Brazilian Instant Coffee Industry Association releases protocol to rectify instant coffee quality misconceptions

Brazilian Instant Coffee Industry Association

The Brazilian Instant Coffee Industry Association on why its White Paper and sensory analysis protocol may become an important tool to expand the consumption of instant coffee.

Brazil may be the world’s largest coffee producer, the second largest consumer, and world leader in the production and export of soluble coffee, but there is one misconception the Brazilian Instant Coffee Industry Association (ABICS) wants rectified: that instant coffee is not a singular product of low quality.

Rather, it’s a complex category of varied qualities, profiles, and applications to suit the taste preferences of different consumers and markets.

“Contrary to popular belief, soluble coffee has several options for quality and applications,” says Eliana Relvas, Cafeologist and ABICS consultant.

“For a long time, coffee consumers had, and many still have, this perception that instant coffee is a unique quality. But that has changed in recent years, with new products with different blends of arabicas and canéforas, different qualities of raw material, manufacturing processes that can be spray or freeze dried, and different combinations of temperature and pressure of extraction.”

However, despite the wide spectrum of qualities available, there has not been a common or standard methodology for sensorial analysis of instant coffee, like there is for green coffee.

With the realisation that instant coffee should be graded differently to ‘roast and ground’ coffee, the ABICS, together with the ITAL Food Tech Institute, a governmental body and a reference in research and development and technological innovation in Latin America, developed a methodology to identify flavour attributes specific to instant coffee.

A series of 14 cupping tests with different instant coffee samples was conducted, with tasters asked to group samples by flavour and similarity, and describe the characteristic flavour of each group. The resulting data was organised according to their similarity matrix. A sensory lexicon was then developed and refined for instant coffees, based on key differentiating attributes. Some of the lexicon’s attributes are shared with roasted and ground lexicons, such as sweetness, acidity, and body. Others were exclusive to the instant coffee category, such as ‘over-extracted coffee flavour’.

Rather than adopting a five-point intensity scale, it was determined that one coffee is not necessarily better than the other, and that coffees with certain attributes are more suitable to certain applications.

Further definitions to describe three grades of instant coffee were decided to be ‘excellent instant coffee’, ‘differentiated instant coffee’, and ‘conventional instant coffee’.

It is hoped the adoption of a common system of quality assessment, grading, and communication to consumers will open the door to differentiation opportunities in the instant category, which the ABICS says is already diverse but currently lacks communication to consumers.

The results of the findings were published in an ABICS White Paper during International Coffee Week in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, in November 2022, titled, ‘Quality Assessment of Instant Coffee: A Sensory Science Development’.

In a special launch event, representatives of the Coffee Quality Institute, Specialty Coffee Association, United States National Coffee Association, European Coffee Federation and All Japan Coffee Association, gathered to learn about ABICS’ new standardised methodology.

Relvas, who coordinated the preparation of the White Paper, says the document emphasises the several levels of distinct qualities present in instant coffee.

“As the standardised protocol of sensorial analysis is applied to evaluate the different quality profiles, more knowledge is added to allow the continuous improvement of the quality and countless possibilities of combinations of the raw material and production process to create and discover new ones and beverages,” Relvas says.

Fabio Sato, Chair of the ABICS Board, says the next step in enforcing the new standardised methodology is to train professional cuppers to create the ‘so-called Instant Coffee Graders” (IC Graders) and to calibrate them to use the new methodology.

“We plan to first and foremost train professionals from the Brazilian instant coffee industries and thereafter the main brand owners present in Brazil. In a second stage, we plan to extend the calibration to importers of Brazilian instant coffee, and lastly baristas and other professionals in the coffee business,” Sato says.

“In so doing, we can bring to consumers a clear identification of the category and attributes of the products so they can choose the ones that better suit their taste.”

The ABICS aims to have the new protocol accepted internationally. It will share the methodology with companies, experts, and entities around the world, and with ABICS customers in more than 120 countries.

“We welcome cooperation and partnerships with entities that can help improve this protocol and so we can follow the steps of roasted coffee, which has its sensory evaluation protocol, developed by the Specialty Coffee Association in the 90s, today recognised and used worldwide,” Sato says.

Once industry professionals are fully calibrated and IC Graders are certified, the ABICS will develop a quality seal program for its domestic market. The seal will be applied to product packaging, which will indicate the best applications and quality attributes, and identify its characteristics.

In addition to the new protocol, which will help position instant coffee to a new global standard, Sato says instant coffee is experiencing a revolution in the consuming market thanks to its reinvention and use of innovation to enhance its quality.

“Different qualities and blends, types of packaging, ways of preparation, applicability and versatility of uses are being reflected in consumption growth indicators in Brazil and in the world,” he says.

“Just observe how the space for instant coffees on supermarket shelves has increased. Our ability to grow is linked to our strategies and ability to communicate with consumers, and ABICS’ White Paper and its protocol will contribute to them. We are confident that if consumers try instant coffee, they will like it.”

Brazil, the instant coffee nation

The ABICS was created in 1972 to institutionally represent the soluble coffee industry in Brazil. It represents seven Brazilian instant coffee manufactures, which together, have the largest instant manufacturing capacity in the world, including Cacique, Companhia Iguacu de Café Soluvel, Nestlé, Cocam, Realcafé and Café Campinho, and Olam Food Ingredients.

ABICS’ work is focused on expanding markets for the Brazilian soluble, in addition to efforts within the sector to make improvements on quality, sustainability, and technological innovation.

Brazil has been a leader in the production and export of soluble coffee since the 1960s.

According to 2020 figures from Cecafé – the Council of Coffee Exporters of Brazil – and ABICS, Brazil produces 117,000 tonnes of soluble coffee each year. It exports 4.1 million bags of instant coffee per year, estimated to be worth US$600 million, and distributes 0.95 million bags to Brazil’s domestic market.

Currently, instant coffee corresponds to nearly 25 per cent of total coffee consumed globally and has grown by 2.5 to 3 per cent per year, a percentage higher than roasted coffee, according to the ABICS.

In Brazil, only 5 per cent of coffee is consumed in the form of instant, but the ABICS says “its growth has been strong and continuous” at 3.6 per cent per year on average over the past five years.

“The positive numbers in Brazil and in the world are a consequence of the improvement of quality, with numerous blends such as 100 per cent Arabicas, single origin, certified coffees and organic, packed in various types of packaging, which enables various forms of application and preparation,” Sato says.

Instant coffee is the foundation of the popular three-in-one format, as well as ready-to-drink coffee, and other applications. As such, Sato says its varied use of applications is how the ABICS plans to stimulate its increase in consumption.

“We believe that consumption can continue to increase at least at similar rates we witnessed over the recent years. ABICS’ White Paper and protocol can hope-fully help expand these growth rates,” he says. G C R

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This article was first published in the March/April 2023 edition of Global Coffee Report. To read the research paper, click HERE.

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