South Africa very nearly banned bad coffee – but instead gave chicory a new category

Business Insider SA
Not coffee
(Bombi Mavundza)
  • South Africa has brand new regulations on what is – and is not – coffee. They'll come into force a year from now.
  • The rules were going to outlaw anything with a bad taste being sold as coffee, and initially had minimum caffeine requirements too.
  • Those were dropped in the final version, published on Friday.
  • A new category of hot drinks now exists: "chicory and coffee mixture" – though Ricoffy still can't claim even that tenuous link to coffee.
  • For more stories go to

A bit over a year ago, South Africa set out on a course that would have seen bad coffee banned from sale, at least under that name.

But on Friday agriculture minister Thoko Didiza instead formalised a set of regulations that will allow some chicory drinks (though not Ricoffy) to retain the phrase "coffee mixture" in their marketing – and which allows for coffee without any minimum caffeine kick.

In 2019 the the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development issued its first draft of "regulations relating to coffee, chicory and related products intended for sale in the Republic of South Africa", under legislation that gives it the power to set standards for agricultural products.

That draft demanded that ground or powdered coffee must "have the characteristic coffee flavour and be free from any rancid or any foreign flavour".

It also proposed caffeine standards for some types of coffee, an anhydrous caffeine content of between 2.8% and 5% for ground coffee, for instance.

Anyone who pretended to sell "coffee" without the proper flavour, or without the requisite amount of caffeine, would have been liable for a fine or even prison time.

But the caffeine requirement did not make it into a second draft of the rules. And, in the final version gazetted on Friday, the requirement for coffee to be free from bad tastes has been dropped too.

Also shed along the way was a proposed rule that instant coffee must "dissolve in boiling water in 30 seconds with moderate stirring", and a strict limitation on what additives instant coffee may contain (first set to only processing aids and preservatives, but now including all food additives).

Still in place in the final regulations are minimum requirements on the amount of coffee that has to go into anything that claims to be a coffee-related drink. To earn the description "mixed coffee" or "coffee mixture", for instance, a product will have to be 75% ground coffee, while any "coffee and chicory mixture" must be at least half coffee.

Between first draft and final version, another type of drink was introduced: "chicory and coffee mixture". But that still does not cover Ricoffy, which despite the suggestive name is only one quarter coffee. In order to qualify for the chicory-and-coffee label, a drink must be at least 50% chicory – while Rifcoffy, with its high proportion of starch-derived dextrins, is only 32.5% chicory.

The new regulations come into effect on 30 October 2021.

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