Friday 20 September 2019

Bean counters: Researchers use maths to identify the perfect cup of coffee

Maths zeros in on perfect cup of coffee. Stock photo: ADA
Maths zeros in on perfect cup of coffee. Stock photo: ADA

Niamh Lynch

Researchers at the University of Limerick have discovered the equation of the perfect cup of coffee through the power of maths.

Dr Kevin Moroney and Dr Ken O’Connell, academics from UL’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics, and Synthesis and Solid State Pharmaceutical Centre (SSPC), have published their research on the mathematical models behind the essential work-day drink in the prominent US journal PLOS ONE.

Dr Moroney, who worked with partners in the coffee-brewing industry during the research, says that barista and manufacturers should use the “modelling to target and ensure that you can, as much as possible, repeatedly get the quality coffee that you are looking for.”

While you may not see your barista with a protractor any time soon, Dr Moroney said the goal of the research is to create maths equations that predict the quality of brewed coffee, based on the properties of the coffee grounds, the water used, and brewing settings.

If you give the same coffee to ten baristas, you will end up with ten different tasting drinks. Years ago this inconsistency was put down to the ‘art’ of making espresso. These days it is more likely to be attributed to the ‘science’ of making espresso,” the researchers wrote in the journal.

“What we are trying to show here is that the current standards maybe are not the best – and that you need to consider the uniformity of your extraction as well.”

The research focuses on changing how consumers rate the quality of their coffee: “When people are measuring the quality of coffee brews they measure two things – the strength of the coffee, and then they measure the amount of material that has been extracted from the dry coffee.”

“The problem with how they measure it is that it is just an average measurement – when they estimate the extraction level, they assume it is uniform across the whole coffee bed,” said Dr Moroney.

“With this paper, we were modelling the flow within the coffee bed to try and capture non-uniform extraction.”

“The paper shows that a greater understanding of the chemical dissolution and transport processes taking place in a single coffee grain, right up to the complicated fluid dynamics in the coffee bed, will all further assist in the hunt for quality and consistency in speciality coffee brewing,” continued Dr Moroney.

“This would, in turn, allow coffee manufacturers to develop machines that brew that elusive perfect cup of coffee.”

“With world coffee consumption steadily increasing, the demand on coffee appliance manufacturers to engineer a precise and reproducible process into their products is ever increasing,” Dr Moroney added. “However, the goal of providing brewers with a guide on how to control quality for variations in conditions, remains elusive.”


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