The science of a great cup of coffee

Drinking coffee in moderation has been linked to a number of health benefits, including lowered risk of cardiovascular disease and a general decreased risk of dying too soon.

While the health benefits of coffee usually don’t differentiate between various types of coffee, not all coffee is created equal.

Ars Technica has summarised research around the beneficial chemicals found in coffee, and how to maximise them in your cups.

It looked at 4 components: caffeine, chlorogenic acids, trigonelline, and kahweol and cafestol.

Each of these chemicals offer a number of health benefits or trade-offs, with trigonelline, kahweol, and cafestol linked to the bitter taste of coffee.

Beans

A 2001 study looked at the two major types of coffee beans, Arabica and Robusta, and broke down their chemical composition.

Coffee bean chemical make-up, based on data from Ky et al
Coffee bean chemical make-up, based on data from Ky et al

Roasting

How the beans are roasted also contributes to the amount of beneficial compounds a cup of coffee contains.

More roasting leads to less chlorogenic acids per cup according to a 2013 study, so for a bigger helping of the beneficial phenolic compounds a lighter roast is recommended.

The research also showed that the freeze drying process used in instant coffee doesn’t destroy the useful acids, and Nescafé Green instant coffee showed the highest concentration of chlorogenic acids of all the blends and roasts tested.

Chlorogenic acid content by blend of coffee

Water quality, grinding, and additives

Another study found that “hard water” with calcium and magnesium ions was good at capturing the flavourful compounds in coffee, suggesting that clean, distilled water does not necessarily brew the best cup.

When it comes to grinding the beans, studies show that generally the more pulverised the beans are, the more you will get out of them.

For the brew, there are three factors that determine how much you get out of the ground coffee beans: pressure, time, and turbulence during the extraction.

The research showed that even though concentrations are higher in espressos, you will get more caffeine and other beneficial compounds in a full cup of coffee.

It also suggested that longer steeping times tend to extract more of the beneficial chemicals from the beans.

Milk and sugar should be limited to cut down on the calories per cup and maximise the health benefits, the report concluded.

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The science of a great cup of coffee