Electronic Taster Has A Nose For Coffee

An "electronic taster" for coffee has been developed by Swiss researchers. The food industry regards machines like this as essential for good quality control. Coffee presents a real challenge; roasted coffee aroma is composed of more than 1000 volatile organic compounds.

(From Coffee tasting machine diagram)

The researchers started by having a team of ten trained human taste testers go over a set of samples, and assess the taste and aromatic qualities of the coffee. The espresso coffees selected for this study were blended mainly from different Arabica varieties with some Robusta. They used a Quantitative Descriptive Analysis, consisting of nine aroma and two taste attributes scored on a scale ranging from 0 (not intense) to 10 (very intense) for each product by monadic sensory evaluation. They expressed their judgment in terms like roasted, flowery, woody, and toffee.

The researchers created a device that would heat a sample of espresso and then analyze the gases released by monitoring the headspace over the device. The chemical information was then translated into the taste qualities used by the human judges. The result for each sample was a unique profile (see profiles below). The red colored outline represents the results of the human testing.

(From Coffee tasting machine sample profiles)
-red colored outline represents human test results-

The coffee-tasting machine research will appear in the March 1st issue of ACS' Analytical Chemistry.

Science fiction writers have been thinking about machines with a sense of smell for a long time. In his classic 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury created the chilling mechanical hound that guarded the fire station:

Nights when things got dull, which was every night, the men slid down the brass poles, and set the ticking combinations of the olfactory system of the hound and let loose rats in the fire house area-way. Three seconds later the game was done...
(Read more about Ray Bradbury's mechanical hound)

Another attempt to visualize sniffer robots and assign them a practical task is found in the 1985 movie Runaway by Michael Crichton. In the film, detectives use a four-legged sniffer robot to find and identify trace compounds at a crime scene (see Crichton's sniffer robot from Runaway).

If you have a nose for this sort of news, read on:

From When Machine Tastes Coffee: Instrumental Approach To Predict the Sensory Profile of Espresso Coffee [pdf] via Eurekalert.

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