#30: Re:co Podcast – Dr. Britta Folmer on “Harnessing the Power of Science” (S4 E1)

Dr. Britta Folmer, Scientific Affairs Manager within the Regulatory and Scientific Affairs department of Nestle Nespresso SA, explains how science can improve coffee’s value chain, with a particular focus on coffee consumption as a part of a healthy lifestyle.

This is the first episode from “Harnessing the Power of Science”, a session at Re:co Symposium 2018. The main focus of this session was to learn about new developments in coffee science and explore how Specialty Coffee can engage with the scientific enterprise for the benefit of all of us.

Special Thanks to Toddy

This talk from Re:co Seattle is supported by Toddy. For over 50 years, Toddy brand cold brew systems have delighted baristas, food critics, and regular folks alike. By extracting all the natural and delicious flavors of coffee and tea, Toddy Cold Brew Systems turn your favorite coffee beans and tea leaves into fresh cold brew concentrates, that are ready to serve and enjoy. Learn more about Toddy at http://www.toddycafe.com.

Related Links:

 

Episode Table of Contents

0:00 Introduction
2:30 How can science help us to make our value chain a better one?
3:30 Exploring the history of medical research on the effect of coffee on human health
7:15 Exploring the history of medical research on caffeine and antioxidants and the findings  
12:30 What health research does the coffee industry need to do on cascara and cold brew?  
16:00 How scientific research affects sustainability within the coffee industry
19:00 Outro

Full Episode Transcript
0:00 Introduction

Peter Giuliano: Hello everybody, I’m Peter Giuliano, SCA’s Chief Research Officer. You’re listening to the Re:co podcast, a special episode of the SCA podcast. The Re:co podcast is dedicated to new thinking, discussion, and leadership in Specialty Coffee, featuring talks, discussions, and interviews from Re:co Symposium, SCA’s premier event dedicated to amplifying the voices of those who are driving specialty coffee forward. Check out the show notes for links to our YouTube channel where you can find videos of these talks.

This episode of the Re:co Podcast is supported by Toddy. For over 50 years, Toddy brand cold brew systems have delighted baristas, food critics, and regular folks alike. By extracting all the natural and delicious flavors of coffee and tea, Toddy Cold Brew Systems turn your favorite coffee beans and tea leaves into fresh cold brew concentrates that are ready to serve and enjoy. Learn more about Toddy at toddycafe.com. Toddy: Cold brewed, simply better.

Over the next three weeks, we’ll be releasing episodes from “Harnessing the Power of Science”, a session at Re:co Symposium this year. The main focus of this session was to learn about new developments in coffee science and explore how Specialty Coffee can engage with the scientific enterprise for the benefit of all of us.

On this episode of the Re:co Podcast, we are pleased to welcome Dr. Britta Folmer, Scientific Affairs Manager within the Regulatory and Scientific Affairs department of Nestle Nespresso SA. She works across the business providing the necessary expertise from product development to external communications. Previously she was responsible for communicating Nespresso’s science behind the coffee to consumers, as well as the scientific and coffee expert community. Britta is the editor of the recently launched book The Craft and Science of Coffee. Through these projects, she has helped to establish the company’s solid scientific presence within the coffee community.

Here’s Dr. Britta Folmer on how science can improve coffee’s value chain, with a particular focus on coffee consumption as a part of a healthy lifestyle.

Also, to help you follow along in this podcast, I will chime in occasionally to help you visualize what’s being displayed up on screen.

2:30 How can science help us to make our value chain a better one?

Britta Folmer: In the perfect coffee world, coffee trees are flourishing, biodiversity is plenty and productivity is high. Farmers live well with their crop and consumers choose sustainable quality. They also enjoy to drink coffee for its well-being aspect. I think we all in the room here we agree that that’s a nice illustration of the perfect world, but that’s not reality.

In reality, we are facing increased imbalance between demand and supply and we need to help farmers to find ways to adapt to new growing conditions. And how can we as an industry transmit the sustainability efforts that we do to consumers to help them choose sustainable quality? And wouldn’t it be nice if consumers really chose to drink coffee because of its well-being aspects, as part of their healthy lifestyle?

3:30 Exploring the history of medical research on the effect of coffee on human health

What I want to do today is to talk about how science can help us to make our value chain a better one. I’ll illustrate this through an example of coffee and health. To do this, we’re first stepping back in time to 1657. What you see here is the first advertisement on coffee. And this was in London. And, as you can read, it has a long list of health claims.

Peter Giuliano: Britta has up on screen a slide that says: “The first newspaper advertisement on coffee in 1657 London. This is what it reads: In Bartholomew Lane on the back side of the Old Exchange, the drink called Coffee, which is a very wholsom and Physical drink, having many excellent vertues, closes the orifice of the stomack, fortifies the heat within, helpeth digestion, quickneth the spirits, maketh the heart lightsom, is good against eye-sores, cough or cold, rhumes, consumptions, head-ach, drop-sie, gout, scurvy, kings evil and many other is to be sold both in the morning and at three of the clock in the afternoon.”

Britta Folmer: Obviously, none of these health claims are scientifically substantiated. At that time, the perception of a few influential people decided what could be said. There were no regulations in place either, to avoid misleading information to consumers.

The first scientific studies on coffee and health appeared in 1970. What we see here is an example of a paper where the authors look at coffee, tea, cigarettes and solid fuel. And they look at 20 different countries and they associate these consumptions with the occurrence of different cancers in these countries.

The data that they’re taking is from trade data. It’s not about the consumption, it’s from the importing data into the country. And they find that coffee is associated with five different types of cancer. They also find that tea is associated to five different cancers, but for cigarette only one.

Now this data is based on import data. The first studies on the actual consumption appear 20 years later in 1990. That time they started looking at consumer groups. So it would compare similar groups: one with consume coffee, and one would not consume coffee. And they would compare and see what type of diseases these people would get.

From these studies they concluded, and there were several of these publications, that there was no association between coffee consumption and cancer. So you’d say everything is fine. There is no association. It’s all good.

The issue was that the very premature conclusions from the 1970s remained in the mind of people and had created a fear. And it took years of communicating positively about coffee that there was no impact on cancer and other diseases to get this out of the mind of people and make them appreciate coffee for what it is.

Until now, still a lot of research is being done on consumption of coffee and the appearance and the correlation to different diseases. What is done now is they’re using much larger databases, several hundred thousand people in the study, and they’re having very strong statistical modeling tools.

They’re looking at gender, age, ethnic groups, culture lifestyle, many different factors and all of this leads to the conclusion that there is no impact of coffee on diseases. There is rather a positive impact and that coffee would help to reduce the risk of certain diseases such as type 2 diabetes, liver, colon cancer, some neurodegenerative diseases. And there are publications coming out still today – here are two examples from 2015 and 2014. And they conclude that there are a significant inverse associations between coffee and diseases and there is no significant association between coffee and cancer. So that’s the state of where are today in terms of human studies.

7:15 Exploring the history of medical research on caffeine and antioxidants and the findings

In parallel to this human studies, there was work done on the chemistry of coffee. So researchers started to look at what is present in our cup and discovered of course a lot of aromas, there’s a lot of taste compounds in coffee and their bioactive compounds.

The most well-known bioactive compound is obviously caffeine and it was really early on discovered that it was the caffeine that impacted our stimulation.  Caffeine was, as a molecule, was actually discovered in 1820 and at that time it was isolated from the coffee. Now to isolate it from the coffee, it allowed studying the impact of caffeine itself.

So what was also done at that time was to study the toxicity of caffeine. Now, they did this using animal trials. Now, you have to realize we’re going back to 1800 and there were no ethic rules in place regarding animal studies.

So what the researchers would do is to feed different animals caffeine and see what the impact was. So for example, when they had a pregnant rabbit and they gave the rabbit 30 milligrams of caffeine. So the rabbit would lose its pregnancy, but survived.  Fine. In another study, they fed a pig weighing 30 kilos 10 grams of caffeine. So they discovered that it took about two and a half hours for the pig to die. And they attributed this to a malfunctioning of the nervous system.

The first human studies appeared a few years later in the 1840s and they reduced the quantity of caffeine, fortunately, a little bit. So by giving a human 1.5g of caffeine, they would discover that it caused vomiting, headaches, palpitations. But the person would survive.

It took another hundred years to 1950 for the discovery of the other bioactive in coffee, which were the chlorogenic acids. Chlorogenic acids are of the polyphenyl group. And these are antioxidants. Now this study of these molecules was much more complex than caffeine for two reasons.

The first reason is that caffeine is one single molecule and here we’re talking about a whole big group of molecules. And on top of it, upon digestion, you create metabolites that also have a physiological impact. So we’re looking at a whole wide range of compounds.

For caffeine the impact is immediate. You can measure heart rate, you can measure stimulation, performance. For the antioxidants, the impact is long-term on health, on disease prevention. So it’s much more complex to analyze the exact actives within the chlorogenic acid group and how this impacts disease prevention.

From all these studies together, taking the human studies, the chemistry and the physiology, today we have quite a good understanding of the overall picture that coffee has on our health.

There are some independent organizations that look at this overall data. So, for example, the European Food Safety Authority published a paper in 2015 on Caffeine safety and they conclude that consuming 400 milligrams of caffeine a day and 200 milligrams per serving is safe for healthy adults. They also recommend for pregnant women to reduce intake to 200 milligrams.

Here’s an example of another such paper by the IAR, which is a sub-organization of the WHO. They look at food and cancer, and they also looked at all the data that are available, all the human data available, and they look at coffee as an overall beverage. And not as caffeine as for the FSA. So here it’s coffee as a beverage and they conclude that overall drinking was evaluated as unclassifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans.

As these independent organizations look at all the data that is available, and they’re independent and therefore we should really take this as the state-of-the-art knowledge that we have today.

12:30 What health research does the coffee industry need to do on cascara and cold brew?

So that’s what we know about coffee and health today. So how about the future? Well in the last two years, Re:co dedicated time both to cold brew and to cascara. That these are new products and new categories that are coming out on the market at the moment.

So cold brew, we talked about “is this a category?” and also about the food safety. What we did not talk about yet is if cold brew also positively influences our health like hot brewed coffee. In order to understand if it does, we’d need to make a chemical analysis of cold brew to look at different varieties, different origins, different processing conditions, different roast degrees, different extraction methods and to see how the chemical composition differs from hot brewed coffee.

Looking at the similarities and the differences, we can make hypotheses. And to understand if cold brew also impacts our health positively, like hot brew coffee does, and based on that to design human studies, clinical trials, to really understand the impact.

In cascara, the situation is a bit different. What we talked about last year was about cascara as a novel food application. So is cascara as such a safe food to consume? What we also have to realize when it comes to cascara, is that there might be contaminants, that are much more important to evaluate. Because these are applied directly on the cherry and not on the bean.

On top of it, as we’re not heating the product, we’re not roasting it, we need to be much more careful about contaminations for microbiology and molds.

We also have no idea at the moment about the health impact of cascara. So for cold brew, we would need to look at the chemical composition – again variety, origin, processing methods – and compare this to brewed coffee. And again design human studies, clinical trials, to understand the impact that cascara might have on our long-term health.

Why am I bringing this up? Well, in the food industry, laws are written to protect consumer safety. Which is on the one side ensuring that the product is safe, but also that communications are correct and not misleading. We want as an industry to avoid laws being written because things fail. A consumer that falls ill, this will create unnecessary consumer fear. Therefore we have an interest as an industry to do science on these products to really understand what is important in terms of food safety and what is important to you in terms of communications and to set our own standards to avoid anything happening around these products.

So, so far, I talked about coffee and health and how science has helped us to better understand the impact that coffee has on our health. So it’s the evolution of the science, going from singular studies to large human studies, to chemistry, to physiology and to bring this all together to get a holistic picture.

16:00 How scientific research affects sustainability within the coffee industry

One topic that is of high importance to us in the industry today is sustainability. So what can we learn about this methodology regarding sustainability?

As a scientist, I’m really interested in applying this methodology from going from singular studies to more holistic view also in sustainability. We know already that many things are connected, like for example environmental practices, they impact the quality of the coffee. But there are maybe connections that we don’t think of in the first place.

So I want to give an example from the wine industry just to illustrate this. So there was a paper that came out recently, it’s called the taste of pesticides. What the authors did, was they looked at two neighboring wine plots, the same variety, the same processing method. The only difference was that one was organic and one was not. And with the sensory experts panel, they found that there were differences between the two.

What they discovered was that the difference actually came from the taste of the pesticide. The pesticides itself were flavor active and contributed to the overall flavor of the wine.

So when we are doing organic farming, we may want to look beyond the impact that it has on the environment.

In coffee to restoring sustainability today, a lot of research is ongoing. We are looking at new varieties that are adapted to new growing conditions. We’re looking at soil quality, we’re looking at pest and disease, we’re looking at the water quality of the neighboring river. There [is] a lot of research going on.

In order to make more thoughtful decisions in sustainability, we should look at a more holistic view on the topics. To look for multiple perspectives. Because we have a lot of data out there, so we can do it. We have data on productivity. We have data on quality. We have data on the quality of the water. We have data on agroforestry, on wildlife.

We also know if their decisions taken by the government that might influence the farmer. We also have the farmers. They are an incredibly important source of information because they live coffee every day and they lived sustainability or the climate, everything that goes on on the farm. So that’s an additional factor that we should include in the formula.

We have statistical models, tools, in place and by taking a more multiple dimensional perspective, looking at different angles, to the same problem I think we can take some steps to make this coffee world a more perfect one. Thank you.

19:00 Outro

Peter Giuliano: That was Dr. Britta Folmer at Re:co Symposium this past April. Remember to check our show notes to find a link to the YouTube video of this talk and a link to the speaker bios on the Re:co website. This has been the Re:co Podcast, brought to you by the members of the Specialty Coffee Association, and supported by Toddy.

Subscribe to the #SCApodcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Soundcloud, Pocket Casts, or RadioPublic.