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What do Olive Oil and Coffee have in common?
Tuesday, November 12, 2019 @ 5:43 PM

Coffee and olive oil in Spain have more in common than you might think and unfortunately not for the right reasons.  Both are wonderful products and play such an important role in the Mediterranean lifestyle or diet: Olive oil for its health properties and culinary value and coffee for its social implications.

However, history and social circumstances have led to a general misunderstanding of what is actually good olive oil and what is good coffee and this lack of knowledge and false belief has lead a nation along for generations and only now are people starting to wake up to this misconception. Who would have thought that when a Spaniard working at an olive mill in his local village gave you a few litres of olive oil from the recent harvest, you would have probably received what is now referred to as just "olive oil" - not extra virgin. Certainly, the elder generations and those in their 40’s grew up with low-grade olive oil at home convinced they were consuming the nectar from the sun-blasted olive groves of their precious homeland. But this is through no fault of their own, technology available then was unable to prevent the contamination of residues left on the millstones and knowledge around the needs of the olive tree were no way near as advanced as they are today. So people all over the Mediterranean got used to what they believed was top-quality olive oil but this is one example where technology has actually helped us obtain the best from nature and traditional methods are in fact detrimental to the quality. Nowadays all olives are blended into a pulp and centrifuged not crushed with millstones and then pressed through mats, or at least they should be.


These classical traditional techniques that some customers find enchanting and some brands use as a marketing pull are actually a warning sign that you should probably stay well clear of them. It is impossible to achieve the same quality in a “traditional mill” when compared to a modern mill. But what this has created is a palate for poor quality. So what tastes "good" because it is all they know is actually bad olive oil. So much so that many producers centre on this palate of tastes to ensure their sales even though they are capable of producing better quality oils and unfortunately still today the majority of olive oils in supermarkets are of poor quality, especially in the UK. Some regions deliberately produce oil from frozen olives, as it is the local taste that they have become used to over the years. Naturally, the taste is awful for those who know good olive oil. So what we end up with is a leading nation in olive oil production that doesn’t really understand what good olive oil is, or better said if given a bad olive oil would almost definitely say it was good, really anyone can appreciate a good olive oil once given the opportunity to taste it, the fruitiness speaks for itself.

I always have top-quality olive oil at home and when friends and family come round for a meal they will always be served it. Once they smell it and taste it they are always blown away; "wow! It smells so good, what’s in it?” they ask, thinking that it carried some fruit additive or infusion and the simple answer is nothing, it should always smell like that…fruit juice. It should not smell like oil, you should instantly know this came from a fruit. So only time will educate the people as to what real olive oil should taste and smell like and that will be no easy task with bulk producers more interested in making the extra penny, but this is where regulations and quality controls should be stricter. So learn more about olive oil and how you can recognise a real extra virgin.



Coffee has a similar story. What is known in Spain and other countries as café torrefacto or Café Torrado is a coffee, which has received special toasting, special because it is different, not because it is better. Back in the 40’s there was a huge shortage in coffee and it was extremely expensive so substitute drinks started to appear in households around the country such as chicory root or cereal seeds toasted with sugar and their consumption became widespread. This same technique of toasting with sugar was applied to coffee too as it was believed that the coffee maintained its freshness for longer as the fine coating of sugar was thought by some to delay the aroma escaping from the bean and the oxygen entering the bean, as modern techniques of preservation were obviously not available. But the fact that sugar was involved in the process helped tremendously with its success after many years of sugared chicory root. 

But what was this process of Torrefacto and what results did it achieve? 

Well, a coffee bean acquires its taste and aroma during the toasting process, with Torrefacto café, sugar is added to the beans. In the past up to 20% of the volume but now it is regulated at a maximum of 15%. This sugar is added in the last stage of the toasting process as the temperature is at its highest, approximately 200ºC, the sugar caramelises and forms a shiny film around the coffee bean. The only thing this achieves is a darker coffee in colour and more bitter in taste. The carbonised sugar masks the majority of the coffee's qualities in terms of taste and aroma thus the technique was only really justified when the coffee bean was of very poor quality as the technique provides a certain uniformity and balance to the taste. However, nowadays its consumption is not recommended and it is considered harmful to one’s health.

Firstly because it is much harder for the digestive system to cope with and thus people with ulcers or stomach problems will have difficulty consuming this coffee but more importantly it has been banned in many countries around the world, as it is believed to be carcinogenic. This technique is only known or used in Spain, Argentina, Costa Rica, Bolivia, Mexico, France and Portugal. In the rest of the world, it is unheard of.

Although its use and consumption were perfectly understandable in those days it became a habit and the norm within Spanish society and continued even when economic conditions had improved.  When the coffee sector was opened up in 1980, controlled up to then only by the state, laws changed and a new market was made available for large companies to tap into. Although they were unaware in those days, they took advantage of the widespread torrefacto coffee, which was approved by the state, cheap, balanced and well accepted by the Spanish consumers and started to mass-produce it. This not only convinced the public that coffee should be strong and bitter but it also promoted the habit of adding more milk to the coffee to make it more acceptable and logically limited the size of the servings.

Slowly but surely 100% natural coffee started to make its way in but initially only by means of blends, at first 80% torrefacto -20% natural. As time moved on these percentages started to change but there is still a long road ahead before the Spanish really start to appreciate 100% natural coffee. Today we can still see manufacturers offering especially to bars and restaurants 50/50 blends. However, in the north of Spain it is now far more common to find 100% natural coffee and the further north we go less torrefacto you will find. On the other hand in Andalucía you will find 60/40 (natural/torrefacto) and 50/50 and even in some villages you can still find 100% torrefacto, which is quite incredible nowadays and shouldn’t be allowed quite frankly.

 So, in conclusion, please make sure your olive oil is fruity and your coffee is 100% natural, your body and your palate will thank you for it.


Like 3


Steven Bromley said:
Saturday, November 16, 2019 @ 10:41 AM

What a great and informative article.
For day to day coffee for our beans to cup machine we buy 100% natural beans in Aldi. No Torrefacto for me......

John said:
Saturday, November 16, 2019 @ 11:04 AM

A very interesting article. In relation to the coffee, is it possible to easily detect if you're being served torrefacto coffee if you order one in a bar?

George Fee said:
Saturday, November 16, 2019 @ 12:27 PM

Hi Ian. I don't recall you mentioning Olive Pomace Oil in any of your postings. I know it is at the bottom of the list iro quality, but it is widely used, particularly in India as it imparts a special flavour. When Pomace is sold, I believe an amount of between 5-15% is added for some reason-why is that, and is all OPO sold with EVOO added, as it doesn't say so on the tins?

toolman2 said:
Saturday, November 16, 2019 @ 12:56 PM

What an informative article, I have always been aware of avoiding sugared coffee and my preference is Ethiopian coffee, there is "some" DNA evidence to suggest Ethiopia is the origin of the coffee plant.
As to olive oil, I have always allowed myself to be led by common knowledge which I now know to be misleading. From now on I will try and follow your advice when selecting my oil. Are you aware of any lists of small producers which could give me a head start in finding one in my region, Extremadura.

Mallorcalad said:
Saturday, November 16, 2019 @ 10:34 PM

Thank you, excellent informative aticle

eos_ian said:
Monday, November 18, 2019 @ 1:07 PM

Thanks all for reading, much appreciated.

Hi George, with regard to Pomace Oil, I never mention it as I never buy it or use it. I can't see any reason for buying it unless you are trying to save money or using it in bulk for frying. In Spanish, it is referred to as "Aceite de Orujo de Oliva". It is mainly exported which is why it is more widely used abroad. There are absolutely no benefits over extra virgin other than cost. Pomace oil is made from the leftovers after all the good oil has been extracted. Solvents are needed to extract the oil from the pulp and then it is refined, which in fact deodorizes it removing all organoleptic impurities - as at this point in the process there are no positive organoleptic qualities. The last stage is to add a small amount of virgin or extra virgin in order to give it colour and some flavour. So, you can see, it will never be better than an extra virgin or even virgin olive oil. Anyone who says it has a better flavour simply prefers the flavour of low-quality olive oil. Is widely used in India as it is the cheapest form of olive oil available and probably the most neutral in flavour.

Hi Toolman,
I can't say I know personally any small producers in the Extremadura area, but if you go to Priego de Cordoba there are many highly recommendable producers in the area.



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