How do you get the perfect cup of coffee? Here’s the secret

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The secret to brewing the perfect cup of coffee, which could save coffee shops thousands of pounds, has been discovered – not by baristas, but by mathematicians and physicists.

A team of researchers, including Jamie Foster, a mathematician at the University of Portsmouth, have debunked the assumption that finer grains make for better coffee.  

In a study published in the journal Matter, they found that fewer beans ground more coarsely created a drink that is cheaper to make, more consistent from shot to shot, and just as strong.

Dr Foster and his colleagues set out wanting to understand why two shots of espresso, made seemingly in the same way, can sometimes taste different. 

They began by creating a new mathematical theory to describe extraction from a single grain, many millions of which make up what is known as the coffee bed, which water is poured over to make coffee. 

Dr Foster said: “In order to solve the equations on a realistic coffee bed you would need an army of supercomputers, so we needed to find a way of simplifying the equations.

“The conventional wisdom is that if you want a stronger cup of coffee, you should grind your coffee finer. This makes sense because the finer the grounds mean that more surface area of coffee bean is exposed to water, which should mean a stronger coffee.”

But, when the researchers began to look at this in detail, they found coarse grains were more reliable cup to cup. 

“When beans were ground finely, the particles were so small that in some regions of the bed they clogged up the space where the water should be flowing,” Dr Foster said.

“These clogged sections of the bed are wasted because the water cannot flow through them and access that tasty coffee that you want in your cup. If we grind a bit coarser, we can access the whole bed and have a more efficient extraction.

“It’s also cheaper, because when the grind setting is changed, we can use fewer beans and be kinder to the environment.

“Once we found a way to make shots efficiently, we realised that as well as making coffee shots that stayed reliably the same, we were using less coffee.”

The new recipes have been trialled in a small US coffee shop over 12 months and they have reported saving thousands of dollars. 

Estimates indicates that scaling this up to encompass the whole US coffee market could save over $US1.1bn (£840 million) dollar per year.

While previous studies have been done with drip coffee, this is the first time mathematicians have used theoretical modelling to study the science of the perfect espresso.

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