The Rings Speak

November 25, 2010

Save your coasters for research. Those messy coffee rings are annoying, but you’ll never look at them the same after you read this article. There is a message in the messiness, as the rings tell scientists much more than we can imagine. Eurekalert.org published the findings of several researchers that indicate coffee rings have applications that go beyond the ability to stain your wood more effectively. Indeed they may aid the development of improved printing techniques and industrial coatings, but also may aid in fabricating electronics, and even in the designing of new medicines.

Basically the latest research has brought scientists closer to framing a mathematical model that will help them to design processes by which they can control water droplet size and the hows and wheres of its being placed on a surface in conjunction with the rate of evaporation. Those coffee rings are composed of the particles left behind after the coffee liquid evaporates, a process that occurs throughout nature under many kinds of circumstances. Being readily available, coffee rings are now understood to be a helpful research tool.

Every day a new use is being found for coffee. Beyond the health benefits, there are more and more practical uses for not only the liquid itself, but also the aroma, dry grounds, wet grounds, evaporated grounds, used grounds, unused grounds...virtually any form of coffee has uses beyond the pleasure delivered in the drinking of the brew.

It’s gratifying to know that even the mess we leave behind can sometimes have value. But surely there are many of us who would prefer to enjoy the drink that creates the rings rather than put them under an electron microscope. We might enjoy comparing the rings made by different coffees and different roasts; for example, Turkish coffee vs a medium roast decaf, or Espresso vs a pod brew. It certainly seems to be something to contemplate though, before you wipe those little brown circular stains off your table.

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