Are There Ground-Up Cockroaches in Your Coffee?

You might be getting more than you asked for in that steaming cup.

Coffee cup and coffee beans on table. (Photo: portumen/Shutterstock)

Several years ago NPR featured Dr. Douglas Emlen, an entomologist, to discuss dung beetles. (NPR makes even bugs interesting to the average listener!) At the end of the interview Emlen threw in an extra tidbit of information: pre-ground coffee contains ground-up cockroaches.

He learned this years ago when he was driving around with a professor who was an entomologist and biologist. They kept driving way out of their way to get coffee made from freshly ground whole coffee beans (it was before the days of Starbucks and local artisan coffee shops on every corner), as this professor was addicted to caffeine and insisted on only drinking coffee made from beans ground in the coffee shop.

Emlen was teasing him about how much time they were losing by driving around, when the professor finally told him the reason why this was so important. It turned out he was allergic to cockroaches, and pre-ground coffee contains ground-up cockroaches, causing an allergic reaction whenever he drank it.

If that doesn’t make you wince a little, I admire you. Or despise you. I am not sure which.

How Do Roaches End up in Coffee?

Apparently this happens with coffee because large piles of beans get infested with cockroaches and, according to Emlen, it is impossible to remove them completely. So they are simply ground up with the coffee beans. (If you want to hear the full story, listen to the interview starting at the 34-minute mark).

Bug parts in coffee (and other foods) are allowed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as long as they don't make up more than a certain percentage; around 4% to 6% is considered acceptable, according to this CNN report.

Indeed, the FDA admits that the "presence of any live or dead life cycle stages of insects in a host product, (e.g., weevils in pecans, fly eggs and maggots in tomato products); or evidence of their presence (i.e., excreta, cast skins, chewed product residues, urine, etc.); or the establishment of an active breeding population, (e.g., rodents in a grain silo)" is acceptable within predetermined limits, as these are "natural or unavoidable defects in food" that present no health hazards to humans.

There's a lot to process here. On the one hand, Americans and Europeans are too easily grossed out by bugs. The fact that other cultures eat them with relish, and the fact that they are an excellent source of protein and certain nutrients (some call them the "food of the future"), does nothing to take the squeamish factor out of bug-eating for most of us. There's often bug residue around us and in our food that we are just not aware of. One organization, Terro, estimates that an individual could consume as many as 140,000 pieces of insect matter per year. Perhaps we just have to get used to the fact that bugs are part of our world and our food system.

On the other hand, knowing that cockroaches are ground up into coffee, a favorite beverage that many of us look forward to drinking each day, is a horrifying thought. When a British medical doctor Karan Raj shared on TikTok about cockroaches in coffee, the revelation was met with horror from viewers. As one person commented, "You’re telling me I have been drinking the very thing I am terrified of my entire life!??"

Furthermore, it's a serious concern if people are allergic to cockroaches. There is a growing awareness that cockroaches adversely affect many, and are now known to be a trigger for asthma and allergies. It begs the question: When people's bodies react negatively to coffee, is it caused by the coffee bean or the cockroach?

Grind Your Own Beans

Thankfully you can avoid this by buying whole beans and grinding them yourself at home. (You'll save money, too.) I recommend organic, because coffee is a highly sprayed crop, and also fair-trade, to ensure growers receive fair pay and good working conditions.

A favorite method of making coffee in Portland, Oregon, a city famous for its coffee shops, is the pour-over method using coffee makers like the beautiful Chemex pour-over glass coffee maker available at Amazon. Serious coffee connoisseurs also use this lovely Hario V6 coffee kettle available at Amazon when making coffee with the pour-over method. Learn more methods for making a green cup of coffee.

And since I am sure many of you will be picking up whole coffee beans rather than pre-ground, you need a coffee grinder. Many coffee shops in Portland recommend ceramic coffee grinders. My sister-in-law just was telling me that she got one as a wedding gift and loves it because you have so much control over the grind.

View Article Sources
  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, "Food Defect Levels Handbook."