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The Best Coffee in the World

Updated on April 4, 2016

Search for the world’s best coffee

As a nutritionist, my expertise is in the broad range of nutrients in food and the narrow range of nutrients in multi-vitamin tablets which attempt to replace the thousands of nutrients missing from our poor diet by taking a pill with ten or twenty nutrients.

Nearly forty years ago I formulated the products that the world icon of health, Jack LaLaine, took himself.

They were in fact the best food supplements ever created, and also the most expensive. In fact, Jack would not sell them in his gyms because they were so expensive. Once when we were sitting in his living room in Beverly Hills, said he, “I need a higher mark up, I’ll sell a cheaper product, but I’ll still buy yours,” and he did buy them for himself and his wife.

I was crushed. Jack would sell a cheap product but buy the best for himself.

Jack called me directly and ordered the food supplements by the shipping box, each of the four boxes had 26,000 tablets.

Jack took these because they were absolutely the best product available, and nothing like them is on the market today.

Jack told me he did not take the tablets by count, rather just dipped his coffee cup into the boxes then drank down a cup full of each tablet every day. My company private labeled for health clubs owned by men who had won Mr. America, Mr. Universe and so on, and sold to Jack. A rather exclusive club of top body building champions, plus Jack.

You don’t know Jack, at least not like I did.

But I digress...

Years later, I turned my attention to coffee and started looking at the various processes used in growing, and harvesting, roasting and brewing coffee, how the nutrients developed in each stage, and where to source the best beans, how to treat them to create the highest nutrient profile, and especially the Maillard process and how to optimize the broad range of nutrients created and usually lost in the roasting process. What had been removed or otherwise lost and how these nutrients could be preserved both for the nutrient content and the flavor.

Additionally, it was, and is clear that to maximize the nutrient profile with this many variables, I needed to create a process unlike any other, a complex process that would take a lot of time both in growing and processing the coffee and in the roasting steps.

The question was: How do we make the best coffee in the world?

I do enjoy a good cup of coffee. I’ve been in Starbucks in Yokohama, Coffee Bean Tea Leaf in Singapore, so I started to think about flavor and nutrient differences in different roasts and brews, differences in the farms and organic bean verses inorganic, since I have published articles on that subject, and have studied the cherry drying process, whether the farmer discharges large amounts of waste water from the wet process, or uses the natural process.

But then I discovered the primary issue with the industry…

Conformational Bias In Coffee Roasting

What I found in coffee brewing was actually typical of higher education, and a major issue in today’s university setting.

It is called conformational bias. A conclusion about a subject is put forth by a certain highly respected individual, and then it is eventually institutionalized, then nationalized, and some theories become virtually universalized.

Think about that. A university will take a certain viewpoint and then never let it go, never reconsider it, and, God forbid you disagree, it will take decades to change the thinking, and all the time, you will be ostracized.

Think of the geologist that described a catastrophic theory of how the scablands and the coulees were formed in Idaho and Washington by the break in the dam at Lake Missoula. His name was J. Harlen Bretz and he was broadly scorned for daring to question what were held as the key theories in modern science, those early 1800-1850 theories of Hutton, Lyell, and Agassiz, and so ignoring the plan evidence that all could easily see, and which simply and easily explained the evidence, but it took four decades until the theory was accepted as the correct theory.

Forty years! Science was looking directly at the same evidence, but the conformational bias and normative postulates prevented them from seeing the actual cause.

He was fortunate enough to live to see the theory verified, and received accolades, but he had contradicted establish bias against sudden catastrophic change in geology which was hailed as a cornerstone of science since Charles Lyell’s book Principles of Geology published in 1830. Much of this is now known to be in error, but PBS still recently referred to the book as one of the most important books in the history of science, and much of it is known to be wrong.

This is a classic case of conformational bias, but again, I digress…

What does this have to do with roasting coffee?

This same conformational bias happened a century ago in the coffee industry, and still happens today. One method of processing food is broadly accepted and the general methodology is accepted, at least partly because industry cam mass produce using the process, it is refined and perfected to create what is, in their opinion a good quality mass produced food that can be produced by the ton every day. Yes, Kraft Foods produces more than 230,000 pounds of coffee per hour, that’s fifteen tons per hour 24/7 according to the USDA.

The trouble with perfecting a methodology that has been around since the 1800’s is that you end up with the same basic product whether you are in Starbucks in Yakutsk (been there), or Ralph’s in Fairbank’s (been there), or on an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf (yep, been there too, don’t drink the coffee…).

This is important to do it this way, that is, to follow that methodology if and only if that is in fact the very best method of accomplishing the goal. If your goal is to roast thousands of tons per day, very well, but what if it is not? What if your goal is to make the best possible product and that process is slow and takes days to accomplish?

I started examining the options in light of studies in nutrition and organic gardening, in biology and thermodynamics.

The data from published papers began to stack up against the current methodologies of the industry. Nutritional studies relating to roasting, studies of the health benefits of coffee and how it is roasted, and then prepared. If there is a good and bad way of doing something then there is a gradient of some kind between good and bad and perhaps that gradient reaches higher than has been reached to date, that is, there are much better methods and, dare we claim, a “best” method, a best practices in the coffee roasting methodologies. And maybe that method is best for the coffee, but not best for the mass producing coffee industry.

Coffee snob

The USDA report for the 2012 year stated that Kraft Foods and Nestle combined purchase 29,000,000 60kg bags or in 2010 or ¼ of the world’s coffee, that’s 3.828 billion pounds, and so process 436,986 pounds per hour.

If that is good enough for you, God bless you. However, for those who actually want to enjoy our stimulants, this just isn't good enough.

Said I, "Perhaps the best method to roast coffee is yet to be developed"

I turned to my thermodynamics background, how heat is transferred between solids (conduction), between body’s not in contact (radiation) and between remote bodies mediated by gas (convection) and critically examined roasting processes, you see, all of this happens during roasting. I directly observed commercial roaster and their alternatives as the roasting was taking place.

I discussed coffee roasting techniques of old and remote cultures around the world with people who had been there and seen it done, and contrasted them with current methodologies and lastly, looked at the Maillard reaction and the plethora of evidence that this was responsible for most of the flavor and nutrients in coffee, whether good flavor or bad flavor.

The question is reduced to, how does one guide and control the Maillard reaction in roasting to maximize the flavor of the coffee and round out the flavor profile to prevent bitterness and excessive acids?

I added in what could be found about antioxidant development during coffee roasting, with principals of the complexity of biology and here, deduced some answers that must be true.

I actually ran into two groups that think finding your green coffee beans in animal excrement is a positive way of changing the flavor, but while that would alter the flavor, the flavor is simply reduced during animal digestion and fermentation, necessarily reducing the nutrients we drink coffee to get. That wasn’t the goal at all. The goal was to increase the nutrients/flavor of coffee.

Can it be that the best flavor is done through a complex thermodynamic process, and instead of reducing the nutrients, actually make a richer coffee with increasing the nutrients adding flavor?

It is.

As it turns out, it is a multiple step process, and not a single roasting process (the conformational bias of all commercial roasters).

Nutrients = Flavor = Health

For more than forty years I have been pointing out that nutrients and flavors are, in essence, equivalents and this can be written as nutrients = flavors. Add to this a broader array of nutrients and you have improved your overall health, so, nutrients = health.

Logic shows us A=A. So if nutrients = flavor, and nutrient = health, then flavor = health because they are equivalents.

(There are some glaring examples of where this relation to health breaks down, for instance in refined food such as sugars and in chemical additives used to flavor food items, but in organic foods, this holds. Even so, with added refined sugars, the nutrients were removed and the sweetness concentrated, the flavors of those nutrients were in fact removed. This leaves only artificial flavors as the exception.)

In case you think raw food is superior to cooked foods, green coffee beans do not offer the same health benefits as the roasted beans do. Zhang, (et al: Oxidative stress-mediated antiproliferative effects of furan-containing sulfur flavors in human leukemia Jurkat cells. Food Chemistry 2015-08-02) found that certain molecules produced by roasting (furans) have a strong antiproliferative effects on leukemia. Hundreds of other studies show various classes of health benefits from roasted coffee that are not found in green coffee.

Thought Experiment

It is a simple thing to test the theory that nutrients are equivalent to flavors, but we do this in practice every day. Just one thought experiment will suffice.

We add vinegar to foods to give them a sharp flavor, and in the process gain various antioxidants. Antioxidants are acids. Antioxidants improve our health. So the nutrient equates to a flavor which equates to an impact on our health. In this case a positive impact. If we would have used refined sugar instead of vinegar, the impact would have been negative. In either case, we can right this simplified process as Nutrient = Flavor = Health.

(To further the argument; White vinegar as far fewer nutrients that, say, Balsamic Vinegar. Both the flavor and the color are very strong indicators of this fact.)

This should be used for natural foods only because food engineers use at times toxic ingredients to create quite unnatural foods with flavors that are in no way nutritious.

It is also true that flavors per se are very complex, and so a given nutrient usually cannot be tasted, rather, it adds to the flavor of all of the other nutrients in the food. If this leads you to think that the difference in, say, a Mexican coffee or a Brazilin coffee can be defined as a shift in nutrient content, you are thinking correctly, but it may be as simple, ceteris paribus (all other things being equal), as a shift in the amount of each nutrient.

For us, this will suffice so that we can reduce the discussion to the flavor of the coffee, but use it as the equivalent of stating a broad rounded flavor is the same as a broad range of nutrients, and those positively affect your health.

Flavor Development

So I created a roasting regiment that maximizes nutrients and flavor in the coffee, that uses Natural Processing of whole beans before carefully separating the beans in preparation for roasting. It is a seven step process where understanding the thermodynamic processes acting on organic compounds to preserve all classes of nutrients in the natural Maillard reaction yielding a broader range of nutrients and distributing the acid and bitterness across a broad flavor/nutrient spectrum preventing the acid and alkali from overpowering the natural flavors in the beans.

And yes, it also preserves the differences found in the estate or varietal coffees of the world.

It is dynamic. Every day the beans are different from the day before. Leaving coffee in a hot carafe changes the flavor slowly, just like any other coffee. The water used, the temperature, all change the flavors in subtle ways.

The most common thing I hear after someone who knowns specialty coffees tastes my special roast is, “Oh, my God.”

I do confess, people who drink common brews don’t like the unexpected mildness of the roast. They are accustomed to a sharper, harsher coffee with a narrower nutrient profile.

Controlling the Maillard Reaction

In retrospect, the hard part then was learning to guide and control the Maillard reaction so you can control the flavors/nutrients in the end product.

That took years to perfect.

The issue is there is currently no known way to scale this to commercial production. In fact, it can only be accomplished with the current technologies 2-4 ounces at a time.

It all has to be done in very small batches. Here we are not talking about the “small” batch of the local roaster who may be roasting one or two tons per day, we are talking about two or three pounds per day.

Additionally, is cannot be done I a single step either on the farm or as it is roasting. At the organic farm I buy from, the beans are natural processed, which means drying for several days as opposed to being washed in large amounts of water which is then wasted and dried quickly.

If you visit Folgers plant you can see thousands of pounds of coffee beans being roasted at a time. If you visit Starbucks, you can see 500 pounds or more being roasted per batch. The USDA statistic for Kraft and Nestle roast 3,828,000,000, pounds of coffee per year, 5,243 tons a day! But even your small local roaster is likely using a machine that roasts 60 lbs at a time or more.

I used to buy coffee from a small local company that had only two small roasters processing 60lbs each, so every 30 minutes they had 120 pounds. It was good coffee at $16 per pound, but they produced 4 pounds every minute, and he is the small guy. They worked ten hours a day to produce more than a ton of coffee a day.

Folgers at $5/lb cannot compete on flavor to Starbucks at $10/lb, which is why you buy Starbucks. Starbucks can’t compete with the local guy down the street selling at $14/lb.

That is their market. But if you want the very best, it must be done in very small batches. The difference is the flavor, and the tonnage being roasted.

The question I needed to ask myself after drinking the very best coffee in the world is, is it worth the effort?

Yes, it is worth it to get the best coffee in the world.

© 2016 Ronald A Newcomb


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