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Raising the bar in coffee

Where science meets art
Stefan Palzer
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By Stefan Palzer
Chief Technology Officer Nestlé S.A.

October 2020

In a competitive, fast-growing coffee market, we are focused on accelerating innovation to bring you the perfect cup of coffee. Coffee is a natural beverage that helps you wake up in the morning and provides a multi-sensory experience. There's also increasing evidence that its very healthy.

To take just one example, studies have reported an association between moderate coffee drinking, 3-5 cups per day, and a reduced risk of suffering a stroke or from heart failure. Coffee's potential health benefits are rarely mentioned, so I wanted to point them out on International Coffee Day.

Our coffee story starts in 1938, when Nestlé pioneered a new method that captured the aroma and flavor of coffee in a soluble extract. This was then spray dried to turn the liquid coffee into a powder, and Nescafé was born. Nespresso, the world's first coffee capsule system, followed in 1986.

This rich coffee history, and iconic brands, including Nescafé, Nespresso, Nescafé Dolce Gusto, Starbucks, Blue Bottle and Chameleon, are the basis for our unique coffee portfolio. Let's look at the role of science and technology across the coffee value chain, from plant science to fermentation, roasting, aroma, all the way through to beverage systems and packaging.

It all starts with the perfect bean

With coffee production under threat from climate change and disease, the future of coffee depends on high-quality beans. Within R&D we invest in plant science, to understand the biology of coffee to develop drought and disease-resistant varieties. For this, we use traditional GMO-free propagation methods and valorize local coffee varieties. Through our research we even rediscovered the first coffee varieties ever cultivated by mankind and revived them in our Nespresso special editions.

Under the global Nescafé Plan, Nestlé will have supported farmers across the world with 220 million new coffee plantlets by the end of 2020. This allows them to renovate plantations, improve crop quality and productivity, and – on the most vital, human level – make coffee farming profitable.

coffee farmer

With these aims in mind, we've obtained the first generation of hybrid Arabica trees able to be propagated by seeds. These exclusive varieties are adaptable across a wide range of environments and have a shorter breeding period. They produce coffees of an outstanding quality, with a 40% higher yield, and demand less water – a crucial trait in rain-scarce regions – and fertilizer.

We are harnessing this breakthrough to develop new coffee varieties for Nespresso and our out-of-home coffee business Nestlé Professional. We are also innovating at the post-harvest stage, to create special flavors and aromas through a more controlled fermentation of beans, a natural process during coffee production.

The art of roasting

Roasting is an art, but also a science. And with increasing interest in specialty coffee, our perfection of the process allows us to produce beans ranging from blonde – with lighter, smoother, fruitier taste profiles to dark rich roasts with smoky, caramel and even chocolaty notes.

One recent example that we're proud of is Nescafé Black Roast. Here our team worked from concept to launch in just five months, using their expertise in flavor and aroma extraction to capture an intense roast without excessive bitterness. Our strongest, darkest soluble coffee has proven a hit with consumers, and should be available in 14 markets by the end of 2020.

To further expand the sensory territory, we adapt our temperature profiles to the relevant blend and coffee variety. Coffee roasting requires specialized knowledge, skills and equipment. As such, it hasn't been a viable option for many coffee shops, until now. Roastelier, our latest system innovation, simplifies the art of roasting and makes it more accessible.

Roastelier

Using Roastelier, single-origin or blended Arabica beans are semi-roasted in our factories, to avoid unpleasant flavors or aromas and to save time, then supplied to coffee shops. The roasting machine uses a QR reader to identify the coffee, then offers baristas roasting profiles plus personalization options. The result? Customized house blends at just the touch of a button!

Brewing the perfect cup from perfect beans

By optimizing the brewing process for soluble coffee in the factory, we're able to preserve the perfect coffee aroma, using a combination of distillation and fractionation, and return the natural aroma concentrate we obtain to the coffee we brew at the end of the process.

Capsule-based coffee brings the coffee shop experience into your home. Here our latest major innovation is the Nespresso Vertuo machine system, which uses proprietary technology that combines centrifugal force and infusion to deliver a longer cup of coffee.

Following the infusion phase, the machine spins the capsule at up to 7,000 rpm, faster than a propeller-driven plane's engine, to intensify the waterflow through the coffee grounds, extract all the flavor and create a smooth and stable crema.

Riding the 'third and fourth wave' of coffee

Our systems and coffees are helping us meet the so-called 'third and fourth wave' of coffee, which celebrates the quality, origin or 'terroir' and art of coffee roasting and brewing.

We're meeting the trend with a wide range of products. Nitrogen-infused coffee from Nescafé Azera, RTD iced lattes, 'dip style' and drip coffee bags from Nescafé, Nescafé Dolce Gusto Cold Brew capsules, Dalgona whipped coffee, and more!

Nescafé Azera Nitro video

In record time, we've brought the Starbucks experience into the home too, developing the first Starbucks capsules for Nespresso, and Nescafé Dolce Gusto, plus roast and ground and whole bean coffees. Premium soluble coffees followed, and most recently, a Starbucks Cold Brew concentrate.

Turning to 'white cup' coffee, we've harnessed our expertise in encapsulating nitrogen under high pressure in cappuccino foams, to bring the world's first non-dairy soluble lattes to market with Nescafé Gold. Natural Bliss and Starbucks non-dairy creamers complement our coffee ranges.

Coffee that's kind to the planet

Ensuring that all this innovation is sustainable is our responsibility, in line with our ambition to strive for zero environmental impact across our operations. This starts with the sustainable plant varieties we develop, but also covers production. Here, we're improving processes and investing in new technologies – to reduce energy and water use and cut CO2 emissions and waste.

Did you know, for example, that Nescafé is one of the most environmentally friendly coffees produced worldwide? With a per-cup carbon footprint that's 40-50% lower than normal filter brewed coffee, it's one of the most sustainable choices.

We're working to valorize coffee 'waste' wherever possible – incinerating coffee grounds to generate energy for factory processes and using them in anaerobic digesters to generate biogas. Using coffee fruit husks to produce innovative beverages is another area we're exploring.

Packaging with a conscience

New packaging developments are crucial too. Nespresso has launched capsules using 80% recycled aluminum, an important step towards circularity, and Starbucks Fresh Brew ground coffee in recyclable cans. We're working on paper packaging too and launching alternative delivery systems that use zero packaging.

Our Aldo dosing system removes the need for single-use coffee stick packaging and offers real potential in the out-of-home segment in emerging markets. Nestlé has also successfully trialed new bulk delivery systems for Nescafé Gold in Switzerland, where consumers fill up reusable containers from a sealed dispenser system. Over in the U.S., cold brew coffee will soon join the Loop home delivery service, where subscribers receive products in reusable, returnable containers.

All these activities show the circular economy in action and support our efforts to make 100% of our packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025.

From plant science and processing innovations, to cutting-edge systems and products that capture new trends, and sustainable packaging, Nestlé is building on our 80-plus years of coffee expertise. We're working from 'seed to sip' to retain our coffee leadership – using science, yes, but also art!