Inside Your Cup of Coffee

I can’t live without my cup of Joe, but as I read through the book Uncommon Grounds, I find out more and more about this mysterious beverage.


Like how a goat herder in Ethiopia discovered it when his goats went missing. He found them jumping around, buzzed off the red coffee berries. Fast forward a few centuries, and we have coffee in every store on the planet. But what exactly is in a cup?


It all starts with a coffee berry. Too bad what we really want is nestled deep inside. Two seeds surrounded by a silver skin that’s hard to remove.

Acording to Al Rayan, there are many grades of roasting you can get from a bean. (Side note, when Americans first got hold of these beans, we liked them green. Then we’d roast them right before making a cup.)


The bitterness associated with coffee comes from the roasting. Think about licking a singed hunk of wood. Yeah, not so great.

The bitterness comes from O-caffeoylquinic acids, present in raw coffee beans. A light or medium roast dehydrates the acids to create various lactones and a pleasant bitterness that most coffee lovers adore. Keep roasting, and the lactones break apart to from 4-vinylcatechol, which goes through some more chemical steps to create compounds that give a harsh bitter that lingers on the tongue.

Once roasted, coffee beans can stay fresh for months. Once ground, however, and you have only about two weeks to make your coffee (key here, grind your own). But even after being brewed, the chemistry of coffee changes. Lactones become free acids, dropping the pH from between 5 and 5.2 down to a 4.6. This shifts the acidity from a green bean level to that of a tomato.


The longer you keep your coffee hot, the more sour and bitter it will taste.

Although many studies have found antioxidant qualities in coffee, you could be canceling these out by adding cream or sugar. A study by a fella named Crozier showed that adding cream to strawberries slowed the absorption of antioxidants. So if you want the best health benefits from java, drink it black.

This fun video shows you some of the more interesting compounds in the aroma of coffee. Check it out.

Happy drinking, and check out my Pinterest collection of all things coffee.

Tim Kane

How My Coffee Purchases Border on Illicit Drug Deals

I am a coffee snob. There. I said it.

I fool my students into thinking I love Starbucks. I do appreciate the gift cards, though mostly for their sugary treats. Honestly, Starbucks coffee tastes like dirt lit on fire. You doubt me? Try a cup black. No sugar. No milk. No chocolate. Yeah, not so good. Starbucks isn’t a coffee dealer. They’re a sugar and chocolate dealer.

Over the years I’ve tried all sorts of coffee from all sorts of vendors. Now, I can hardly drink most coffees. I can taste the artificial flavor drizzled over the beans. Yuck. Long ago I loved Kona coffee because that’s what my parents drink. I would probably go back to that if I didn’t have another, if somewhat strange, alternative.

I discovered a unique Pannikins in downtown San Diego. I say unique because it was only Pannikin in name. The two ladies that ran the shop took over the site. They’re actually called Hessian Global Goods. They have all sorts of bizarre tea cups and coffee pots. They have a huge assortment of Day of the Dead knick knacks.

Now the coffee is astounding. They import from all over the world. They even have Blue Mountain coffee from Jamaica and St Helena coffee from Napoleon’s exile island. My favorites have always been the African coffee. Typically I get Uganda or Zambia. I know if it’s the coffee or their grinder, but the java is addicting.

Things were going well until the girls closed the shop due to skyrocketing rent. Since then (about a year now), I still by coffee from them. The process looks a little weird. I call the ladies up. (Like I will this weekend. Getting a little low.) We plan a meeting place. Typically this is a park. We meet up and make the exchange. I swipe my card through their phone, and they hand over a brown bag with two pounds of coffee. Yeah, it looks crazy. But the coffee’s worth it.

It may end soon. The ladies are planning on buying another shop. Mostly because all their non-coffee wares are wasting away in a storage unit.

Tim Kane