The Bible has no coffee reference, suggesting that the beverage was unknown in the Holy Land in the age of its writing. There is no mention of coffee in the Quran. Yet, the stories of the birth of coffee is bound-up with stories of Islamic lands from The Arabian Peninsula North and East along the Mediterranean shore to present day Iran, and West across the Red Sea, through Ethiopia, and North to Egypt.
We understand that coffee was accepted by Islam, and blessed by the Pope. Of the three great religions of the West, Judaism is believed by many to have among the most interesting and intriguing dietary laws. The truth is that the laws are simple, it is the Jewish people’s study, and application of them to different foods and ingredients, preparation methods and serving utensils that makes them a fascination.
The words “Kosher’ and “Kashrut” comes from the Hebrew Kaf-Shin-Reish, meaning fit, proper or correct. Kashrut describes the standards. Kosher is the word applied to foods that meets the standards. Rabbis (teachers) supervise the production of foods that are to be sold or served as Kosher to maintain the standards. Blessing food cannot make it Kosher; it either is or is not Kosher based on the laws of Kashrut as supervised by the Rabbi.
The Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible are the source of the Kosher laws. The Torah does not tell us the reason for the rules. Some believe that observance to the laws confirm obedience to God. Others have tried to find reasonable explanations for the laws.
With the exception of grape products, which are a special case with special guidelines, all fruits and vegetables are Kosher, so by nature coffee is Kosher. Because some insects, and their larvae may not be kosher, unroasted coffee should be inspected to insure that it is insect free.
Coffee is by its nature, natural, as is a tomato, or an apple. Green coffee processing, whether by wet or dry method, adds no ingredients to coffee and so does not affect its Kosherness. Roasting, the simple application of heat, is not a bar to its natural state and does not effect coffee’s kosher status. Though, in certain municipalities, as New York, when a water quench is used to arrest roast development, Rabbi’s suggest that a water filtration device be installed on the incoming water line to prevent Kashrut forbidden microscopic crustaceans called copepods (sometimes introduced to municipal drinking water as a control against mosquito larve) from being sprayed on the coffee in the watering cycle. This precaution would also apply to servers of beverage coffee who should take the precaution to filter the water with which they brew coffee.
Grinding has no effect on the Kosher status of coffee.
Aromatizing, coloring, and agglomerating agents that may be added to coffee in the processing of Instant Coffee must also meet Kosher standards for the end product to be certified as Kosher.
Coffees can be flavored by blending into them natural ingredients that also come from plants, with nothing else added to them, as vanilla beans, and cinnamon. Using pre-blended flavoring powder compounds or liquid flavoring ingredients is fine provided that the flavorings have been manufactured under Rabbinical supervision to Kosher food standards. Several manufacturers specialize in making Kosher Certified flavorings for the coffee trade including Allen Flavors www.allenflavors.com, Beck Flavors www.beckflavors.net, Flavor Dynamics www.flavours.com and Flavor & Fragrance Specialties www.ffs.com.
Several food ingredient companies make products for flavoring a portion of brewed coffee. Corim Industries www.corimindustries.com makes Kosher individual flavoring powders for foodservice. Several Syrup manufacturers including DaVinci Gourmet firstname.lastname@example.org, Monin www.monin-usa.com, Routin America Inc www.routin-america.com, and R.Torre & Co. manufacture syrups that have Kosher certification.
The Kashrut of coffee begins to be less straight forward when we talk about decaffeinated coffee. Most decaffeinated coffee is produced outside North America. Methylene Chloride is the most used chemical for decaffeinating coffee, and is accepted by Rabbinical organizations as MC is manufactured in the laboratory, and several producers of MC decaffeinated coffee have their facilities certified for the production of Kosher goods. The Swiss Water® process is certified Kosher. Other Natural Process decaffeinated coffees may use a water process (other than the Swiss Water® process) Ethyl Acetate, or Carbon Dioxide (CO2). These naturally occuring ingredients may be used in facilities, and certified Kosher by a Rabbinic organization.
Ethyl Acetate production may cause an issue at Passover time, when a different and stricter set of guidelines prevail in the Kosher world, as EA (a blending of ethanol and acetic acid) may be derived from grain, which may not be used during the time of Passover, and the use of grain in the manufacturing facility during the rest of the year may create systemic cleaning issues for the operator in preparing his facility for Passover. Roasters that prepare Kosher for Passover coffee often choose not to use EA decaffeinated coffee for use in their businesses at any time.
In the preparation and service of beverage coffee, there are some additional caveats. Some styrofoam cups are made with non-kosher zinc stearate. So, besides for the environmental, lop-fee, and taste reasons that we understand as coffee people, it is best to avoid Styrofoam cups if you are making a point of serving Kosher Coffee. If you are thinking of operating a Kosher foodservice facility it is best that you bring in Rabbinic supervision when your business is in the planning stages as a Kosher build-out is infinitely less costly for an operator than a Kosher refit.
There are many Rabbinic organizations whose hechsher (Kosher Certification marking) assures the buyer that goods are certified Kosher. Among the most recognized are
O-U of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis
Star-K Kosher www.star-k.org
the O-K www.ok.org
The CRC (Chicago Rabinical Council) www.crcweb.org
Kof-K, Teaneck NJ, www.kof-k.org
There is one thing about Kashrut and coffee that that I have found curious in recent years, and that is the cachet of the Kosher mark on goods. Americans have come to ask if gourmet/specialty foods are Kosher as much because Kosher certification is perceived by consumers as a mark of generally high quality as for its religious value to a few consumers.
SCAA and Roasters Guild Past President, Donald Schoenholt, is also a Past President of Little Neck Jewish Center, Little Neck New York. He can be found round the roaster at Gillies Coffee Co., the nation oldest roaster, www.gilliescoffee.com