Wednesday, August 25, 2021

The chemistry of the mouthfeel of coffee

Via Inverse, a story from this week's Fall ACS meeting: 

Coffee can typically be tweaked with sugar or dairy to make even the worst brews somewhat palatable, but the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) specifically describes the mouthfeel, or body, of coffee as the “tactile feeling” of the drink your mouth without these amendments. This is the physical sensation that accompanies a sip — and the realization that your brew is thick and velvety, thin and delicate, or something in between.

On Tuesday at the American Chemical Society fall meeting, scientists revealed the chemical compounds responsible for causing the phenomenon.

They found small molecules, rather than sugars and lipids as believed, influence mouthfeel. The study team used a combination of chemical analysis and expert palettes to zero in on what compounds are responsible. Just as wine lovers can attribute certain features to specific compounds, now coffee fans can do the same.

Sounds like they used both tasters and prep-scale chromatography to separate out compounds that might be associated with mouthfeel: 

From this process, the team was able to pinpoint several different compounds responsible for telltale tactile sensations, including that compounds formed during roasting are responsible for the astringent component of coffee’s body.

These melanoidin compounds are caused by the Maillard reaction, which is the same reaction responsible for the caramelized-like exterior of a good steak.

I'll be honest - coffee is just a caffeine delivery device to me, and it's rare that I actually taste what I am drinking. But I'll bet I notice mouthfeel more than taste! 


  1. As a huge coffee snob with an extremely discernible palate when it comes to coffee, be glad you are happy with your coffee as only a caffeine delivery device and you can therefore get away with a relatively cheap coffee. I was like that in grad school, often drinking coffee through 7-8 PM just to drink it.

    A decade or so later, I'm here with a $3200 coffee grinder, a $1600 espresso machine with a few hundred dollars worth of modifications (which I'm kind of unhappy with its performance and am now looking at 3k-5k espresso machines), a $100 electric gooseneck kettle, multiple different pourover devices and their respective filters, aeropress and filters, and roughly $100 a month in coffee beans. Not to mention a dedicated notebook for just water mineral recipes to fine tune extraction of coffees for espresso and brewed methods.

    I often wish I never went down the rabbit hole and stuck with being "ignorantly" happy with Maxwell House...

    1. What about roasting your own beans? Have you ever tried that? There's another area to spend some money and master the art.

    2. Wine is the same way. I'm not knowledgeable enough to tell the difference between a $10 bottle and a $100 bottle, and I suspect I'm better off letting it stay that way!

    3. I have looked into roasting my own beans but I've found I only like natural and anaerobic processed coffees and those seem to be a bit harder to get as a "nobody" than a legitimate coffee roaster. Also, I have found a roaster whom I find to almost always have spectacular natural and anaerobic processed coffees (Methodical in Greenville SC) so I'm happy to support a small business who've had excellent customer service.

  2. this reminds me a story about decade ago, about cooling-tasting substance like menthol but devoid any minty flavor - it was identified in roasted malted barley. It is responsible for "cooling-roasted" taste profile of Guinness. The structure is N-pyrrolidinyl-substituted cyclopentenone; apparently that's what you can get from proline and glucose


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20