Profile: The Specialty Coffee Scientist

By Emma Sage, Coffee Science Manager, SCAA

Coffee scientists all over the globe are examining important issues in coffee. There are research groups investigating everything from volatile aroma components, pest and disease biology and resistance, environment and agricultural impacts, flavor formation and precursors, health impacts, environmental influence, processing technology and practices improvement, microorganism biology, taste physiology and psychology, genetics and plant breeding, roasting kinetics, and much more. However, the industry frequently falls behind the crop-agriculture curve, and does not yet have many of the fundamental scientific answers necessary to sustain quality coffee production. Not only is this likely due to the fact that research in coffee producing regions of the world is often underfunded, but also because much of research has been conducted on ‘coffee’ rather than focusing on specialty coffee and the questions most relevant to our industry. The good and bad news seems to be that there are many opportunities in specialty coffee research. The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) is committed to engaging with the scientific community in order to bridge the gap between science and industry. Part of this commitment is to create relationships with scientists who devote their talents to studying specialty coffee. Dr. Flavio M. Borém generously received the SCAA Science Origin Trip to Brazil last October on the campus of the Federal University of Lavras (UFLA).  He met us with a smile, graciously devoting his day to us, introducing us to his colleagues, and answering all the questions we could throw his way. He allowed us to participate in a mind-expanding cupping from an experiment he and collaborators are exploring regarding the environmental impacts on coffee quality. What was immediately clear about Dr. Borém was his keen perception of specialty coffee and genuine desire to engage with the industry. Since then, we have further grown to know Dr. Borém as an inquisitive and perceptive scientist, with a paramount reputation and broad expertise in coffee. He frequently travels internationally to give talks on his research and educate interested markets about the science behind specialty coffee. He has committed himself to working with industry and spreading his knowledge around the world.

Dr. Borém has an extensive background in the agricultural sciences. He became interested in science because he had a strong curiosity to understand the natural world. Curiosity is perhaps the most common descriptor of those who found careers in science. There is some commonality in the desire to find the ‘why’ behind the most world’s fascinating phenomenon. Scientists spend their time observing, simulating, and experimenting with their own tiny slice of the world. For Dr. Borém, he found a tiny segment to study in agriculture. He wanted to help people, and this led him to carry out his undergraduate work in agronomy. He said, “I decided to attend the course which would enable me to help more people. Instead of treating their illnesses, I preferred to assist with food production.” After completing his Master’s and Doctoral degrees in agricultural engineering, he focused on seed quality. After moving to UFLA in Minas Gerais State, one of the largest coffee producing states in Brazil, his expertise quickly led him to study coffee. Since he already had experience researching seed quality, Dr. Borém was perhaps destined for the tastiest seed of them all. He has now been studying coffee for almost 15 years.

Dr. Borém was immediately attracted to specialty coffee because he studied seed quality. Since he considers his work in agriculture a vehicle for helping people, he has interest in Fair Trade coffees. He has completed the Q training, calling it ‘a watershed event’ where his eyes were opened to the world of specialty coffee. He appreciates specialty coffee as a complex enigma of flavor and aroma, and he is motivated by the same question we all have in the industry, “what is responsible for the taste of delicious coffee?” He is now fully devoted to specialty research and learning about the industry in order to understand the most pressing problems in coffee. He listens to the industry as a way to understand where he can be of help to the community. For example, he is currently working on drying machine technology as it relates to quality in an effort to put forth practical research that could have an immediate impact on coffee quality in Brazil. Today, Dr. Borém has many projects and collaborates with many other colleagues in Brazil as well as foreign universities. There is a huge amount of research to be done on coffee, and because of his background in agricultural engineering, he focuses on drying, storage, and packaging systems in order to improve coffee quality, and natural processed coffees. At UFLA alone there are over 30 researchers who study coffee, thus he has many fellow scientists with which to collaborate on his own campus. He does so to participate in the investigation of the expression and occurrence of certain chemical compounds in coffee, with the ultimate goal of understanding how those chemical compounds change due to genetics, processing, drying, storage, and roasting to influence coffee taste. Dr. Borem has many advantages because of his placement in Brazil and also in Minas Gerais State, where he has adequate funding, coworkers, and students that allow him to be as productive as possible.We are happy to announce that Dr. Borém has recently joined the other talented individuals on the SCAA Standards Committee. This new commitment is truly a testament of his passion for specialty coffee and his ability to engage with the industry. He will lend his expertise to the SCAA committee to help develop new standards and best practices. The committee has recently begun a new suite of projects, including some very in line with Dr. Borém’s expertise. We look forward to keeping up with his research in Brazil, collaborating on Standards Committee business, and doing our part to share the mission and goals of the SCAA.

Emma Sage is the SCAA Coffee Science Manager. Before moving into the coffee industry, she completed degrees in ecology and botany, and dabbled in the wine industry. She enjoys learning all there is to know about the science of coffee (and more importantly, sharing it with you).