It’s true, I might like one or two of those.
A group at MIT developed a coating for ketchup bottles to have the ketchup easily slide out of the bottle. This sounds cool but trivial until you think about how much food gets wasted at the bottom of the bottle, etc. Naturally the formula is a secret, and patented, but you’d assume it would be somewhat related to teflon; some sort of superhydrophobic material.
Each morning, blurry-eyed physicists try to solve a frustratingly complex mechanical problem: how to walk with a full cup of coffee, without letting it slosh over the sides. Writing in Physical Review E, Hans Mayer and Rouslan Krechetnikov at the University of California, Santa Barbara, report their study of the biomechanics of walking with coffee and the factors that lead to spills.
The sloshing of liquid in a cylindrical container, like a mug, is similar to the motion of a pendulum: the natural frequencies of oscillation depend on the liquid’s height and diameter (and, of course, gravity). In a typical mug, 7 cm in diameter and 10 cm tall, the lowest frequency oscillation of the coffee rocking back and forth in the cup is easily excited by walking at a normal pace.
This gives an intuitive explanation of why coffee spills, but Mayer and Krechetnikov have found that noise—potentially caused by uneven steps or small jerks of the cup — plays an important role in amplifying the natural oscillations of coffee into a full-blown spill. They set up an image analysis program to track coffee levels in cups carried by human subjects, who were asked to either focus on keeping the coffee from spilling, or to walk without paying attention.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted, partially because I was in Mexico for a week, (didn’t get swine flu!) and partially laziness. Couldn’t really think up an idea for a post here, so why not ramble on (not be confused with ranting) about one of my true loves, coffee.
If you’re not already familiar with Lifehacker, it’s a great site, and they have a lot of DIY stuff, including some stuff on coffee. As I’ve read the site, I’ve developed a list of coffee to-do’s: DIY Espresso, adding herbal tea to coffee, cold-brewed ice coffee, and roasting my own beans. In fact, this is now my summer to-do list. Expect individual posts as each of these are completed. Feel free to chastise me for being flaky and unforgetful if I don’t.
As of recently, I’ve begun drinking my coffee black, and have started to order straight espresso. I still have milk and sugar every once in a while (mostly when it’s bad coffee), but I’ve begun to appreciate the deeper flavor of it. I started mostly cause it was harder to remember to restock milk, and I’ve never been a fan of those powdered non-dairy creamers. I don’t think I’ll ever go back.
I would love to make my own espresso some day, and it would be really fun to try and make some sort of espresso maker setup out of lab equipment. One day I really need to sit down and figure out the schematics for one, but for now I’ll just stick to making coffee in the lab, using a regular coffee maker. A french press when I’m just making it for myself, and don’t feel lazy; because making coffee with a french press is worth the effort.
Apparently an Aeropress is pretty similar to a french press, and takes less effort, so I should check one of those out. They get pretty rave reviews. (I guess this is another summer goal.)
That’s pretty much all I feel like covering, before I bid you farewell, I’ll leave you with a few more miscellaneous coffee links: a fun coffee cup from ThinkGeek, an amusing story from Not Always Right, and I highly recommend you check out Joel’s posts on coffee over at Infiniflux.
Best when you just drink it black
So many to-dos
I was in lab late on Wednesday night, and along with my Hawaiian Chicken sandwich and Nutty Bars from Vital Vittles, I picked up a can of Iced Regular Coffee, made by Caribou Coffee. I wanted to link to the product page, but I couldn’t find it on their site.
Note that the can says, a splash of milk. Milk drink with a splash of coffee would be a more accurate description. I don’t drink my coffee black or anything, I do use milk, but still this was too much.
The milk wasn’t the only problem, the coffee itself sucked. Let’s take a look at the ingredients:
Coffee: Vague, but okay.
Reduced Fat Milk: I prefer whole milk or half and half myself, but this works.
Sugar: Glad to hear they used real sugar.
Sodium Bicarbonate: Hmm. I found a few patents involving coffee and sodium bicarbonate, but this one says: “It has been common in the past to add sodium bicarbonate to milk-added coffee beverages in order to prevent milk coagulation. Sodium bicarbonate is used because it is colorless and odorless, and has little effect on flavor.” Okay, good enough for me.
Natural Flavors: I hate this, this does not count as an ingredient unless you tell me what it is.
Carrageenan: Perfectly normal sounding What the hell is this? Let’s go into this some more.
Wikipedia tells us: “Carrageenans or carrageenins are a family of linear sulphated polysaccharides extracted from red seaweeds.” Continuing on, “Carrageenan has also been used to thicken skim milk, in an attempt to emulate the consistency of whole milk. This usage did not become popular. It’s used in some brands of soy milk.” Ah ha!
Wait, Wikipedia also tells us (with no cited references, however) that it’s also used as a sexual lubricant and microbicide, “Laboratory studies suggest that carrageenans might function as topical microbicides, blocking sexually transmitted viruses such as HPV and herpes, though not HIV.”
And there’s more, according to a 2006 study published in the American Journal of Physiology, “exposure of human intestinal epithelial cells to carrageenan triggers a distinct inflammatory pathway”.
Not only does the coffee have too much milk, and taste like crap, it might invoke an immunological response in my GI tract. Oh, but on the plus side, if I’m out of anti-STD lube, I can dip my junk into the coffee. Worst purchase ever.
Lindinger’s group at the Nestle Research Center in Switzerland published a study back in March 2008 in Analytical Chemistry about analyzing coffee with mass spec. I read about this on Engadget then promptly forgot about it. I even gave a presentation on it for my Analytical class, only later to see this in my RSS bookmarks.
Basically by using PTR-MS (proton transfer reaction mass spectrometry) they did an analysis of different coffees. They emphasized that this was a data-driven study, not a chemical analysis study, because they weren’t necessarily analyzing the different compounds individually. Rather, what they were doing was taking the results of the mass spec, then combining them with the ‘results’ of a 10-member panel of coffee experts to create a model. So they just took the intensities of the different peaks (all the compounds that had 108 m/z, 110 m/z, etc.) and compared them to the ‘intensities’ of the panel ratings. A rough scheme is shown below.
The panelists rated the intensity of different qualities (coffee, bitter, cocoa, roasted, woody, cereal, butter toffee, acid, citrus, winey, and flowery) of the coffee. They ran a blind study, and the panel was able to produce reproducible results, so they apparently know what they’re doing. I would imagine they look something like this:
Once the model was created, they did PTR-MS on another set of coffees, had the panel do their tests, then compare how well the model was able to predict it. You can see in the graph below that they were pretty successful. You can see that there are only 8 qualities below; they decided to scrap a few qualities, but didn’t really explain why. The ones that they got rid of were: winey, flowery, cereal. You can assume that they took those out because they didn’t fit with the model as well, and that’s probably because those qualities are made up. Nobody drinks coffee and thinks, oh that was nice and flowery. But not winey enough. Nonsense.
I’d like to see them create a model that determines if coffee is good or bad. Sure, that’s even more arbitrary, but it’s more useful. Then we could take samples from a bunch of different coffee shops, and finally scientifically prove that Starbucks’ coffee blows.
Lindinger, C., Labbe, D., Pollien, P., Rytz, A., Juillerat, M., Yeretzian, C., Blank, I. (2008). When Machine Tastes Coffee: Instrumental Approach To Predict the Sensory Profile of Espresso Coffee. Analytical Chemistry, 80(5), 1574-1581. DOI: 10.1021/ac702196z