Penny Wolff of Wolff Coffee Roasters explores caffeine levels and just how little people know about what they’re drinking.
When a barista hand crafts a cup of coffee and delivers it to you in a porcelain or takeaway cup, do you ever ask what the volume of caffeine is? Would the barista even know? Probably not. The amount of caffeine in your daily coffee varies greatly. It’s a personal choice how much you consume, but it’s also something we’re not talking about.
If you walk into the drinks aisle of any supermarket and purchase a canned product, such as Coke or Red Bull energy drink, you’ll see a detailed listing of every ingredient within that can, including caffeine percentage. But that’s not the case when you receive a cup of hand-crafted coffee.
There’s a movement of consumers looking to be more conscious about what they put into their bodies, and large commercial brands are noticing. Coca-Cola Company released Coca-Cola No Sugar, and alcohol brands Great Northern Brewing Company, James Squire, Corona, Peroni and Carlton have released zero alcohol beers. The coffee industry has long offered a decaf option, but the word, for whatever reason, is often attached to negative connotations when it shouldn’t be.
But what if we started talking about a “zero caffeine” option, changing the language and the way we describe no to low caffeine beverages? Now it gets interesting.
We’re in a period of transparency where we happily disclose the origin, beans, and farm to customers, even the prices paid along the supply chain. We give them choices of 10 different dairy and dairy alternative options, so why wouldn’t we give customers the right to choose their preferred volume of caffeine per cup?
When Wolff Coffee Roaster’s Founder and Master Roaster Peter Wolff first started in the industry in the mid-1980s, he recalls the busiest trade period between 9pm to 2am. Coffee shops were packed with consumers enjoying coffee and cake. Over time, coffee has transitioned into a breakfast drink with the stereotype of a morning coffee helping you wake up and start the day. As an industry coming out of a turbulent two years, with a recession looming, why shouldn’t coffee shop doors remain open after 5pm and transform those last few hours of the day to generate additional revenue?
The barrier, however, has been the fear from customers about the impact additional caffeine will have on their bodies after 2pm. But what if you were able to drink delicious coffee all day long and not be pushed over the threshold?
At Wolff Coffee Roasters, we have always tried to stay ahead of the curve and develop products that aligns with consumer needs. For us, that means addressing customer concerns around the volume of caffeine consumption and exploring the reasons people don’t drink or have stopped drinking coffee.
We went looking at market research into the safe volumes of caffeine consumption. We explored medical and scientific evidence, which suggests healthy adults can in general consume around 400 milligrams of caffeine per day safely. We did our own primary research with questions and surveys to our own customers and decided to create three flavoursome blends with three different levels of caffeine to help consumers understand that sipping coffee all day can be a reality.
Our new Caffeine Collection range is mindfully curated to consider daily caffeine intake and provide the consumer with the power of choice to discover the daily caffeine level that suits their needs, without sacrificing on flavour.
We treated the coffees in the same way we would present any normal roast. We did a short maillard reaction, then a long maillard reaction, and conducted the roast to extract the most flavour potential. The way we roast can affect the acid experience and mouthfeel of the coffee, as well as viscosity, and sugar experience by level of caramelisation. It’s a lot of trial and error. We would cup and taste each coffee as a group and discuss what we loved and didn’t love. It took around 11 months of hard work to get each blend to a place we’re happy with.
Our new Zero Blend – with less than 0.5 per cent caffeine – contains Colombia La Sienna Sugar Cane Decaf and Brazil Mogiana Eagle Swiss Water Decaf. Its flavour profile consists of dark chocolate, dried apricot, cedar, walnut, with a syrupy mouthfeel and brandied fruit-toned finish.
The Low Blend has 60 per cent less caffeine than any of our regular coffee blends. To create this blend, we looked at specific varietals of coffee that are naturally low in caffeine and found an Aceh Ribang Gayo Washed coffee. We roasted it to get the best flavours we could and combined it with our non-caffeine Colombian La Sienna Sugar Cane Decaf coffee. By using a lower caffeine and no caffeine varietal, we have managed to deliver something tasty, smooth, and rounded without bitterness. It contains flavours of bakers’ chocolate, blackcurrant, walnut, brown sugar, and brandied fruit tones.
Our Hero Blend is a mix of India Arabica and Robusta, and beans from Colombia, Papua New Guinea and Brazil. Its flavour profile is dark chocolate, ruby grapefruit zest, sweet pine, almond and cedar, a fudgy mouthfeel.
Historically we don’t use a lot of Robusta in our blends, but we knew it was necessary to include to increase the volume of caffeine content. We ran a longer roast, about two minutes more than the others, to help round out the espresso without making it too dark. This way, we lost some of the less desirable qualities of Robusta and picked up sharpness from the bitterness of the caffeine.
The Hero Blend has 20 per cent more caffeine than regular blends, purely because of the choice to use Robusta. To the average person who loves their morning cup, they wouldn’t know that a Robusta coffee equates to a significantly higher caffeine hit.
I’m sure most cafés can resonate with having a customer that will come in asking for a “double shot latte” because they perceive that’s going to give them the largest caffeine hit they’re looking for. But what they don’t understand is that caffeine volume is largely due to the coffee varietals used in the blend and the length of roast.
The percentage of caffeine in each of our new blends was confirmed after sending each coffee for laboratory testing, as shown in table 1.
At Big Bad Wolff in Hendra, Queensland, we’re already “dialling in” our caffeine levels during the day. We put the Hero Blend into our grinders in the morning, then transition to the Low Blend and the Zero Blend in the afternoon. We’re using this method as a touchpoint to see what customers prefer, and the practicalities of transitioning this structure to our wholesale accounts, and our cold brew and capsule products over time. The Low Blend is currently the crowd favourite, and the biggest benefit, is that customers know can come into our café after 2pm and enjoy a delicious coffee while consuming 60 per cent less caffeine.
It’s time consumers start asking more questions about what’s in their cup, and for us as industry professionals, to help them make conscious choices. This whole experience has been such an eye opener, and I hope it is for you too.
For more information, visit wolffcoffeeroasters.com.au
|Caffeine per 100g||Caffeine per 250ml|
|Zero||0.03 to 0.041||6mg|
|Low||0.4 – 0.75g||50mg|
|Hero||2.2 – 2.7g||180mg|
This article appears in the June 2022 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.