Monday 20 February 2017

The secret to the perfect cup of coffee could be as easy as 1, 2, 3

Published 15/11/2016 | 15:24

Lead author Kevin Moroney of University of Limerick, left, and Dr William Lee measuring coffee concentration using a refractometer.

The secret to making the perfect cup of coffee could be in the numbers, new research shows.

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New research carried out at the University of Limerick has shown that using maths can equate to the perfect cappuccino, latte or whatever coffee you like.

Advanced mathematical analysis of a set of variables revealed that the size of the coffee grain is critical, among other factors.

“There are about 2,000 chemicals in coffee, making it as complex as wine,” said co-author of the research, Dr William Lee.

Lead author Kevin Moroney of University of Limerick, left, and Dr William Lee measuring coffee concentration using a refractometer.
Lead author Kevin Moroney of University of Limerick, left, and Dr William Lee measuring coffee concentration using a refractometer.

“What makes the best coffee is hideously complicated – from the shape of the filter, to the scale of a single grain, to the flow rate of water and which machine or tool is used, there are an enormous number of variables”.

“But maths is a way of revealing hidden simplicity. By using mathematical analysis, we can begin to tell the story of which elements and in what order lead to the best coffee – we are now one step closer to the perfect cup of coffee,” he explained.

The team are working to develop a theory of coffee brewing that could be used in the design of coffee machines, similar to how theories of fluid and solid mechanics are used to design aeroplanes and racing cars.

“One of the many challenges that have to be overcome to develop such a theory is to understand the effect the grind size has on the extraction of coffee,” explained Dr Lee.

“Our model shows that this can be understood in terms of the grind size controlling the balance between rapid extraction of coffee from the surface of grains and slow extraction from the interior of coffee grains."

“This not only explains qualitatively why grind size plays such an important role in determining the taste of coffee but also quantifies that relationship through formulas. These formulas could allow fine tuning the design of a coffee machine for a particular grind size."

The research, carried out by a group from Mathematics Applications Consortium for Science and Industry at University of Limerick, is published in SIAM Journal on Applied Mathematics today.

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