Tag Archives: Science

Airscape Freshness Testing

What’s the best way to store beans? We’re often asked this question and we are performing  few tests to see how different storage methods keep coffee tasty and fresh — and for how long.

First up, we tested beans stored in the original roaster’s bag compared with beans store in an Airscape over a month period. Watch as we pull shots from each to determine how fresh the Airscape keeps the beans.

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: Hario USA – Coffee: Acidity vs. Bitterness vs. Rancid Oils

Folks will often ask us for info on coffee that has less acidity because they have a real problem with that and their GI tract. So when we visited Edwin Martinez at Hario USA, we posed this question to him because we figured that someone with his extensive end-to-end knowledge of the coffee world might have some good recommendations.

What we learned was that it might just be that folks are working under the misconception that bitterness is the flavor of acidity. In this video Edwin talks about acidity vs. bitterness — and how the culprit may also be rancid coffee oils. Yeech.

Vroom Vroom Vroom

With a lot of recent scientific data pointing to the adverse impact our reliance on fossil fuels is having on the environment, inventors, universities and entrepreneurs the world over have been tackling the issue of alternative energy in different manners. As we wrote about in 2008, the University of Reno had successfully developed a method for converting used coffee grounds into a form of biodiesel. At the time, the results weren’t mind-blowing — yes, it was feasible, but was it scalable?

Over a year later, the BBC1 show Bang Goes the Theory took the idea of turning coffee into a more explicit form of fuel by converting a 1988 Volkswagen Scirocco to use coffee as it test drives 210 miles from Manchester to London. Dubbed the ‘car-puccino,’ the project was taken on to accentuate the importance of experimenting with alternative energy. The catch, however, is the fact that the cost of the trip is between 25 – 50 times that what it would cost if petrol was used instead of coffee. Depending on coffee quality, the cost of the trip could be anywhere between about $1400 and $2800, compared to about $55 for a journey fueled by gas.

So, obviously, this may be a fun idea, but really not a great solution. Add to that the recent assessment by the International Coffee Organization that climate change has begun to severely impact the coffee growing regions around the world — which is contributing to the noticeable increase in the cost of coffee — and the idea of using java to power our favorite transport, digs and gadgets is even more ludicrous. But, we won’t slight them for trying — even if it was ultimately just a publicity stunt.

A Different Kind of Buzz

Addiction can be a lonely place. Whether we hide our vices or not — stealing a secret cigarette while the wife isn’t looking, sipping a sly cocktail at the end of the bar by ourselves or knocking back a few shots of espresso despite our doctor’s orders — it  can sometimes feel isolating. But we should take some comfort in the fact that we are, in fact, not alone. At least, not in nature.

Joining the ranks of our friendly Russian drunk chimpanzee Rostov (who was recently sent to rehab to break his boozing and smoking ways) are our favorite little pollinators: Bees! A study conducted by the University of Haifa found that bees had a preference for nectar that included trace amounts of caffeine and/or nicotine in it. When we first ran across this story, we thought, ‘of course, coffee cherry flowers would have caffeine in them’ but we were surprised to learn that nicotine and caffeine chemicals are found in the flowers of many fruits — even grapefruit (which has some of the highest concentration around)!

Scientists created synthetic nectar (which is comprised of sugars) that was neutral, had caffeine or had nicotine and then let the bees loose. They were able to then track the bees’ preference for the nectar with the caffeine or nicotine over the neutral, sugar-only nectar. The assumption is that this evolutionary development on behalf of the flowers in question was to create an addictive relationship, thus spurring the bees to visit often and spread the pollen far and wide.

So there you have it — the next time you’re ruing your addiction to caffeine, know that you are in great company.

(And, while it’s not often we wish we were a talented illustrator, this story should have been accompanied by an illustration of a greasy looking bee with a five o’clock shadow, a cup of coffee and a cigarette hanging out of its mouth. If you are a talented illustrator, there’s a free bag of Velton’s Bonsai Blend in it for you if you can draft something and send it our way.)