Are There Ground-Up Cockroaches in Your Coffee?

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) as this professor was addicted to caffeine and insisted on only drinking coffee made from freshly ground coffee beans. Emlen was teasing him about how much time they were losing in travel time, when the professor told him the reason he had to find coffee made from whole beans. It turns out he was allergic to cockroaches, and pre-ground coffee contains ground-up cockroaches and caused an allergic reaction when 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?

This happens with coffee because the large piles of coffee 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 FDA as long as they don't make up more than a certain percentage.

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 us. There's often bug residue around us and in our food that we are just not aware of. In some ways, we just have to get used to the fact that bugs are part of our world and our food system.

On the other hand, cockroaches ground up in coffee is simply gross, and, perhaps even more importantly, are an allergen to many. There is a growing awareness that cockroaches adversely affect many, and it is now known to be a trigger for asthma and allergies.

Cockroach Consumption

It also begs the question: when people react negatively to coffee, is the cause the coffee bean or the cockroach?

Thankfully you can avoid this by buying whole bean coffee. I recommend organic, because coffee is a highly sprayed crop, and also fair trade, to ensure fair prices are being paid to coffee growers.

A favorite method of making coffee in Portland for many is using the beautiful Chemex pour over method. Serious coffee connoisseurs who enjoy pour over coffee also use this lovely coffee drip kettle when making coffee using the pour over method. 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.