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Flavourtech’s revolutionary technology

From the October 2017 issue.

A process originally used to improve wine is driving a transformation in the quality – and economics – of instant, cold brew and RTD coffees.

Flavourtech

In the wide world of coffee, the instant variety has for decades been seen as the inferior cousin of that which is brewed from freshly ground beans. That is largely due to the punishing industrial process in which coffee beans are converted into soluble granules.

Those high temperatures and pressures can destroy the unique flavours inherent to beans from different regions; they also mean that the roasted ground flavour associated with percolated coffee largely disappears.

The result is a product shunned by coffee purists.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, says Leon Skaliotis, Sales and Marketing Director for Australia’s Flavourtech, which has developed a range of machines that have revolutionised this process, allowing producers to lock in the taste, aroma and volatile compounds that are typically lost in the standard method.

“Typically in the instant coffee process, our technology of the Spinning Cone Column (SCC) has been used to capture as much of the aroma that is left after the high temperature extraction process has been completed,” Skaliotis says. “In the Flavourtech Integrated Extraction System (IES), we have inserted the aroma recovery step prior to the extraction process, thereby protecting the delicate aroma from any high temperature processing. For the end-customer, the key benefit is being able to produce instant coffee that tastes like freshly brewed coffee, with the convenience of it being available at any time – and being able to capture those natural coffee flavours, whether that is Arabica from Colombia, Guatemala or Ethiopia, that the customer can actually taste.”

The result is the convenience of instant coffee with the taste, flavour and depth of freshly brewed coffee. That, he says, also holds true for ready-to-drink (RTD) coffees and cold brew – two of the fastest-growing beverage segments globally.

“Retail stores and beverage manufacturers are riding a wave that has global category growth at 6 per cent, with spikes of greater than 20 per cent growth in particular countries,” Skaliotis says. “The global market for RTD coffee, for instance, is worth an estimated US$20 billion, and is expected to continue growing as consumers search for new, innovative coffee products.”

Flavourtech’s products, he adds, are helping coffee producers across the globe to provide just that. And because its machines have a small footprint, “customers don’t need to move to larger facilities or employ further staff as they expand”.

All this amounts to a significant step forward for the coffee industry, Skaliotis says. It is not a little ironic then, that it came about largely by accident.

State of origin
Flavourtech grew out of a wholly different industry: the wine trade. It started when the company’s founder, a winemaker, moved from Adelaide in southern Australia to the small city of Griffith in New South Wales in the 1980s.

He had a problem in need of a solution: removing sulphur from the grape juice that is used in the winemaking process.

“And he heard about a technology that had been developed by CSIRO – the Australian government’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation – and, together with them, developed it further and then took it on,” Skaliotis explains.

That solution was a machine known as a Spinning Cone Column (SCC), a decades-old design that had long ago fallen into disuse.

“From there, coffee companies and flavour companies heard about it,” says Skaliotis. “They trialled it, and found it was ideal for flavour recovery for a range of products, and that has allowed us to grow into other industries.”

The SCC is Flavourtech’s flagship product. Today, flavour houses around the world use it to capture natural flavours and volatiles from coffee beans, tea and a range of fruit and vegetable products. Flavourtech’s range of machinery is also used to remove alcohol from wine and beer, odours from dairy products, and to extract essential oils from herbs and spices.

“Along the way, Flavourtech has become the gold standard for aroma recovery for coffee,” Skaliotis says.

Leon Skaliotis

Spinning Cone Column
The SCC is one in Flavourtech’s range of machines that coffee companies (among others) use to improve the taste and quality of their end product.

It is well suited for instant, RTD and cold brew, Skaliotis says, and can be operated at a range of temperatures: from room temperature to 100 degrees celsius.

“The SCC’s distinct advantage is that, while recovering flavour, it is also brewing the coffee and extracting soluble solids,” he says.

This process cuts waste too. And by increasing the use of soluble solids, producers can manufacture not only cold brew coffee but also an RTD product from the same beans. The SCC uses a vacuum and steam to extract and recover volatile compounds, a gentler process than standard methods.

“And this means it can capture the light flavour notes of single-origin coffee, allowing producers to create distinctive coffees from that specific locality.”

When the aroma and higher temperature extract are recombined at the end of the manufacturing process, the result is a coffee that tastes freshly brewed, and with the specific aroma profile that the producer has selected.

“Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, for instance, will have the light berry and coconut notes that it is famous for, while Costa Rican beans will bring out their own distinctive flavour notes,” says Skaliotis.

Rotating Disc Column
For its part, the Rotating Disc Column (RDC) is ideal for cold brew manufacturers, says Skaliotis: it is a precise mixing column where the user can accurately control the residence time and temperature within the system.

The RDC process sees each coffee particle cut to the same size and mixed with the required amount of water. This slurry is then pushed from the bottom of the RDC up through the column, ensuring an identical brewing time and consistency.

Furthermore, the process takes just 20 minutes, versus 12-14 hours for the standard method, and, he adds, generates a product that cold brew producers who trialled the RDC preferred over their own.

“They were also impressed that the yield of soluble solids was up to 40 per cent higher, even at room temperature, meaning they could produce up to 40 per cent more product from the same volume of coffee beans,” Skaliotis says. “That brings down their cost of production.”

integrated Extraction System
The IES, which was added in the last few years, combines Flavourtech’s core technologies, including SCC and RDC, in a continuous, automated processing line that is ideal for instant, cold brew and RTD coffee producers.

“Customers tell us that this continuous IES method, where roasted coffee beans mix with water, and this slurry is processed through the RDC and/or the SCC at room temperature, produces a a more desirable cold brew product. At higher temperatures the same line can also produce a super-premium instant coffee,” Skaliotis says.

Afterwards, this unblemished, captured flavour – including elements such as the light aromatic components indicative of the single origin’s state – is added back to the concentrated extract before drying “to produce the world’s finest coffees and teas.

“And for larger producers, the coffee extracts can be gently concentrated to high levels using our thin-film Centritherm evaporator that only has one second heat contact time on the product,” Skaliotis adds. “They can then ship concentrated coffee products to various locations to ensure no product variation, which means improved loyalty of customers to their preferred brand when travelling.”

The result: Flavourtech’s customers are able to operate a fully automated process that can produce different flavour profiles. “So from the same coffee, they use that to target different customers – for domestic or for export, for example,” he says. “In addition they can produce a stream for RTD coffee and another for instant coffee – so a single production line is flexible enough to produce many types of coffee products.”

Ahead of the pack
Just as the proof of the pudding is in the eating, the proof of Flavourtech’s coffee-making process is in the tasting.

“We’ve shown this process to a lot of people,” Skaliotis says, “and they find it hard to believe that what they’re drinking is made from instant coffee powder – even though they see us making it from scratch. They’ve been amazed.”

The next step for prospective customers is to conduct trials of their own product at Flavourtech’s facilities in Griffith.

“The interest we’ve had in the system is remarkable – the pilot plant is full almost every week with coffee companies around the world sending coffee and running trials,” he adds. “It’s extremely positive.”

Asia remains a key – and growing – region for Flavourtech, with countries such as India, China and Vietnam among the most important. Given that most of the instant coffee sold in the EU, the US and Russia comes from Asia, Flavourtech sees further opportunity in the region.

“We’ve noticed too that customers are becoming more sophisticated with instant coffee powder and these days they want more from it,” he says. “They want a full flavour that is reminiscent of the original roasted beans.”

Skaliotis sums up Flavourtech’s processes as, “the next step from what people in the coffee-manufacturing industry have been doing.
“Coffee is about to get much better,” he says. “And we at Flavourtech are at the forefront of that.” GCR

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