Science and coffee

November 14, 2011


I find it interesting that there is such a strong representation of scientists, or at least scientific minded people, in the coffee world. 



You have probably heard the phrase cooking is an art and baking is a science (which I mostly agree with). Before diving into the minutia of coffee preparation I considered coffee making to be more of an art than anything else. The deeper I dive into espresso, the more I realize that pulling espresso probably more of a science than an art. 



Making good espresso requires constant application of the scientific method. For example: You notice that your shot runs fast. You try to correct by updosing. The updose doesn't work and/or changes the flavor in a negative way. You start over. This time you grind more fine. The extraction goes smoothly and the shot tastes great. This is science at its most basic level.



Techniques are reminiscent of lab practices. I often find myself flashing back to chemistry or physics labs when I'm making coffee at home. The scales, the thermometers, the timers; for better or for worse it all feels very lab-like.



Whether or not the science-oriented approach is beneficial to good coffee is up for debate. I feel that taking a scientific approach to coffee is a good stepping stone to better, more consistent coffee. Consistency is the biggest obstacle that professionals and home enthusiasts face, and applying scientific methods and techniques allows for much greater consistency. I don't pull out the scale and timer for every cup of coffee or espresso, but those tools and techniques are especially valuable when dialing in a new bean.



I can see the artistry in some elements of the barista trade, particularly in milk steaming and latte art. I can understand the feeling that to analyze something so carefully detracts from the overall experience, but,  I still feel that a good coffee making is about good science.



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