This article first appeared in our ‘Why organic is the answer’ issue of My Green Pod Magazine, distributed with The Guardian on 03 September 2021. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox
The first coffee houses have been likened to the internet or newspapers: they inspired a social revolution that brought people together to share views, ideas and information – while often also being entertained and having a good time.
Today we get together with friends to drink coffee in the same way; over lockdown we kept the social ritual alive by seeking to bring the café experience into our own homes and gardens.
Our surroundings may change but the coffee culture is here to stay, and the coffee we drink is constantly evolving thanks to new innovations and the quest for the ultimate caffeine hit.
‘The coffee scene is always changing’, says Alex Cox, founder of Raw Bean. ‘The younger generation is definitely embracing new ways of drinking coffee with cold brew, iced coffees, whipped coffees and coffee cocktails. We are also seeing a move towards decaf from health-conscious coffee lovers.’
Coffee occupies a strange space in that it remains on trend regardless of what’s going on in wider society.
The shift to healthier lifestyles is a perfect example: we see no contradiction in ordering a decaf latte with oat milk, even though the words have a (delicious) whiff of absurdity.
What we might be less aware of is the way that ‘healthier’ coffee is made. ‘There are three ways to decaffeinate coffee’, Alex explains. ‘The most common way uses methylene chloride or ethyl acetate solvents, another method uses CO2 and the third simply uses water! The method we prefer is the Swiss Water Process.’
Raw Bean was one of the first companies to bring the Swiss Water Process to UK retail coffee. The process is environmentally friendly, very gentle on the coffee and arguably the best way to retain all the natural aroma and flavours of the coffee while removing 99.9% of the caffeine. The added benefit is that no traces of chemicals are left in the coffee.
‘This method really resonates with our two key types of consumer’, Alex tells us: ‘those who are interested in the best possible flavour and those who focus on what they put in their bodies. For shoppers who choose speciality coffees, it makes sense to pick a process that best preserves the origin’s characteristics.’
The Swiss Water Process was discovered in the 1930s in Schaffhausen, Switzerland and was commercialised by the Swiss Water Decaffeinated Coffee Company Inc, founded in 1988. So why weren’t coffee brands quicker to bring it to the retail space?
‘It’s a good question’, Alex acknowledges. ‘Decaffeination using solvents is a cheaper method; perhaps the retail market had to be ready to accept the premium price for a chemical-free process.’
Chemical-free decaffeination is just one of the innovations Raw Bean has brought to the coffee sector; in 2017 the company followed up with the launch of its pyramid coffee bags, Bean Bags.
‘It’s a sound idea’, Alex explains. ‘A cafetière basically does the exact same thing: it takes fresh coffee grounds, immerses them in water and filters them out.’
Coffee bags have been around for a while – reportedly since the 1970s – but haven’t yet caught on in the way the tea bag has.
Alex puts this down to the design of the bag and the quality of the coffee; he saw the fuss-free, mess-free advantages of coffee bags and set out to create an improved product that combines the desire for top-notch coffee with the convenience of the humble tea bag.
Raw Bean’s pyramid bags provide more room for the coffee to bloom and are packed full of speciality-grade premium coffee.
The Speciality Coffee Association (SCA) recommends 55-60g of filter coffee per litre, which translates to 12g for an average-sized UK mug, so each Bean Bag contains a 12g dose of ground coffee – 50% more per bag than the market leader.
‘Having the correct ratio of coffee to water creates a full-flavoured coffee and means you don’t need to resort to darker roasts that may mask the origin’s characteristics’, Alex explains. The bags themselves are biodegradable; they are made of a plastic-free biopolymer web, derived completely from renewable plant sources.
‘Bean Bags mean that you can enjoy a speciality, freshly brewed coffee even when you are in a rush or don’t have any brewing equipment available’, Alex tells us. ‘I think they will revolutionise hotel room coffee, too.’
All Raw Bean coffees are traded in an ethical, environmental and socially responsible manner using traceable supply chains.
Once in the UK, the coffee is roasted using the most efficient equipment with the latest technology to optimise taste and flavour profiles while minimising the impact on the environment, recycling heat and using catalytic converters to manage emissions.
This year Raw Bean has started the switch to recyclable packaging film and is working on a project with FareShare UK, so a donation from the sale of each pack will help to feed people in need.
Raw Bean also supports World Coffee Research, which runs collaborative agricultural research and development projects designed to enhance farmer livelihoods and ensure coffee’s future.
‘We love coffees from South and Central America and our retail coffees are from Brazil, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Colombia, El Salvador and Honduras’, Alex tells us. ‘We work closely with our suppliers to find speciality coffees that taste great, are sustainably produced and have an interesting story.’
Like the business itself, the range at Raw Bean changes frequently to embrace new innovations, such as the launch of a new Organic Swiss Water Decaf anticipated for later this year.
As people begin to settle into new patterns for socialising and different working rhythms, it will be interesting to see what coffee’s social role will look like in the future.
‘The pandemic has changed our world radically’, Alex says. ‘With many people now working remotely, I would anticipate coffee houses will play a big role in providing valuable human interaction, a work hub and a break from the monotony of your own four walls.’
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