Category Archives: Science

Testing: Steaming Lactose Free Milk

We had a viewer query regarding lactose free milk: Was his inability to get great microfoam caused by the nature of the lactose free milk or did he just need to practice more? Milk is magically (OK, scientifically) transformed into lactose-free with the addition of the lactase enzyme, which will break down the lactose before you get your paws on it. Does this change on the molecular level inhibit the the milk’s frothiness?

Watch Gail test it out on the Saeco Xelsis superautomatic to see how well it performs.

Testing Freezer-Stored Coffee Beans

One of the most frequent questions that we’re asked is regarding how to best store coffee beans in order to keep them fresh. We have done several videos testing how beans hold up over time in their roast bags or a container such as the Airscape, but how about the oft-recommended freezer storage? How do beans perform after being frozen?

We put a couple of bags in the freezer back in October 2010 and then pulled them out of the vault three months later. Watch as Gail pulls shots using one bag that was completely sealed and another bag that was opened and then folded closed using the bag’s tabs.

Crema Stability Testing

Unless the roaster is using some type of preservative measure (such as the nitrogen flush used by large roaster Lavazza), coffee starts aging within its sealed bag from the moment it’s roasted. We set aside bags from March and June batches of Velton’s Bonsai Blend to compare the aged coffee against coffee roasted last week.

Check out our test and take a moment to appreciate our dedicated commitment to science — we tasted some seriously nasty shots for the team, people!

New! Cirqua AB Formula Water Treatment Capsules

The SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) recommends 1.15% – 1.35% coffee solids for an ideally flavored cup of coffee. That leaves ~98% of the flavor up to the water itself — something not a lot of people talk about. Some folks want to reduce the descaling maintenance required by using distilled water or water that is put through a reverse osmosis system that has no mineral content in it, meaning it won’t contribute to scale build up on the equipment.

But thorough testing by scientists much more focused on this than us has revealed that the ideal mineral content for coffee is 150 parts per million (ppm) of total dissolved solids (tds). More than that and you run the risk of under-extracting the coffee (basically, there’s not enough allowable space in the water for the coffee particles to be absorbed) and less than that means you can likely over-extract (there’s too much space and it takes on too many coffee particles).

Commercial coffee operations invest in high end water treatment systems that will ensure they’re using the best possible water/mineral balance to easily make excellent coffee. This is of particular concern to large chains that have cafes in different cities as they can’t rely on the local water’s tap to be the same across the board. Companies such as Cirqua came along to address this issue for cafes, but they understood that most folks that wanted to make coffee at home just weren’t going to invest in a high end filtration system.

So they developed this easy-to-use solution that you can employ at home: Add the two capsules (per dosage) to one gallon of distilled water and you have the perfectly balanced mineral water to make an awesome cup of coffee. We tested it out at the store, check out our results:

New! Everything but Espresso – Scott Rao

In follow-up to his seminal work on professional espresso preparation, The Professional Barista’s Handbook, Scott Rao takes on all the other forms of coffee brewing and gives them their day in the sun. Broken up into three main parts, and supported by a thorough reference bibliography for folks that want to read more, Everything but Espresso covers the following:

  • Part One: Coffee extraction, measurement and methods on improving flavor by changing the brewing parameters
  • Part Two: How to achieve optimal flavor via different brew methods (such as drip, pour over, press pot, steeping and vacuum pot)
  • Part Three: Proper water chemistry and bean storage

If you’re either an espresso aficionado who wants to spread their wings or someone who cherishes their old press pot, this book is the definitive guide to making the best possible brew at home.

Better Living Through Chemistry: Caffeine

We get so wrapped up in the cornucopia of flavors it offers that we sometimes forget that coffee is also a drug delivery device. Caffeine is widely consumed around the world and is the stimulant of choice for many folks in the morning to get their day going or for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up.

Like so many things in life these days, the geeks have taken the intake of caffeine to the limit and devised a guide on how to get the most out of it. This is a fun and fact-filled read that will teach you some tips on how to keep your caffeine use high and tight.

Health Watch: Caffeine & Cataracts

The caffeine contained in your daily dose of java may play a part in keeping your eyes in check. A recent study at the University of Maryland School of Medicine found that caffeine might provide protection against the lens damage that can lead to the formation of cataracts.

They engaged in two different studies:

The team studied the oxyradical effects in vitro by incubating mice lenses in medium exposed UVA in the presence of kynurenine with and without caffeine. In vivo studies were conducted in rats by incorporating caffeine with galactose in their diet. In both cases, caffeine was found to be effective in protecting the lens against damage. (Source)

Yet another reason to enjoy your morning cuppa — if you needed another one, that is.

Field Trip: Gail & Kat Take on the SCAA Main Event

No, there weren’t any wrestlers present, but there was a high concentration of coffee related ninjas on the floor. Last week, we were lucky enough to head down to Anaheim, CA, for the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s Main Event, which is a specialty coffee industry educational and trade show that covers everything from coffee growers to roasters to equipment suppliers to mad skilled baristas. This year, it also hosted the United States Barista Championship — with Mike Phillips of Intelligentsia defending and re-securing his title. He’ll be heading out to compete with the rest of the national barista champs from around the world at the SCAE (Specialty Coffee Association of Europe) event this summer in the UK.

But back to the show. We attended a few different lectures, talked with many of our vendors on the trade show floor, watched Midwest Barista Champ Mike Marquard compete in the USBC semi-finals and even headed to a little partay that Intelligentsia, La Marzocco and Espressi (makers of the MyPressi TWIST) were throwing at Intelligentsia’s roastery in L.A. Yes, Grammy got her groove on.

In this video, Gail talks to us about what she learned from the lectures we attended, discusses some new products we saw  and even shares with us her new love for TWIST-inspired cocktails.

Health Watch: Dark Roast = Tummy Friendly?

Having GI distress after a cup of coffee is more than enough reason for some folks to swear off the stuff. Like so many things around food and how our bodies process it, the subject of what causes such distress is often up for debate. Edwin Martinez of Hario USA & Finca Vista Hermosa posited that the negative reactions to coffee could be based in rancid oils or over-roasted beans. Some folks think that maybe it’s just sheer acidity in the bean itself.

But a new group of scientists who are studying the nutritional benefits of processed foods versus totally raw foods have found that a stomach-friendly compound called N-methylpyridinium (NMP) that appears in coffee beans only after the roasting process actually decreases the amount of acid that stomach cells produce in response to coffee. To test out stomach cell reaction to coffee, they used a combination of water and solvents to extract compounds from some different coffee blends, then exposed them to the cells. Except for NPM, the cells increased their acid production in response to the compounds.

So maybe darker roasts aren’t going to give you the same rainbow of flavors that a medium roast coffee might, but it may be easier on the ol’ tum tum — and if that’s a concern for you, choosing a darker roasted bean may be the key to you enjoying a cup of morning java.