Northern Wonder develops Coffee Free Coffee to combat coffee-related deforestation

NETHERLANDS – Dutch start-up Northern Wonder has launched a Coffee Free Coffee brand developed from non-tropical ingredients, including barley, rye, chickpea, and chicory, to help in combatting coffee-related deforestation.

Northern Wonder was established by four co-founders – Andreas Giel (COO), Bas Franse (CFO), Onno Franse (R&D lead), and CEO Klingen – concerned about deforestation in the coffee supply chain.

The start-up said it spent the last two years working on a coffee alternative with a strict sourcing policy: it must not contain any ingredients grown in a tropical environment.

According to the company, the product has the taste and smell of coffee, contains caffeine, and is even brewed the same way as regular coffee.

The first line of products on the market includes four SKUs – made up of caffeinated and decaffeinated filter blends, and caffeinated and decaffeinated capsules – make up the start-up’s ‘shorter-focused R&D’.

To develop its first line of Coffee Not Coffee products, Northern Wonder teamed up with Wageningen University in the Netherlands to establish a theoretical approach.

The goal was to identify which non-tropical ingredients contain compounds ‘crucial’ to the coffee flavor and once that was established, the sensory work began.

“We processed the ingredients in various ways, roasting them like coffee,” recalled Klingen. Relevant indicators included bitterness and acidity. “We played with a lot of mixes to come as close as possible to coffee.”

The final ingredients chosen differ slightly depending on whether it is intended for filter or capsule formats.

The capsule blend, for example, is made from lupin, barley, rye, fig, chickpea, chicory, carob, black currant, caffeine, and natural flavor. The roasted filter ground blend doesn’t include fig or carob.

The caffeine level is similar to normal coffee (1400mg/100g) but comes from a different source, particularly from synthetic caffeine source.

The crema element as explained by Klingen was developed by chance: when the Nespresso-compatible capsules are put through a machine, crema – which ‘looks like the real thing – appears, thanks to Northern Wonder’s selected blend of ingredients.

 As an espresso ground, however, the start-up said the product missing room-fillingness’, an aspect of the first line of Coffee Not Coffee products that it plans to overcome in Northern Wonder’s second R&D stream, which has yet to reach the market.

Room-fillingness is described by the coffee brewer as the sensation of being ‘triggered by the smell of coffee when a cup is brewed in a different room or a different floor of a house.

‘Room-fillingness’ comes from volatiles, the development of which is the aim of the start-up’s second R&D stream.

To achieve this, Northern Wonder is working on the ‘whole bean structure’, with an idea that in developing such a structure and pressing it, the ‘smell and aroma’ aspect will be enhanced.

Technologies leveraged by the patent-pending technique include fermentation and a ‘pressing technique’.

The Coffee Free Coffee will also not be deemed a novel food, although the start-up is open to exploring cellular agriculture-based methods down the line.

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