At a rare convenience store in West Jerusalem that caters to Saturday shoppers, I stopped to buy some coffee yesterday. Oddly enough, for a 24 hour store, they stocked mostly decaf. The only ground coffee on the shelf which wasn't decaf or instant had been imported from Brazil and was prominently marked "Kosher." When I asked the friendly cashier, a secular Jew, what made this brand Kosher, and whether buying it on the Sabbath would undo its kosher qualities, he was utterly stumped.
Well, maybe none of these coffee beans are Arabica, he joked.
Or possibly, like kosher wine, kosher coffee isn't handled by non-Jews during processing. With a bit more cyber-sleuthing, Izzy Bee found out the particulars.
According to Star K, an online caffeine bean peddler, coffee beans are inherently kosher because the beans come into contact only with water during harvesting, processing, and roasting. Kosher becomes a concern if the coffee is flavored, decaffeinated, or being consumed in a cafe (with verboten milk)
For flavored coffees, flavorings (both natural and sometimes artificial) are added after roasting. Due to the sheer number of types of flavoring, the chances of a non-kosher flavoring or process are higher, so this is an area of close inspection by the rabbis.
Decaffeination is another area of kashrut concern. Two processes are typical: the use of a chemical solvent called which dissolves the caffeine and a natural water-based process which uses activated carbon to filter the caffeine. One chemical solvent used, called ethyl acetate, is created using grain, so it is not kosher for Passover.
Lastly, the manner in which milk and sugar are added, and the location of the purchase of brewed coffee have kashrut implications. To be safe, it’s best to buy kosher certified coffee and brew and drink it at home with your own milk and sugar added to taste. But if you’re out and about, it’s best to order plain black coffee in a paper cup.
Or just wake up and smell the coffee!