Fermentation has been used to make wine, beer, and cheese for ages. Why not use it to improve coffee beans?
There is a newcomer to the world of high-end coffee, which is curiously linked to the world of fermentation. This unusual new coffee is made by a company called Afineur, which was started in 2014 by two French scientists based in New York City.
Afineur ferments its green coffee beans for two days prior to roasting. Depending on which microbes are used to ferment the beans, Afineur is able to decrease bitterness, astringency, and/or acidity, resulting in a smooth cup of coffee that “brings forward incredible fruity and sweet notes.”
The microbes essentially “chew away undesirable coffee flavor molecules while adding interesting ones.” Afineur points out that fermentation has been used for thousands of years to create better wine, cheese, and beer. Why not apply a similar process to coffee?
Afineur’s coffee has been inspired by civet coffee, but it is a more ethical and affordable option. Civet coffee, also known as "kopi luwak," commands a steep price for what is, essentially, animal poop. Small cat-sized creatures called civets are typically kept in captivity in Southeast Asia and force-fed a nutritionally deficient diet of coffee beans. The civets’ poop, which contains coffee beans that have been processed by microbes in the digestive tract, are harvested and brewed into a coffee that is known for its remarkable smoothness. Aside from the obvious ethical implications, civet coffee is extremely expensive; apparently it can sell for $80 a cup.
Rather than relying on a civet’s digestive tract to get that unique flavor in coffee beans, Afineur strives for a similar effect using fermentation. Wired reports:
“Traditionally, coffee producers have had two ways to control the final product: choosing the beans, and determining the time and temperature of the roast. Fermentation adds a third possibility for creative control.”
Afineur’s founders clearly know what they’re doing. Camille Delebecque has a PhD in microbiology and is a bioengineer by training. Sophie Deterre, who also has her PhD, is a food process engineer and has spent many years working in the food science industry on various projects, including perfecting bitter orange flavor for Grand Marnier.
You can try this adventurous new coffee by supporting Afineur’s Kickstarter campaign, which launched on July 29. It was so successful that it was fully funded within six hours, but there are still options available that could deliver a bag of Cultured Coffee to your door by this fall.