You've Been Making Coffee Wrong Your Entire Life

What can you do to ensure a more perfect brew? ImYanis/Shutterstock

Madison Dapcevich 01 Oct 2018, 19:26

The Conversation

Why is it that coffee produced by a barista at a cafe always tastes different than the same beans brewed at home?

It may be down to their years of training, but more likely it’s their ability to harness the principles of chemistry and physics. I am a materials chemist by day, and many of the physical considerations I apply to other solids apply here. The variables of temperature, water chemistry, particle size distribution, ratio of water to coffee, time and, perhaps most importantly, the quality of the green coffee all play crucial roles in producing a tasty cup. It’s how we control these variables that allows for that cup to be reproducible.

How Strong A Cup Of Joe?

Besides the psychological and environmental contributions to why a barista-prepared cup of coffee tastes so good in the cafe, we need to consider the brew method itself.

There are many ways, though, to achieve a drink containing 1.2 to 1.5 percent coffee. A pour-over, Turkish, Arabic, Aeropress, French press, siphon or batch brew (that is, regular drip) apparatus – each produces coffee that tastes good around these concentrations. These brew methods also boast an advantage over their espresso counterpart: They are cheap. An espresso machine can produce a beverage of this concentration: the Americano, which is just an espresso shot diluted with water to the concentration of filter coffee.We humans seem to like drinks that contain coffee constituents (organic acids, Maillard products, esters and heterocycles, to name a few) at 1.2 to 1.5 percent by mass (as in filter coffee), and also favor drinks containing 8 to 10 percent by mass (as in espresso). Concentrations outside of these ranges are challenging to execute. There are a limited number of technologies that achieve 8 to 10 percent concentrations, the espresso machine being the most familiar.

Science helps optimize the coffee. Chris HendonCC BY-ND

All of these methods result in roughly the same amount of coffee in the cup. So why can they taste so different?

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