Combating food fraud in practice: The Jamaican Coffee Police

Like ham and eggs, it’s a well-documented fact that police and coffee go hand in hand. Though would you ever expect a police officer to order a cup o’ joe and take the barista to task for selling a fake product?


In Jamaica, a task force has assembled. In an effort to combat rampant fraud, the Coffee Industry Board of Jamaica (CIB) are continuing efforts to ramp up efforts to protect the country’s national premium export “Blue Mountain Coffee.” (Visit www.ciboj.org for more)


Described by fictitious character James Bond as “the best coffee in the world” and famed for its smooth fruity taste without the bitter edge, Blue Mountain Coffee fetches a significant premium the world over. Over 80% of the product is exported to Japan, Starbucks have doubled their order from last year and high-end British retailers such as Harvey Nichols are continuing to order more and more of this luxury product.


Unfortunately, as with many premium food products, Blue Mountain Coffee is very attractive to the fraudsters.


The CIB have been ever-inventive with ways to crack down on the fraudsters who pass regular coffee off as Blue Mountain Coffee. One solution is the Jamaican coffee police (Brand Infringement Taskforce) who use a powerful analytical tool to detect the fake coffee; olfaction and gustation (smell and taste).


Based on taste and smell alone, these highly trained plainclothes police descend upon coffee vendors demanding a cup of their finest. Should the coffee not live up to the idiosyncratic flavour of Blue Mountain Coffee, this is evidence enough to launch an investigation.


At present the Brand Infringement Taskforce operate in Jamaica, though there have been raids on businesses suspected of selling illegitimate Blue Mountain Coffee in as far afield from Jamaica as St. Andrews, Brooklyn in Nov 2014. Read the article here.


It could be recommended that the CIB should use more robust analytical methods than trained coffee tasters, nonetheless it is impressive a fake can be determined from the real-deal by taste alone.


Bonus fact: The cause of the distinctive flavour of Blue Mountain Coffee


Blue Mountain Coffee is cultivated in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica at altitudes just under 1700m. Cooling mist from the mountains arising from the Caribbean slows the development of the coffee cherry allowing it more time to mature. This results in a smooth fruity taste with no bitterness in the coffee.

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