Does Your Coffee Have Dirt In It?

Rachel Tepper Paley
August 11, 2014

Photo credit: Greg Rannells Photography/StockFood

There may be something extra lurking in your morning cup of joe, and it’s not fairy dust. A new report reveals that due to recent coffee shortages, producers may be turning to finely ground fillers such as wood, husks, whole coffee berries, and even clumps of earth to compensate for the lost beans.

Once roasted and ground, these fillers resemble coffee, which makes it difficult to visually confirm a coffee blend’s contents. Even more troubling, ”normal people can’t taste [the difference],” research team leader Suzana Lucy Nixdorf told us via email. 

Other common filler ingredients (detailed in the graphic below) include wheat, soybeans, and corn, the taste of which are even more difficult to detect. “Corn is very common because it tastes sweet, and people don’t perceive the added sugar. The same [goes] for brown sugar,” Nixdorf emailed. ”That is why we need a method [that’s] very sensible and not subjective [to determine] if the coffee is pure or not.”

Nixdorf has, in fact, developed such a method. In a press release, she said that the test, which relies on statistical tools and lab techniques, can correctly determine whether or not a coffee sample is pure 95 percent of the time. She’ll present her report at the American Chemical Society annual meeting in San Francisco.

"I hope the [coffee] industry will [use] this method to really guarantee quality without using fillers," Nixdorf wrote to us. Fingers crossed, dirt-infused coffee won’t ever become the norm.

Of course, if you’re worried, there’s always tea.

Photo credit: American Chemical Society