Over the last two decades, the coffee industry has undergone a drastic transformation.
It has broken from its roots as a simple commodity to become a highly specialised product, as diverse as the people who consume it. The industry has been redefined with evolutions at every step, from experimental farming techniques to high-tech roasting software, and more advanced extraction practices.
The momentum behind these developments is often people who are willing to break from the conventional in pursuit of progress. One such development that is growing increasingly popular is white coffee.
While white coffee may have only just emerged as a roasting trend, it has a deep history that originates in the Middle East. Often the term “white coffee” can be confused with an order for a flat white. However, white coffee actually refers to an extremely delicate and light roast.
For more information about white coffee and how it is roasted, I spoke with the founder of Poverty Bay Coffee Company in Seattle, Dan Olmstead.
What is white coffee?
White coffee comes from the same type of beans that are used in traditionally roasted coffee.
The colour is not due to a genotype or phenotype of the bean but a deliberate result of actions taken during the roast. To a certain extent, roasters can manipulate variables of the roasting process to achieve the desired flavour profile.
White coffee is a result of one such manipulation. A traditional roast passes through three stages: the drying phase, the Maillard phase, and the development phase.
The roast profile of white coffee is inhibited – cutting the roast before the caramelisation of the sugars tends to give white coffee many of its unique characteristics.
This roast style results in a white or light yellow-looking coffee bean instead of the traditional brown. Additionally, it results in a much higher density bean than that achieved by conventional roasting.
The origin of this practice has its roots in Yemen, the first country to cultivate coffee commercially.
Traditionally served with a spice called hawaij, a mixture of cumin, black pepper, turmeric, and cardamom, the consumption of white coffee is still prevalent in the region. It has only recently moved into a more prominent position on the world stage.
Poverty Bay Coffee Co is one roaster who has helped usher white coffee into the spotlight.
“White coffee has been around for a long time. I’ve been roasting it since 1990. It wasn’t common, but it was there,” says Dan, who is also an experienced roaster.
The characteristics of white coffee
Due to its unique roast style, white coffee has interesting characteristics, and these may be the secret to its growing demand.
White coffee may be a more viable option for those who suffer from acid reflux from consuming darker roasts. This is because white coffee is often absent of the acids caused by the breakdown of sugars during the roast process.
“White coffee tends to have more antioxidants than fully roasted coffee,” Dan says. “And quite a bit more caffeine.”
The reasoning is that shorter, cooler roasts result in the bean retaining more of its original composition. Studies show white coffee contains up to 5% more caffeine than conventional roast profiles.
Additionally, while the antioxidant count is more elevated, the difference is marginal. The most profound difference between white and brown coffee is in taste.
“What white coffee doesn’t have is a taste of anything like coffee,” Dan explains. “So, when people try it, they may not necessarily know what they’re getting the first time. It tends to have a mild, nutty, and sweet flavour profile, but it will taste completely different to fully roasted coffee.”
This is because many of the quintessential coffee flavours found in brewed coffee result from caramelised sugars, giving structure and complexity to the cup.
However, without the caramelised sugars, the characteristics of white coffee strike a completely different pose, as it often has a pronounced acidity and low bitterness.
How to roast white coffee
It is a roaster’s responsibility to manipulate the variables of a roast to bring out the best flavours in a coffee.
Although some principles can be applied unilaterally, roasters must adjust each roast to compensate for the differences between one lot and the next. Particular care must be taken to adjust the parameters of the roast to suit that particular coffee.
The same will be true when roasting white coffee.
“Just like fully roasted coffee, the variables play into the end result,” Dan says. “It might not be as much as with a full roast, but it definitely plays a role.”
Therefore, it is advised that roasters keep accurate notes on the roast profile and the resulting flavours.
Darker beans tend to be more brittle and soluble, so consideration must be taken when brewing white coffee, as grinding and extraction can be more challenging.
Additionally, roasters will need to compensate for the less soluble beans when brewing white coffee, possibly favouring espresso extractions instead of filter options.
Some industry professionals advise running the coffee through twice: the first to open up the coffee and soften the grinds, allowing for a more rounded second flush.
While white coffee has only recently caught the specialty sector’s attention, it seems some areas have an established market.
“It’s been stable for a while with our wholesale clients,” Dan says. “What has changed is the amount of people buying it for home use. That has really shown a huge increase in the last three years.
With the explosion of home orders, there is definitely a percentage of people who try it and probably don’t like it. My feeling is the key driver behind its explosion in home use is the fact that white coffee is considered healthier than fully roasted coffee,” Dan says.
As specialty coffee steps out of its niche and becomes more mainstream, roasters must differentiate themselves from the competition. This often fuels the trends that come and go throughout the industry.
The question now is whether the demand for white coffee will outlive the limited attention span of the caffeine-depraved masses and break into the mainstream market.
Regardless, preserving the freshness of freshly roasted white coffee will be a roaster’s priority. Investing in sustainable packaging materials will not only ensure consumers enjoy white coffee at its best, but boost a roastery’s sustainability credentials.
MTPak Coffee has a range of coffee packaging that is 100% recyclable, biodegradable, or compostable, and made from sustainable materials such as kraft and rice paper, as well as LDPE and PLA-lined bags.
Furthermore, we can use digital printing to customise coffee bags to highlight the inherent characteristics of your white coffee offerings.
We have a quick 40-hour turnaround and fast delivery, with a 24-hour shipping time, allowing us to offer low minimum order quantities (MOQs) of packaging, no matter what size or material.