Large Roasters Using Robusta Beans as ‘Filler’

January 10, 2012 8:28 am

With the stretched supply and high cost of arabica beans, some large coffee roasters are using an increasing amount of lower-quality robusta beans as filler, according to sources in a recent Wall Street Journal report.

Robusta being used as arabica substituteAlthough Brazil’s arabica crop is predicted to potentially break records this year, it’s still months away. Meanwhile, arabica output in Colombia and Central America has been limited in recent months by rain-damaged crops.

The result is that large roasters have been forced to test which responses consumers are most willing to accept: rising costs for better coffee or diminished quality from the addition of cheaper robusta beans.

“Because the arabica-robusta [price] disparity is so wide, it naturally makes sense to use as much robusta as possible,” an unnamed executive who works with major U.S. coffee brands told the Journal.

But experts warn that there will be repercussions, especially as U.S. coffee consumers have come to expect certain flavor profiles from their daily grind.

“There is only so much magic you can do in terms of blending,” said Christian Wolthers, president of Wolthers America, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based coffee brokerage. “They can choose to present another product to their customers and market that—but the difference is dramatic.”

That leaves the alternative.

“If they want to stay with the clients they have and the flavor profile they’ve had historically, they’ll have to raise prices,” Wolthers told the paper.

The full story: Wall Street Journal

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