In some coffee circles, words like decaffeinated, Robusta and soluble are associated with the lower end of the quality spectrum. New technology and improved practices, however, have helped a lot of those products shed their stigmas. The Coffee Quality Institute’s certification of Robusta coffee has shown that this bean can, in some cases, can be just as prestigious as Arabica. Advanced decaffeination methods are making it harder to notice whether one is drinking decaf or not. The latest segment to lift its reputation is the soluble market. Since the launch of the “Via” soluble blend by United States-based Starbucks Coffee Company in 2009, even some coffee snobs have changed their views on soluble. The exercise served as an eye-opener for the level of quality possible from soluble coffee today. “The soluble category has for years been somewhat stagnated within its own levels as a mature industry in itself,” says Cristina Madriñan, Commercial Director of Buencafé, a freeze dried coffee factory owned by the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC). She says the launch of Via was described as the “big revolution” as a soluble coffee mixed with fine micro-components of roasted coffee. “But the most important part of this innovation was the nature of the product itself, that the coffee shop chain decided to enter new segments with another range of coffees,” says Madriñan. “This made market players across the soluble industry open their eyes to products of much higher quality which can deliver the aroma and flavour of a properly brewed cup of filter coffee.” The trend for high quality coffee in soluble form has started to take shape in traditional coffee consumer markets of the United States and Europe. As the global economy starts to show evidence of a recovery from the world financial crisis that started in 2009, consumers are also starting to look toward better coffees again. Economic theory says that as economies recover, consumers should be increasing what they spend on coffee. This is not only good news for the coffee shop industry, but also for gourmet brands on supermarket shelves. Buencafé is based in the Colombian coffee town of Chinchiná and sources all its coffee from 100 per cent Arabica beans grown across Colombia’s producing regions. The operation is fully owned by Colombia’s coffee growers and the value add it generates supports FNC’s sustainability initiatives. At the same time Buencafé also is in the cutting edge by applying new technologies to expand the flavour components in its range of soluble products. The technology leading the front is the “micro roast” technique, which was first introduced by Starbucks onto the world stage. Buencafé first started operating in 1973, and today distributes to more than 60 countries across Latin America, the United States, Australia, Russia, Africa, South East Asia and the Middle East. “The market conditions could not be better at the moment for Buencafé. Since we first started business, the main focus has been on the production and marketing of the highest possible freeze-dried soluble coffee,” says Madriñan. “Our products are created to offer consumers a beverage that truly resembles the coffee experience you get in a real brewed coffee which represents the coffee’s character.” Buencafé’s efforts have been well-rewarded in recent years. The company’s Sublime and Roasted Instant soluble products have won numerous awards. In both 2013 and 2014 the Brussels-based International Taste and Quality Institute honoured the Sublime blend a “Superior Taste Award” double gold star, while major American retail chain Walmart in Chile named Buencafé its “best private brands supplier” among 450 international suppliers and one of its most important Russian customers recognised Buencafé as its “best partner 2014.” “These products have won widespread international recognition because of their high quality. Little by little, we see that the consumer is starting to change his or her perception in regard to quality and know that it is possible to find a good quality experience also in soluble coffee,” says Madriñan. GCR Magazine visited Buencafé’s main processing plant in Chinchiná. It looks like any major roasting operation. A total of 28 massive coffee brewers are working non-stop to brew the millions of litres of extra strong coffee for the freeze-dried product. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee is overwhelming to visitors entering the area where the brewing is done. Carlos Osorio, Head of the Research and Development team, carefully studies the consistency and density of a sample. “We have to handle it very gently in order to be able to maximize the aroma and flavours we preserve in the final product,” Osorio tells GCR Magazine during the visit. Instant coffee is real brewed coffee which is then put through a complex technological process to extract the water from the brew, leaving only the coffee concentrates behind. Once extracted, these coffee concentrates are frozen, and through several more steps finally defragmented and turned into the either powder-based or granulated form of freeze-dried soluble coffee that consumers know from the supermarket shelves. “Instant coffee is real coffee, just smell how the aroma fills the air here,” Osorio tells GCR Magazine on the visit. “What is so exciting with the micro-roast technology is that by incorporating tiny fragments of roasted coffee, the process leaves the consumer with the same delicate aromatic experience, the same real ‘mouth-feel’ as you get from a freshly roasted and brewed coffee. This is what truly has revolutionised the soluble market.” World coffee consumption is booming, growing at an average 2.5 per cent since 2000. Analysts expect total demand for the 2014 calendar year to approach 150 million 60-kilogram bags. The market share for soluble exports has risen to more than 12 per cent in the current cycle from 10.5 per cent five years ago. This is quick growth, considering how slowly it took for instant coffee to catch on. From when it was first launched in 1890, it didn’t receive market acceptance until the middle of the 20th Century. In terms of quality, however, efforts like those by Buencafé are helping soluble coffee reach the next level of appreciation.