Digging the dirt on counterfeit coffee production
  • | | June 03, 2011 05:20 PM

>> “Coffee” in Vietnam only 10% coffee

Following recent revelations about the use of toxic chemicals and flavouring agents in domestic coffee production, DTiNews reporters carried out an investigation into the counterfeit coffee industry.

Cacao attar to add flavour

Investigations reveal that coffee sold in Vietnam can be comprised of up to 90% of other ingredients, including corn, soy and hazardous chemicals.

According to Mr. Nguyen T.C., a senior coffee industry worker in Dong Nai Province, most of the chemicals and flavouring agents originate from China and are sold at Kim Bien Market in District 5, Ho Chi Minh City. If coffee producers buy these products in large volume they can benefit from door-to-door delivery and discounts.

Kim Bien Market is home to rows upon rows of kiosks selling a variety of chemicals and flavouring agents. In November, 2009, DTiNews reporters visited this market to investigate the sale of Tinopal used in the bleaching of rice noodles or bun.

Posing as customers, the reporters were shown a range of different chemicals and flavouring by a seller named Mrs Thao. The seller also provided hints on how to brew the perfect coffee.

Thao said in order to produce counterfeit coffee it was necessary to blend a chemical named CNC, caramel, industrial butter, saccharine, vanilla powder, attar of cocoa and a range of other products.

A litre of CNC and caramel cost between VND250-300,000 (USD12-14.55) and a kilo of Chinese industrial butter is just VND50-60,000 (USD2.40-2.90).

A dozen varieties of attractive coffee packaging are also sold at the market for around VND140,000 (USD6.80) a kilo.

Speaking with DTiNews, Prof. Nguyen Cong Khan, Head of the Food Hygiene and Safety Department under the Ministry of Health, said many food processing facilities overused the chemicals.

He added that food processors and producers must seek the ministry’s permission when using substances that produce foam and colouring, with the ingredients and product standards clearly labelled on the packaging.

A food expert said the overuse of CNC can create a toxic reaction, with over-roasted corn and soy capable of generating at least 20 different types of chemicals, including heterocyclic amines, acrylamide and HCAs. These are known to be carcinogenic.

Coffee production facilities

Unlicensed coffee production workshops are booming in the outlying Ho Chi Minh City districts of Cu Chi and Binh Chanh and in the neighbouring provinces of Long An and Dong Nai.

DTiNews reporters visited a coffee workshop owned by Mr T.H in Bien Hoa City, Dong Nai Province. T.H-branded coffee products are being sold throughout Binh Duong and its neighbouring areas.

After passing through a small gate, the reporters were confronted by piles of rubbish, smashed bottles and plastic cans. The area was generally badly ventilated and smelt. Inside four workers were busy working with three dryers and two mixers.

H said his family had produced coffee for more than 10 years, adding that his workshop sold both finished coffee products and corn and soy, so that customers could make coffee themselves.

After having roasted the corn and soy flour, the workers poured them onto the floor and then mixed in a white liquid. The mixture received an additional brown liquid and then was poured into a bucket of water before being put into the mixer.

When the mixer started operating, Mr H added saccharine, salt and flavouring agents. Just a few minutes later, the coffee was churned out.

H of course said that when he wanted a coffee he would use a reliable product rather than the counterfeit he himself produced for sale.

Mr. Nguyen T.C. said it did not cost much to set up a coffee production workshop. The main expense was the VND20,000 million (USD970.83) to buy a mixer and a drier and this had added impetus to the booming market of unlicensed coffee businesses.

Caramel for colouring

Coffee attar

Chinese industrial butter to add fat to the product

Mr H’s unhygienic coffee workshop

Mixing chemicals with roasted corn and soy

Dirty floor



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