Spilling the beans

You may drink it daily, but there’s probably a lot you still don’t know about your java.

You may drink it daily, but there’s probably a lot you still don’t know about your java.

Coffee—it’s the second most traded commodity in the world, yet a product we know little about. Nicole Azzopardi dispels the myths behind this beloved beverage and reveals truths about tea, its golden-haired sister.

Myth 1:

Australians prefer freshly ground coffee to instant. FALSE

You may think we’ve become a snazzier lot, lounging around at the local café like a bunch of good-looking Italians, but the truth is we love our instant coffee.

Nescafe, Moccona, Maxwell House you name it—these guys remain kings of the coffee market.

According to a study conducted by research company Fountainhead, Australians do not have a love affair with the liquid gold, but rather, a love affair with café culture itself.

The minute we’re in the privacy of our own homes, we prefer to crack open a can of instant coffee and ladle out a teaspoon or two of the freeze-dried favourite than take time to brew up a freshly roasted blend.

Australians are, in fact, one of the highest consumers of instant coffee in the world, with more than 85 per cent of the cuppas drunk at home being of the soluble variety—a practise that is valued in the market at approximately $AUD 900 million.

Myth 2:

Tea is pesticide free. FALSE

It enjoys the reputation of being a health tonic, full of antioxidants and energy-boosting proponents, but CHOICE magazine revealed that tea is not all it’s cracked up to be.

In fact, the humble cuppa can be loaded with pesticides, and despite popular belief to the contrary, tea-leaves are not washed before processing.

The results of the report showed there were traces of pesticides in nearly 40 per cent of the tea brands that were tested.

In fact, residues were found in seven out of 17 green teas, eight out of 20 black teas and six out of 18 herbal infusions.

All teas that claimed to be organic received the all-clear, but expert opinion is that even the teas with the most pesticide residues should still be safe to drink.

Myth 3:

Coffee drinkers have no ethics. FALSE

Sustainable coffee has experienced the largest growth in the industry.

Sustainable, specialty coffee and organic fall into this category, as highlighted in the study, Coffee in Australia 2006-2008, completed by DotPoint and BIS Shrapnel.

The findings outline that sustainable coffee enjoys an annual growth rate between 10 and 20 per cent, compared to general worldwide consumption of 1.2 per cent annually.

Both Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade coffees are now available in Australia. However, it is suggested that only 100 per cent certified organic coffee be roasted in dedicated equipment.

Myth 4:

Coffee drinkers can’t tell the difference. FALSE

Once a subject not widely understood, now almost a third of Australians are said to not only know what they’re drinking, but to have a preference for Arabica coffee beans.

However, Robert D’Amato of Sydney-based coffee operation Casa Italia Imports, says it’s all a matter of education, and the Arabica debate remains a subject that is loaded with confusion. “There is always this misconception that coffee produced with 100 per cent Arabica beans gives the best coffee, and that coffee blends that include Robusta are inferior,” he says. “This is not true. It comes down to the quality of the ingredients, not necessarily which ingredients you use.”

Arabica is typically a more expensive bean, and this is perhaps where the misconception about quality originates, D’Amato says. “Many overseas coffee brands include Robusta beans in the mix because they are trying to produce a certain flavour profile,” he says. “It has nothing to do with using an inferior bean.”

Myth 5:

Made in Australia means grown in Australia. FALSE

Companies like to fly the ‘Australian Made’ flag wherever they can, and it’s a marketing tool with proven emotional buying power.

But Sandy Abram of Hampstead Tea distributors First Ray, says the reality is that the majority of Australian companies are reliant on imported and local teas for their products, leading to the misconception that all the tea is actually grown in Australia. “People think that when they are buying tea made in Australia they are buying and drinking tea grown in Australia, which is not the case.”

Myth 6:

Herbal infusions are the same as herbal teas. FALSE

Black, green, Oolong and white tea are all derived from the single plant, Camellia sinensis. But the variety of a tea-leaf is determined entirely on how it is produced after it has been picked and the level of fermentation it is exposed to.

In this way, herbal infusions such as chamomile, peppermint and rosehip are not classified as teas but herbs or plants that have been dried and processed.

Contention often arises when herbal infusions are called herbal teas.

This is incorrect as the herbal infusion does not contain any tea leaves and therefore no caffeine.

Myth 7:

A barista is the same as a coffee maker. FALSE

In Italy, becoming a professional barista requires a four-year apprenticeship.

On the other side of the world, a well-trained barista is hard to find, and the demand for them is huge. But for the teenager who moonlights as a university student making coffee part-time, the pressure’s on. It’s now the polished and well-practiced barista that is in high demand by the latte drinking set.

From the right beans to the right roast, and the correct water temperature, the art of making coffee is learned over time, and thankfully, TAFE courses are helping to fill the gap.

Myth 8:

Australians remain loyal to the royal tea-leaf. FALSE

Tea has long been the historical favourite, but the introduction of instant coffee at the end of the 1940s has seen tea steadily decline.

From nearly 4 kilos consumed per capita 100 years ago, tea drinking has decreased to about 0.9 kilo today. In comparison, coffee consumption is on the rise.

On a global scale, Australia is considered to be a low coffee consumption nation, but things are changing dramatically.

The Australian Coffee Traders Association reveals that coffee consumption per capita has doubled over the last 30 years in Australia, from 1.2 to 2.4 kg.

Despite the growth spurt, tea is still managing to reign supreme, with Australians drinking marginally more cups of tea than coffee.

Myth 9:

O/S coffee is overpriced. FALSE

Quality is one thing, but the hip pocket is another, and restaurants and cafés want to make sure they get the most bang for their buck. But selling out over a couple of dollars is probably not what they had in mind.

In Australia, the cost of coffee typically ranges from $15-35 per kilo. This depends on the blend, roast and where it is made.

But when you do the maths, most coffee from overseas is competitively priced, and can even be cheaper than what’s available locally.

Considering that a kilogram of coffee yields close to 125-135 coffees, and that the coffee price per kilogram might have a variance of $3-4, the difference really comes down to the sale of an extra flat white.

This great content is produced for members of the Restaurant & Catering Association. Find out about becoming a member here.

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