I was sitting at my desk this week, furiously bashing the keys to produce an article for a 5pm deadline, when a familiar smell caught my nostrils and my attention. It was the all too familiar and tantalising aroma of a fresh pot of coffee wafting across the office. It’s not just the smell of brewed coffee that I love, either, but the rich aroma of fresh ground beans, too.I think I might love the way coffee smells even more than its taste!And I’m not alone. In fact, a lot of people I speak to who have yet to discover their love for the taste of coffee (give it time…;)), admit that they still love the smell. If you can make coffee taste as good as it smells, then, maybe you’ve truly arrived at #betterofficecoffee!So this week, I decided to put my science hat back on and find out just why coffee smells so darn good?!
What Creates the Coffee Smell?.
Now, forgive me if I wade too deep into the chemistry in this column. I’ll try to explain the science as concisely and simply as possible, but the fact is that the answer to the question ‘Why does coffee smell so good?’ is far from simple. As the graphic below by Compound Chem illustrates, a complex collection of (at last count) almost 800 compounds are responsible for the aroma of coffee!
Infographic Courtesy Compound Interest
Small, light and volatile organic compounds that easily evaporate at room temperature and pressure are responsible for the airborne aromas of freshly brewed coffee. They are typically produced by the reactions between proteins and sugars and the degradation and decomposition of other compounds during the roasting process.
You don’t need to know all 800 compounds to understand why coffee smells so great, though. They can be broken down into a few classes. Pyrazines, for example, are the aromatic compounds that contribute most to the roasted, walnutty, toast-like aromas in coffee, while the pyrroles can be credited with its sweet, caramel and mushroom-like smells.
That’s about as simple as I can make what is quite complex chemistry (way beyond my GCSE level!), but I think the most important thing to know in the context of your better office coffee is that coffee aroma is directly linked to the quality of the coffee beans:
“coffee aroma is the most important attribute to specialty coffee… instant coffee lacks most of the aromatic volatile compounds causing a dramatic decrease in the overall coffee flavour”
That’s why if you want to have better smelling as well as better tasting office coffee, then you need to be selective about the coffee beans and brewing processes you use.