Norwich research centre discover new technique for testing authenticity of coffee

PUBLISHED: 16:32 18 May 2018 | UPDATED: 17:04 18 May 2018

Coffee is big business. Picture: Sabrina Johnson

Coffee is big business. Picture: Sabrina Johnson


Researchers from Norwich’s Quadram Institute have discovered a new technique to suggest that coffee makers claiming to possess only high-quality ingredients are potentially defrauding their customers.

Science minister Sam Gyimah (centre) in front of the Quadram Insitute building.  Picture: David Kirkham/Quadram InstituteScience minister Sam Gyimah (centre) in front of the Quadram Insitute building. Picture: David Kirkham/Quadram Institute

Using the new technique, which uses radio waves and strong magnets to better detect the chemicals inside coffee, a team of scientists led by Dr Kate Kemsley found that 10% of coffees purporting to contain 100% high-quality Arabica beans actually contained significant levels (more than 1%) of the cheaper Robusta variant.

The scientists worked with colleagues from the Royal Botanical Garden in Kew, who helped provide samples originating from at least 11 different countries, to produce the report for the scientific journal Food Chemistry.

Dr Kemsley said: “It was immediately obvious using our test that there were several suspicious samples, producing results that were consistent with the presence of substantial amounts of Robusta – far more than would be expected through unavoidable contamination.”

“This is an important milestone for detecting coffee fraud.

“1% is the generally accepted cut off between trace contamination, which might be accidental, and more deliberate adulteration for economic gain.”

The project leader also hoped that the new technique could mean that smaller coffee retailers would be able to more accurately verify the quality of their produce.

The Food Standard’s Agency’s National Food Crime Unit said that it was early days in terms of holding coffee makers to account for fraudulent advertising.

Giles Chapman, Head of Intelligence at the FSA’s National Food Crime Unit said: “We’re always keen to understand how scientific advances expand the range of tools which can used to validate the authenticity of food products.

“This piece of work has generated some interesting insights which we will be looking to explore further.”

If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Eastern Daily Press. Click the link in the orange box above for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Latest from the Eastern Daily Press