an endophyte--normally benign but capable of causing damage under the right conditions, and other mold pathogens can ruin coffee if a narrow range of storage climate is exceeded.

All these (and more) can affect the taste and aroma of the retail product. If coffee smells or tastes bad, spoilage due to storage/handling is a possibility. The seller may have blended marketable coffee with marginally marketable coffee.

  • Would that cause a watered down serving of coffee compared with the brew obtained with the same proportions of water and "good coffee", needing much more coffee to be added to make the same quantity of the drink? – Tulains Córdova Jun 4 '17 at 4:43
  • @TulainsCórdova That's a good question. I think probably so, sometimes. But good espresso machines can wrest flavor out of beans pretty well. The flavor just won't be as good. – daniel Jun 4 '17 at 5:49
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On the less conspiratorial side of things, the problems you are describing can also be explained by less sinister circumstances. Coffee that has been roasted too dark is often bitter and somewhat fishy (depending on the varietal of beans and other factors). Robusta beans may also be blended with the more widely accepted Arabica coffee to lower cost and increase caffeine levels in the final blend, but it generally has poorer taste and is bitter.

Many mass producers of coffee roast their beans dark because the roast flavors become more pronounced and the origin favors fade, producing a more standardized product, but generally also a more bitter one. It's possible that you just don't like darkly roasted coffee, which is what is generally available at the overwhelming number of chain shops.

  • Would that cause a watered down serving of coffee compared with the brew obtained with the same proportions of water and "good coffee", needing much more coffee to be added to make the same quantity of the drink? – Tulains Córdova Jun 4 '17 at 4:43
3

One method to stretch coffee is to grind it finer. This leads to over extraction and a bitter taste. There isn't much of a saving. In the plant I managed, we produced 2.5 oz. pouches for coffee service companies. A coarser grind in 2.75 oz. pouches was produced for hotels and restaurants.

  • This is usually the case for Turkish coffee. Especially for touristic packages. Generally high robusta percentage. Somewhat low quality beans. Be aware. – MTSan Jan 8 '16 at 15:10
  • Would that cause a watered down serving of coffee compared with the brew obtained with the same proportions of water and "good coffee", needing much more coffee to be added to make the same quantity of the drink? – Tulains Córdova Jun 4 '17 at 4:44
  • Less coffee causing a watered down taste? No, the over extraction makes up for it. – Curt Jun 4 '17 at 15:33

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