Flavourtech: RTD coffee made easy

Flavourtech RTD coffee

Aroma recovery and extraction specialist Flavourtech on shifting the quality perspective of ready to drink and soluble coffee, and why its Integrated Extraction System is best positioned to preserve the aromas of tea and coffee.

In the early 90s when ready to drink (RTD) beverages were making their impression on the global market, a major Japanese manufacturer approached global technology manufacturer Flavourtech as to how it could automate its processes. 

At the time, the number seventh ranked company in terms of market share in Japan invited Flavourtech to its factory. It observed organised variables in every direction: numerous tanks, continuous people movement, forklifts darting around the production floor, and a liquid substance moved from here, there, and everywhere.

This visit was the inspiration Flavourtech needed to devise a streamlined system that could automate the RTD process, while developing a way to extract the best flavours possible and deliver a quality end product. 

The result was Flavourtech’s Integrated Extraction System (IES), a continuous, automated processing line that allows customers to produce premium aromas, extracts, and concentrates for RTD coffee and tea products, as well as soluble coffee and flavour industries. 

“We developed the IES with these particular customers in mind. At the same time, other companies around the world were looking to automate the traditional batch process to create RTD solutions, done by grinding coffee or mixing tea manually with water, but we knew we would make an imprint with our IES,” says Flavourtech Global Sales Manager Paul Ahn. “That original customer in Japan is now a market leader in the RTD market space.”

The IES is built as a modular system. It can be inserted into existing process lines as required to make gradual improvements or installed in its entirety to form a continuous process line, allowing aroma recovery, extraction, and concentration in one simple-to-operate system.

The IES feeds the raw material, such as roasted coffee beans or tea leaves, into the milling and extraction system. The materials undergo milling in a blanket of water to capture the light, floral, and fruity characteristics of beans or tea, typically lost in traditional methods of RTD or soluble manufacturing. 

The stream of water then gently carries the flavour notes into Flavourtech’s flagship product, the Spinning Cone Column (SCC). The SCC extracts, captures, and protects the natural aromas and volatile compounds using steam at a low temperature of around 100°C in just 25 seconds. This shorter residence time differs dramatically from that used in traditional extraction techniques.

Flavourtech’s Rotating Disc Column, or RDC, can be inserted into the IES for soluble coffee production, allowing a continuous flow of coffee slurry for high temperature extraction. The slurry is exposed to temperatures of between 150° to 180°C for just 20 minutes to enable further hydrolysis to take place. The end result is a premium RTD or soluble product in terms of quality and enhanced aroma at the end of the line. In a traditional process, extraction cells are set at high temperatures and pressure that could last for three to four hours instead of 20 minutes. 

The final step in the soluble coffee process is to concentrate the extract before spray or freeze drying the product. Ahn says Flavourtech’s evaporation technique is unique in that the liquid remains in its Centritherm evaporator with a residence time of just one second on the low temperature heated surface, eliminating the production of burnt flavours in the final product.

“The whole process is continuous, automated, and designed to provide a premium product. With the IES, customers can produce a consistent product day in, day out, with minimal fuss and labour, and maximum flavour that is more in line with the flavour of a freshly brewed espresso,” Ahn says. 

Beyond 2020, which saw more customers appreciate the convenience of soluble products, Ahn says customers are becoming savvier about what they want and are demanding healthier, more natural flavoured products. That’s where Flavourtech can help with its IES system, which Ahn says is the best way for suppliers to retain the natural flavour compounds, antioxidants, and aromas of raw products.

“We speak to lots of roasters who produce a wonderful product that takes ages to perfect. It’s an art to them, and so to make an RTD or soluble coffee with as much care as possible is important to Flavourtech,” Ahn says. “We also talk to global coffee manufacturers, the leaders in their field, and see that the commonality they want for their products is consistency, regardless of the country it’s produced in. For Flavourtech, that consistency is achieved through the automation of our modules and continuous systems.”

Flavourtech has assisted market leading customers with providing processing solutions in Japan, South Korea, China, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, noting the United States has been using the IES for market leading RTD tea products for 25 years. 

In the soluble category, Ahn says there’s a barrier to the conception of quality versus convenience, but with the IES, Flavourtech is confidently helping more customers carry desired flavours forward.

Flavourtech works with coffee houses to conduct flavour analysis and invites its customers to do the same. When analytical data is compared, Ahn says a significant increase in flavour compounds are observed when the flavour is captured prior to high temperature extraction compared to traditional processes.

The company works with small and large customers and systems the world over, but Ahn insists Flavoutech’s IES is for any customer who wants to step up the quality or volume of their product.

“The big global coffee players are the ones producing better soluble and RTD coffees, they’re the ones that keep coming back to us saying they want to increase production, change profiles and upgrade their system. In each case we listen to their needs, have our diligent team of engineers work with the customer and their manufacturing engineers to design a system according to their factory layout requirements,” Ahn says. “Our system is much smaller, needing only one to two people to operate, and offers a reduced carbon footprint, so naturally we’ve become the equipment provider of choice.”

Ahn recalls one Chinese RTD tea manufacturer who travelled to Flavourtech’s Australian headquarters in Griffith, New South Wales and ran a trial of their product through the IES. They were so pleased with the superior product that they bought an IES on the spot, insistent they needed to have it before the next tea harvest. The customer has purchased further Flavourtech systems thanks to significant business growth each year since they changed their process to the IES. Ahn says the manufacturer is now a market leader in RTD tea products in China and charges a higher premium because of the quality product it produces. 

Pre-COVID, customers were invited to take a hands-on approach in the Flavoutech factory and run their product through its IES machines. However, with COVID-19 travel restrictions in place, Flavoutech conducts trials on the customer’s behalf, sending results back for the customer’s own evaluation. 

Customers can rest assured that with Flavourtech’s 35 years of flavour experience, a step into the RTD or soluble market with Flavourtech’s advanced equipment will be a rewarding experience with quality emphasised every step of the way.

“I encourage customers to think about the convenience of new product development and to focus on differentiating themselves based on high quality. Customers are demanding better quality products with natural flavours and Flavourtech can help manufacturers embrace end user preferences with the IES process that is easy to use and offers the opportunity to capture a range of flavours,” Ahn says. “We are confident in the end product we can deliver, and the fact that our customers keep coming back, gives us confidence that they know they are using the right equipment.”

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