We've received so many questions about Bulletproof coffee and the presence of mycotoxins in coffee beans. It's time to clear the air about mycotoxins in coffee and end the myth that Bulletproof-branded coffee has a unique solution.
Please note: this post references Bulletproof-branded coffee beans, and not the practice of adding oils to coffee.
Strip picked commodity coffee destined for the instant coffee market (left) vs. Ripe coffee cherry from our farm on the Big Island of Hawaii (right).
Question: "Hi guys, I have a client here I’m sharing your coffee with, and she started talking about mold and mycotoxin-free beans which are supposedly sold by Bulletproof Coffee / Dave Asprey, etc.
What are your thoughts on mold in relation to coffee? Thank you, P.M."
Thanks for reaching out, and great questions here!
The short answer is yes: molds are problematic in commodity coffees and several foods, nuts, grains, organ meats, and spices. And, yes, if you're bottom shelf blends, or instant coffees, then you should be concerned. Does that describe you? No? Read on...
From a marketing perspective, it's impressive how the Bulletproof coffee team has managed to gaslight so many smart, health-conscious coffee lovers. They've created a product built on fear for which Bulletproof coffee is the only solution.
A good analogy would be if I were to announce that our Hawaiian coffees were the only Fair Trade Hawaiian coffees available. Next, I show you our Fair Trade certification and charge you 20% more because of it.
Dig a little deeper and you realize that, because Hawaiian coffee is grown in the USA, farmworkers receive federally mandated wages, which include social security, medicare, payroll taxes, overtime, etc. That's actually much better than Fair Trade, you realize, and that certification was just manipulation.
That kind of gaslighting is exactly what Asprey and Bulletproof coffee have done with the problem of mycotoxins in coffee.
Let's dive in...
Aflatoxin and Ochratoxin can grow on green coffees that have been improperly stored or harvested. They're most prevalent in very low-quality coffees, especially those consumed by poor countries. We call these commodity coffees and sadly they are often produced on coffee farms where workers receive extremely low wages, and even where child labor and indentured servitude is involved.
Long before Bulletproof coffee arrived on the scene, the specialty coffee industry began implementing quality controls throughout the supply chain to remove defects and improve wages for workers by associating coffee quality with the purchase price for premium "specialty" coffee.
Not only that, but the specialty coffee industry is remarkably transparent. Bulletproof coffee, on the other hand, is not.
1. QUALITY CONTROL STANDARDS: SPECIALTY COFFEE VS. BULLETPROOF COFFEE
To be considered specialty-grade, green coffee can have zero severe defects -- we call them "Category 1 defects".
A defect in the specialty coffee industry can be any of the following:
- mold, insect damage, chipped beans, high moisture beans, hollow, shell or floater beans, whole cherries, twigs, stones (which can break your grinder), etc.
Coffees are formally assessed by trained professionals, sorted and ranked on a 100 point scale for their quality many times throughout the supply chain. If a coffee scores 80+ points, it's considered "specialty-grade". Coffees below 80 points are "commodity-grade" or "off-grade". They often have poor flavor and are sold as cheap coffees and blenders.
So while specialty coffees are assessed for mold, all the defects on this picture below, and flavor, Bulletproof coffee is apparently tested only for mycotoxins.
WINNER: SPECIALTY COFFEE
2. SUPPLY CHAIN TRANSPARENCY: SPECIALTY COFFEE VS. BULLETPROOF COFFEE
The specialty coffee industry is built upon the pillars of quality, social/environmental responsibility, story, and transparency.
At specialty roasters throughout the US you'll find information like:
- the farm name - origin or elevation - coffee variety - mill or coop - the processing method - roast date - background story - cupping notes and score - you might even get the information on what the producer was paid
Look a little deeper and you'll find an awesome database on coffees tested by the Coffee Quality Institute. Here's a sample report on a Colombian washed coffee that had a very high cupping score (meaning it tasted great), but failed because the Q Graders found 1 fungal defect.
What kind of transparency does a Bulletproof coffee offer? None. It's "proprietary" and therefore shrouded in secrecy. Hmmmm.... 🤔
WINNER: SPECIALTY COFFEE
3. PRICE: SPECIALTY COFFEE VS. BULLETPROOF COFFEE
Bulletproof coffee claims to have a proprietary coffee processing method that reduces mold in coffees. This proprietary distinction allows Asprey to charge a premium.
The reason they can't tell you what this proprietary method is: because it's a non-patentable, ubiquitous process known as "washed processing", and the majority of specialty-grade Arabica coffees are produced this way.
Washed coffees have the lowest presence of defects within all coffee processes, which is why major roasters like Starbucks will only buy washed process coffees (yes, Starbucks purchases specialty-grade coffees. So does Stumptown, Blue Bottle, and most hipster coffee roasters -- including us, of course).
Turns out, the premium charged on Bulletproof coffees isn't for anything special truly or proprietary, which is why he can't patent it. It's just the same processing technique that coffee farmers have been using for hundreds of years.
So, like my example of charging 20% more for "Fair Trade" Hawaiian coffee, Aspery just found a new angle to charge more for coffee.
WINNER: SPECIALTY COFFEE
The last thing I have for you is a fantastic video sharing Joe Rogan's experience testing the Bulletproof claims by having several coffees sent into a lab. On behalf of the specialty coffee farmers and roasters everywhere, thank you Joe Rogan.