Melange, Großer Brauner, Einspänner or Verlängerter – the specialties of Austrian coffee culture are unique all over the world. In Vienna in particular, the art of coffee brewing looks back on a tradition of several centuries. More than 300 years ago, the first Viennese coffee house already opened its doors.
Today each catering establishment has its own methods for preparing caffeine beverages. Nevertheless, there is common ground also here: certain standards for quality and brewing processes are essential for good Austrian coffee.
From beans to ground coffee – time-tested standards in production
Before the popular beverage can be served in a cup or mug, several quality factors have to be checked. This is done on the basis of International Standards. The process starts, for example, by taking samples from unprocessed green beans according to ISO 4072.
"Especially for food safety, it is of enormous importance to control the quality of coffee beans right from the start,” says Dr. Sonja Masselter, Head of the Institute for Food Safety in Innsbruck. Her Institute forms part of AGES, the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety.
"We perform tests and assessments under Chapter B12 of the Codex Alimentarius Austriacus on the one hand and according to the provisions of the Austrian Food Safety and Consumer Protection Act (LMSVG) on the other hand. All the relevant test methods are specified there that allow us to ensure that coffee can be safely drunk and savoured."
Later on, the beans are roasted. Many coffee producers use the "Vienna roast" stage. This roasting level results in coffee beans of moderately dark colour. Masselter explains: "Light-brown roasts tend to taste acidic, whereas darker roasts are sweeter and slightly bitter. In contrast to short roasting durations at high temperatures, slow roasting at lower temperatures is optimal for the quality of coffee. Apart from minerals and aromatic substances, coffee also contains chlorogenic acids. During the roasting process, up to two-thirds of these acids are eliminated. Moreover, the 'Arabica' coffee varieties contain less chlorogenic acids than the 'Robusta' varieties, which makes them more agreeable for persons with a sensitive stomach."
Roasted beans may be purchased as whole beans or ground coffee. After grinding, the particle size can be determined by the air-jet sieving method according to DIN 10765. This is particularly important for coffee-making – the smaller the particles, the less permeable to water they are. Masselter elaborates: "The grind level has to be selected in line with the coffee-making method consumers intend to use in order to ensure the optimum extraction of ground beans. There are numerous methods for making good coffee. Whether you use a drip brewer or an espresso machine is purely a question of personal preferences.” Each coffee-making method has its advantages. “If the quality of the raw material is good, you do not necessarily need an expensive machine to get savoury coffee,” says Masselter.
Quality control using standardized methods
After the first two steps are accomplished, further quality indicators can be examined. The caffeine content of coffee – determined in line with a reference method specified in the standard ISO 20481 – is an important piece of information for consumers. Masselter: "Caffeine is a special ingredient of coffee influencing its value. Many people drink coffee because of its stimulating effect. Roasted coffee contains 1.25 percent by weight of caffeine on average. The maximum water content permitted for roasted coffee is also defined in the Codex Alimentarius." The water content is established on the basis of the standard DIN 10781.
Know-how in coffee production – from Austria to Nepal
Coffee is – so to speak – an Austrian cultural asset. Over the centuries, special know-how developed that is input into the development of International Standards, too. "Directly or indirectly, Austrian experts are also involved in the preparation of standards," says Mag. Rupert Hochegger, Head of the Department for Molecular Biology and Microbiology at the Institute of Food Safety of AGES in Vienna.
He chairs Committee 205 "Food and animal feeding stuffs analysis" at Austrian Standards. "The Committee has highly diverse tasks: they are directly related to co-operation in the relevant working groups of the international standardization organizations CEN and ISO or result from involvement in the validation and evaluation of proposed methods."
Via Austrian Standards, Austrian know-how is now also transferred to Nepal where coffee has only been grown for around 30 years. In an EU-funded consulting project, Austrian, German and Swiss partners support the development of a national Nepalese standard on organic green coffee of the Arabica species. A dedicated committee will define requirements for the product and the entire production process from cultivation to packaging.
ISO 4072 Green coffee in bags – Sampling
DIN 10765 Analysis of coffee and coffee products - Determination of particle size of ground roasted coffee - Air-jet sieving method&locale=en
DIN 10781 Roasted ground coffee - Determination of loss in mass at 103 °C (Routine method for the determination of moisture content)
ISO 20481 Coffee and coffee products -- Determination of the caffeine content using high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) -- Reference method