The ability to communicate and share information has always been an integral part of every society.
Throughout history, there has been an established means of sharing news. From town criers during the 18th century to the development of newspapers, radio, and television, information has always taken the most convenient route.
In today’s world of constant connectivity, smartphones are the ideal vehicles for spreading information. While access to information is a positive aspect of modern-day living, it is not without a downside, and misinformation is becoming a genuine issue.
Misinformation has circulated through the media since the early days of mass communication. It often refers to giving inaccurate information about a topic, regardless of the person’s intent to mislead.
Within the coffee industry, this has breathed fresh life into many “myths” about coffee roasting. Some of the most common, for example, are that darker roasts contain more caffeine than lighter roasts. Or, that decaffeinated coffee is full of chemicals.
To clear up any misinformation about common coffee roasting myths, I spoke with coffee expert and author, Scott Rao.
What is a myth?
Myths are defined as widely held, but often false ideas or beliefs.
They are often made possible by the fact that information is easier to consume and share than it is to verify.
Myths come in different shapes and sizes and often without agenda. Usually, they are stories that are based on traditions, and some may have factual origins, while others may be completely fictional.
While myths can be honest misconceptions, it does not mean they are entirely benign.
Myths that circulate in the coffee industry may influence purchases, impact how a roaster profiles coffee, and determine how a business chooses to market a product.
Despite its popularity around the world, there is a surprising amount of misinformation on coffee and its production methods, roast methods, and health benefits.
Debunking common coffee roasting myths
Some myths are so well established that misconceptions about it further add obscurity to the topic.
“I try to debunk lots of myths, but it’s a little like playing whack-a-mole,” says Scott, who has years of experience wihtin the coffee industry. “When you debunk one myth, another one pops up a second later, so it can be a bit of a fight.”
One such myth is that dark roast coffee has a higher caffeine content, tying into the misconception that the roast impacts the strength of the coffee.
The caffeine content does differ between light and dark roasts: bean for bean, light roast coffee is higher in caffeine. However, gram for gram, the difference is marginal as darker roasts tend to have about 5% more caffeine.
Lighter roasts tend to retain more mass than their darker counterparts. Therefore, it takes more dark roast coffee beans to make up the same weight as light roast coffee beans. By using more beans, roasters can compensate for the caffeine differential.
Often presented as an argument for darker roasts being higher in caffeine is its increased solubility.
As the beans have been roasted longer, they are more porous and soluble, making it easier to extract the caffeine. Notably, caffeine is soluble at any roast level, so this factor has little impact.
However, dark roasts do affect the taste, leading some people to associate the strength of the coffee with the roast profile.
The strength of coffee is actually determined by how much coffee is used in relation to water. The higher the coffee-to-water ratio, the stronger the coffee will be. Therefore, using the term “strong” as a flavour descriptor may be misleading.
But ultimately, by the time it’s in the cup, the variance in caffeine is not worthy of note. Unless, of course, the consumer is drinking decaf.
Another common roasting myth is that decaffeinated coffee is full of harmful chemicals.
It is important to note that decaffeination has multiple processes. The one that gave birth to concerns around chemicals is the methylene chloride method.
This is where coffee beans are steamed to draw the caffeine to the surface. Then, a methylene chloride solvent is applied to remove the caffeine, before steam is applied again to remove residual solvent.
However, it was recently proved that methylene chloride is harmful and leaves residual traces in the beans. So again, there is some truth to this myth, however distorted.
Technological advancements have seen safer, more organic methods come into use. The most recognised method is the Swiss Water Process (SWP) – an environmentally friendly, chemical-free water process.
A persistent misconception about coffee is that it’s best to drink it when it’s freshly roasted. That said, like all organic matter, coffee produces carbon dioxide (CO2) when exposed to heat.
The bean’s porous cell structure traps CO2, which dissipates over time. Approximately 40% of the total CO2 dissipates in the first 24 hours and the rest over the subsequent weeks.
Roast profile plays a part in degassing, as dark roasts typically degas faster than light ones. The degassing of the coffee plays a critical role in how the coffee tastes, as the gas affects how the coffee and water interact. This, in turn, impacts the extraction.
That said, coffee is a subjective experience, and there is no right or wrong way to enjoy it. However, allowing time for the beans to degas will improve the taste.
For espresso, it’s recommended the coffee rests for a minimum of 7 days. Some may find the coffee peaks around 12 to 14 days after roasting. Filter coffee can be used as soon as 2 to 3 days after roasting. However, the flavour will become more developed over time.
How can roasters & coffee shops help debunk common coffee roasting myths?
Ultimately, quality information is required to combat myths. Roasters and coffee shops have multiple opportunities to communicate and educate their audience.
For instance, using social media can be particularly effective. However, care must be taken to ensure the message arrives as intended, as it can be easy for facts to get misrepresented.
“I try very hard to be clear if I’m discussing something a little advanced or complex,” Scott says. “No one can compete with the information machine – or the misinformation machine – that is the internet. So, the best I can do is be careful in how I phrase things to reduce the risk of a misunderstanding.”
Scott recommends coffee professionals find and read source material. “It’s tempting to read what a blogger or journalist says about a research article, but it’s far safer to read the paper yourself.
“Read the old texts, the books that have stood the test of time. Whether it’s Ukers or Svitzer, they have a high ratio of quality information to misinformation.” He suggests reading the likes of Johnathan Gagne, James Hoffmann, Christopher Feran, Lucia Solis, and Lance Hedrick.
The final step is passing quality information on to customers. Roasters and coffee shops can make their social channels a source of education and create valuable engagement around the topic.
While digital engagement is ever increasing, baristas are still the first line of defence against the tyranny of myths. Promoting open communication between baristas and customers can be an effective way to establish loyalty and increase customer satisfaction.
Another way is to custom-print coffee bags to help debunk common coffee roasting myths. Engaging coffee bags are effective at not only increasing brand awareness but also educating consumers on the coffee supply chain.
We are also able to design coffee bags with complete colour consistency using digital printing technology, with a quick turnaround time of 40-hours and 24-hour shipping time.
MTPak Coffee also offers low minimum order quantities (MOQs) to micro-roasters who are looking to remain agile.