Milk or sugar in your low-viscosity-liquid dynamic? Scientists seek the perfect cup of coffee

PHOTO: The Wall Street Journal

Coffee lovers have squabbled for centuries over the best way to extract juice from roasted beans. Drip? Perk? Steam? Pour-over press?

The Italian coffee magnate Renato Bialetti was so partial to the brew from his company's Moka espresso maker that, upon his death last February, his family placed his ashes inside one.

Now, after centuries of consumption without consideration, dozens of academics are pouring into this question, which mathematicians at the University of Florence call "the coffee problem."

10 coffee hacks you need to know

  • Pour some heated milk into your protein shake bottle and give it a good, strong shake. The metal mixer inside helps produce a nice foam for your lattes.

  • Gently heat two cups of sugar with two cups of water over the stove for a simple, flat syrup that you can add your own flavourings to. Vanilla extract, berries, fresh fruit or fruit extracts, your imagination's the limit.

  • Get your favourite ground coffee and mix it with water - coffee-to-water ratio should be 1 cup to 4.5-5 cups of water. Do this in a large container that comes with a lid. Pop the lid on and let it sit at room temperature for at least 12 hours. Once done, strain the mixture twice to get to get it as smooth as possible. Add ice, or milk, or whatever your heart's desire. This mixture keeps well in the fridge for up to 10 days.

  • Trying to cut down on that sugar? Replace it with cinnamon, and you are good to go. The spicy tinge to your morning cup is a nice bonus.

  • Hate how your iced coffee becomes coffee-flavoured water once the ice cubes melt? Just use leftover coffee in the pot to make "coffee cubes", and use those instead. Problem solved.

  • Mary Poppins used sugar to help the children stomach nasty medicine. If for some reason you find yourself not being able to handle the bitterness of coffee, a bit of salt takes the edge off, making your cuppa easier to drink.

  • Did you know that adding a bit of butter to your coffee actually gives you an energy boost on top of the buzz you already enjoy? Just reconsider the creamer and milk if you are counting calories, though.

  • The possibilities are endless. Fertilise your plants at home or at the office, make an exfoliating scrub for your face and body, place some in an open container to help absorb nasty odours; these are but some of the things you can do with used coffee grounds.

  • Divide your beans into amounts you can use weekly. Keep what you are currently using in an air-tight container and stow the rest away in the fridge. This will help preserve their flavour.

  • Taking a grapefruit with coffee actually slows the absorption of caffeine. This keeps the caffeine in your bloodstream longer, prolonging the buzz.

In recent papers they have examined the quantum mechanics of caffeine, the thermal properties of stovetop coffee-maker steam, the capillary action of the "coffee ring effect" and the low-viscosity-liquid dynamics of hot coffee. Some insist that aroma is the secret, others argue it is all about the ions in the water. One group of researchers attempted to calculate how long it would take to heat a pot of coffee by yelling at it.

Alfred Renyi, a Hungarian academic famous for both his love of coffee and his contributions to probability theory, once said, "A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems." A 2011 study by Dunkin' Donuts and CareerBuilder concluded that US scientists and lab technicians are the heaviest coffee drinkers in the country.

9 health benefits of coffee

  • Coffee contains caffeine, and caffeine is one of the few substances that has been found to speed up fat burn, especially in younger and leaner people. Studies have shown coffee to be able to spike metabolism rate by 3 -11%. To enjoy the calorie burn, skip the latte and go for black coffee. Cut out the sugar and milk to avoid unnecessary calories.
  • Ever downed coffee shortly before exercising? You would have felt a surge in energy and focus, leading to an improvement in speed, agility, strength, endurance, reaction time et. cetera, thanks to caffeine activating certain parts of your brain and nervous system. All critical to running faster, nailing a shot, or finishing bootcamp class in good shape.
  • Who knew that your daily cup of joe could help fight a chronic disease like diabetes? Several studies, including one in the journal Diabetologia, found that drinking at least three cups of coffee a day may reduce the risk of getting Type 2 Diabetes by up to 50%. Coffee contains many compounds that are known to reduce insulin resistance.
  • A study in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease found caffeine to be particularly useful in protecting against mental health diseases like Alzheimer's and dementia. When middle-aged coffee drinkers had three to five cups a day, their risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease dropped by about 65% later in life. Other studies have also shown a similar preventive effect for Parkinson's disease.
  • Coffee contains a particular ingredient that helps to prevent alcoholic cirrhosis (long-term liver damage from alcohol) by up to 80%, according to a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine. The effect was most pronounced in those who drank large quantities of alcohol.
  • Having four or more cups of coffee a day cuts your risk of depression by about 20%, says Harvard School of Public Health research. Caveat: The coffee has to be caffeinated. Drinking decaf, tea, soft drinks, chocolate and other beverages containing less caffeine doesn't produce the same effect. Now coffee is really your happy pill! (Photo: StockUnlimited)
  • It should come as no surprise that coffee has cancer-fighting properties, since coffee is loaded with antioxidants. In particular, coffee can slash your risk of liver cancer by about 40% if you increase your consumption by two cups a day, according to research in Gastroenterology journal. Coffee has also been linked to a lower risk of colorectal cancer in other studies.
  • A recent study published in the journal Stroke found that those who drank at least one cup of coffee a day had a reduced risk of stroke and heart disease. However, that benefit is negated for those who had seven or more cups of coffee a day, or if they were smokers. The bottomline: Leading an active, balanced lifestyle is still the key to staying healthy.
  • In a large-scale study that examined the relationship between coffee and risk of mortality, it was found that drinking one to five cups of coffee a day reduced the likelihood of death among more than 200,000 men and women. Researchers are unable to pinpoint the exact reasons, but they note that coffee contains many compounds that help to lower insulin resistance as well as inflammation levels in the body. of getting Type 2 Diabetes by up to 50%. Coffee contains many compounds that are known to reduce insulin resistance.

What's surprising about this effort to crack the coffee mystery is how resistant coffee seems to being cracked.

"It is the most challenging example of applied chemistry I have come across," said computational chemist Christopher Hendon at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who recently co-wrote a 134-page treatise on the effects of water chemistry on coffee. "There are a lot of variables that go into solving the perfect cup of coffee."

Read the full article here.

OTHER WSJ.COM STORIES:

- How Often Should I Replace My Office Coffee Mug?

- How to Order Oysters

- Where the Beers Are: A Regional Guide to U.S. Craft Brews

11 things you didn't know coffee could do

  • Give your dog a rubdown in coffee grounds after a bath, or mix them in your dog's shampoo for a natural deterrent against fleas.
  • Sprinkle coffee grounds around your plants to protect them against garden pests such as ants, snails, and slugs.
  • To provide nourishment to your plants and promote growth, mix some nitrogen-rich coffee grounds into the soil.
  • Cats are cute but if you're not into them, use some coffee grounds to make them stay away.
  • Coffee is a natural abrasive. Add some coffee grounds to your shampoo to remove oils and build-ups in your hair. The coffee grounds will also help to soften and add shine to your hair.
  • You can also sprinkle coffee grounds on your cleaning cloth to scrape away caked-on dirt on your kitchenware, counters, etc.
  • The abrasive nature of coffee grounds also makes them a great exfoliant. Just add some to warm water or your favourite beauty oil and begin scrubbing.
  • Does your fridge reek of a stench caused by an unidentifiable rotten product? Place a bowl of fresh coffee grounds in your fridge for 24 to 48 hours to absorb the odour.
  • Rub some coffee grounds on your hands after chopping smelly foods such as garlic and onion because soap just wouldn't do.
  • Pour used coffee grounds down your clogged sink or drain, followed by three drops of dish soap and a pot of boiling water.
  • Give your meat a rubdown in coffee beans, ground to powder, for tenderer meat and a smokey flavour. Check out a recipe for coffee-rubbed pork roast here.