When you think of Houston, Texas, you might think of cowboy hats, cattle, oil, and maybe a football or baseball team while remembering the Alamo. But did you know that Houston is the fastest growing port for coffee distribution, representing 25 percent of the world’s coffee trading ventures? In fact, Houston is the only green coffee port of entry west of the Mississippi River as certified by the New York Board of Trade and is home to 50 coffee-related companies, according to the Greater Houston Coffee Association.
“Houston’s central location is ideal to receive and distribute coffee product,” explains Carlos de Aldecoa Bueno, president of Maximus Coffee Group, North America’s largest integrated roasting, decaffeination, soluble and packaging facility for private label coffees and powdered drinks for such large companies as Starbucks, Sara Lee Kraft and Nestle. The company has played a significant role in establishing Houston as an international center of coffee trade. “And what’s good for Houston in terms of jobs creation and business development as a result of our coffee trade is, of course, good for the overall United States economy.”
“About 70 percent of decaffeinated coffee is produced in Germany,” de Aldecoa explains, referring to how the company provides maximum value to the U.S. economy. “We not only offer major foodservice and retail customers a domestic alternative to sourcing decaf from overseas, we provide a chemical-free alternative that is more attractive for today’s health conscious consumers.”
Maximus Coffee Group is a third generation family owned company that traces its roots back to a coffee roasting company started in Madrid, Spain by de Aldecoa’s grandfather. The Spanish Civil War caused the family to move with their business to Córdoba, Mexico, where they began a coffee packaging operation, producing fractional packs for the hospitality industry and other roasters. Beginning in the 1960s, de Aldecoa’s father led expansion into U.S. markets and established a decaffeination plant in Mexico. In 1985, the company moved its base of operations to Houston and in December 2006 acquired Kraft’s Maxwell House coffee production facilities there. “That made us the only fully integrated provider of world-class coffee roasting and packaging services in North America, but also the world’s largest natural decaffeination producer,” de Aldecoa notes.
Particularly important for health-conscious consumers, “natural” is not just a marketing slogan, but a process that eliminates chemicals and is certified as organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Even putting health concerns aside, natural decaffeination, using a sparkling water process instead of chemicals, results in a better tasting cup of coffee.
“There are a variety of approaches to decaffeinate the beans,” de Aldecoa explains. “The majority use chemicals, either methylene chloride or ethyl acetate, both of which are solvents and trace amounts of which remain in the bean even after roasting. Lets even forget whether you want solvents in your coffee, these chemicals affect the taste. Chemical dependent processes affect the flavor and aroma and consequently do not produce a satisfying cup of coffee.”
There’s a reason why people who appreciate a properly brewed cup of coffee generally disdain decaf and it isn’t the lack of caffeine. While over 70 percent of decaffeinated coffee is produced with chemicals, there is the “Swiss Water” method which involves cycles of soaking the beans through a carbon filter to eliminate the caffeine; however, while it might be more palatable to coffee lovers and the health-conscious, this approach also comes with an environmental price. “Even though you’ve eliminated chemicals, there’s a lot of wastewater created as a by-product of this process,” de Aldecoa points out. “At least you’re eliminating chemicals in the wastewater, but the number of soaking cycles required to rid the beans of caffeine does use a lot of water.”
In contrast, the sparkling water decaffeination process employed by Maximus is not only chemical-free and natural, but uses comparatively less water. Here’s how it works: the beans are first conveyed through a set of cleaners to remove the silver skin and dust, and then are moisturized using steam and ultra-pure water. After the moisturizing step, the beans are transferred to an extraction vessel, where the beans make contact with ultra-pure water and natural carbon dioxide injected at up to 4500 psi (pounds per square inch) in a sophisticated process that was originally developed in conjunction with the engineering expertise of Foster Wheeler. “The complexity of this fully automated process required a $100 million investment back in the 1980s,” de Aldecoa explains. “We’re the only facility in North America with this capability.” The pressurized fluid moves through the bed of wet beans, removing only the caffeine from the coffee. After a preset amount of extraction time, the beans are discharged from the extraction vessel to the dryers, where they are gently dried and then cooled. The caffeine-laden fluid is sent to a depressurizing chamber to remove the caffeine so that the ultra-pure water and carbon dioxide can be reused in the next decaffeination process.
“The result is not only a naturally decaffeinated coffee boasting full, natural flavor and aroma with no lingering residue from chemical solvents,” de Aldecoa says, “but a product that is environmentally responsible and consistent with our commitment to green values and reducing our overall carbon footprint.”
Indeed, Maximus Coffee Group’s commitment to sustainability percolates throughout its operations. As an EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) Green Power Partner, an endeavor that promotes renewable alternative energy providers as a way to reduce reliance on fossil-fueled generation, the company purchases a third of its energy from alternative sources, primarily wind generation. In addition, Maximus uses energy-saving fluorescent light bulbs throughout the facility to further reduce its overall demand for electricity.
The company also employs energy-efficient practices within the manufacturing process itself. “There’s a certain amount of waste product created in coffee roasting,” de Aldecoa says. “Most roasters landfill this coffee waste. We recycle it; we burn the coffee waste to produce energy to heat our boilers. We not only keep the material out of the waste stream, we reduce our own electric power usage, which is not only a greener way to do business, but a way reduce our operating expense.”
The commitment to recycling extends to the glass jars used for instant coffee, cardboard boxes, packaging film and even reclaiming the water used during manufacturing for external cleaning. “All of these efforts not only benefit the environment, but benefit our customers, who can incorporate the EPA Green Power Partner label on their packaging. The label is a proven way to catch the eye of a growing segment of consumers who make purchase decisions based on ethical and environmental considerations,” de Aldecoa says.
He adds, “We believe packaging innovation is the next big opportunity for manufacturers to help protect the environment and our natural resources by eliminating both waste and potentially toxic materials present in traditional packaging. Currently, we are working with our suppliers to reduce the amount of packaging we use to contain and ship our products, and incorporate more recycled and reusable material into our packaging. In reviewing our entire packaging system, from raw material sourcing to transportation, we strive to identify opportunities to improve or add sustainable practices that enhance value both from environmental as well as cost savings perspectives.”
De Aldecoa stresses that Maximus doesn’t merely supply coffee product, but partners with its foodservice and retail customers to provide solutions that strengthen their brand identities. “Of course, it starts with the world-class processing, manufacturing and packaging of coffee that we provide. But it also means building a brand. As consumer tastes change and brand owners seek to differentiate their brands against strong competition, we are eager to work with our customers to ensure they remain competitive long-term. We take this challenge seriously and view it as a way that we can differentiate our company as the best partner available to support and contribute to customer success.”
For decaffeinated product, chemical-free is a big distinguishing feature, particularly among health-conscious consumers who enjoy a good cup of coffee with added stimulus. This explains why Maximus ships about 60 million pounds of bulk decaf a year.
Another way to differentiate brands is to focus on a particular flavor or region. “Today, consumers can choose from a wide variety of coffee brands, varietals and blends,” de Aldecoa says. “They are more passionate than ever about having a perfect cup. We help our customers develop a unique blend or source coffee from a particular region to create a flavor profile that can be the perfect cup for certain consumers that will result in long-term loyalty.”
One particular area of growth is soluble product, i.e., instant coffee. “It’s a growing segment for our customers,” de Aldecoa says. “Convenience is always a big selling point among consumers, but instant coffee has always carried a stigma of being a second-class kind of product. We produce distinctive, high-quality instant coffees that stand out from the stereotypical expectation. Beginning with the careful selection of beans, we develop and monitor roasting profiles that maintain optimum flavor and aroma, with unlimited blending capabilities to match specific branding and packaging needs. Our processing technologies ensure that our customers can offer instant coffee that is not only convenient, but also rich in flavor and aroma.” In fact, Maximus is the only fully integrated private label instant coffee manufacturing operation in North America.
Employing about 450, Maximus is located in Houston’s east side, with more than one million square feet of warehouse and manufacturing space that is easily accessible both to the city’s port as well as 12 major railways. The manufacturing operation features 11 roasting lines for batch and continuous roasting, 22 customizable packing lines, and 45 grinding lines offering customers a broad variety and precise control of a coffee product that is unique to their private label and brand objectives.
The company also implemented Advanced Planning and Scheduling (APS) software, a proprietary computer system to automate production scheduling so as to cut operational costs, improve efficiencies and more accurately forecast outcomes. Planning coffee production is a challenge because of the time-sensitive nature of the product and the need for consistency in taste and aroma. With the APS software, Maximus improved its already reliable traceability capabilities that enabled the company to comply with the specific demands of today’s increasingly regulated food sector, allowing managers to make more informed decisions about distribution and supply.
With the knowledge and experience of three generations of coffee roasters, Maximus Coffee Group provides world-class facilities and services especially brewed to suit any taste.