By Kat Odell
From Bloomberg News
Chefs tend to avoid mold in their kitchens but make exceptions for koji. The fungus is a powerful tool that has served as a hidden weapon to chefs such as Rene Redzepi, a pioneering chef from Copenhagen. It can be used to cure proteins, ferment grains and add umami to sweet and savory dishes.
Now is the most recognized mold in the world of culinary arts and it’s poised to be the largest trend within specialty coffee. The multipurpose ingredient is believed to improve the quality of mediocre coffee beans and create a more flavorful cup.
It’s a great time to increase the quality of coffee beans. In the last year and half, Arabica beans have more than doubled their price, making them the most sought-after coffee bean in the world.
” The biggest advantage of koji is its ability to add sweetness to coffees which are not sweet enough or enhance coffees to a higher quality. Mason Salisbury cofounded Nevada’s Luminous Coffee and was one of the first to adopt koji. Salisbury started selling his fermented beans this spring; a 200-gram bag goes for $30.
A few specialty coffee shops have started releasing bags koji coffee from around the globe, including Ohio’s Phoenix Coffee and The Netherlands’ Manhattan Coffee Roasters. Manhattan Coffee Roasters quickly sold out their stock, transporting 100 kilograms (220 lb), of koji espresso in 72 hour.
Whether you use the pour-over or filter method, the best thing about the koji coffee process is its ability to add no flavor. The koji process is revolutionary in that it can improve the quality and make a coffee better. Koji is a rounder, smoother and sweeter coffee.
The process attracted serious attention when Kaapo Paavolainen, a Finnish barista from Helsinki’s One Day Coffee, brewed unusual koji beans for the first public time in Milan during the World Barista Championship.
” The championships…are so large that they can determine entire coffee crops for many years to come,” Paavolainen said.
El Vergel Estates is the boutique Colombian coffee farm that produced the first batch of koji-treated beans. To use the mold, a type of aspergillus fungus that is best known for turning rice into sake or soy beans into miso paste, the farm teamed up with an international team of koji lovers. Salisbury, Christopher Feran, director at Phoenix Coffee, and Koichi Higuchi (a seventh-generation koji spore manufacturer based out of Osaka in Japan) were among them.
The process is simple but deceptive. The process involves gently mixing freshly-picked coffee cherries and yellow-white, koji powder (a substance that looks almost like flour) with water. After two days of berries, the resulting fluffy white fur is formed. Then, they are sun-dried for up to two weeks. The berries are then milled to get rid of the outer shell and sent to open-minded roasters.
The process Feran called the Koji Supernatural Protocol led to the first koji-processed coffee beans worldwide in 2020. Paavolainen made the second harvest live on stage at last year’s World Barista Championship.
“There was massive interest in the processing amongst our colleagues following the demo,” Paavolainen says. Many people were skeptical that mold could improve the quality of coffee beans.
Koji is a coffee with an enhanced sweetness. Feran said that fermentation creates enzymes which break down the proteins of the coffee cherries into amino acids and starches into fermentable sweeteners. He says these enzymes “increase the perception of sweetness and fruitiness in coffee,” Feran said.
Koji “has the power to transform even most mundane ingredients.” This allows coffee to become “more brilliant than its original bean,” according to Rabi Aouam (founder of Spain’s Kima Coffee), another early adopter.
Koji coffee lovers who are eager to enjoy the flavorful brew will be able to expect a more expensive cup. Koji coffee is generally twice the price of regular coffee. Regular coffee can be found in shops for $5-$7 per cup. Koji coffee has begun to appear on menus in places such as Luminous, Brooklyn, and Sweven, Bristol. The availability of fermented coffee will increase as the koji-processing technology has been expanded to include farms in Colombia and Guatemala, Costa Rica. Thailand, China. Vietnam.
For Paavolainen the transformational potential of koji-coffee is simple to grasp: “Be all you can be,” says he.
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