Brewing Good Coffee Takes Chemistry

I saw a post on Facebook that said “Coffee Is Life.” Not sure I’d go that far, but I do sincerely appreciate a good cup of coffee in the morning. If I encounter a bad cup, I will still drink it but I will be left wanting – and that stinks.

Within the last week I’ve come across two different coffee-snob dreams: A chemistry teacher applying science to craft the perfect cup of Joe and a well-known university offering a class to master the art.

According to Andy Brunning, the teacher I mentioned, there are plenty of tips out there on how to improve bitter, icky coffee, including the odd-sounding suggestion that adding a pinch of salt to coffee can improve the flavor. Science can help us explain how these suggestions might work – and how to make the perfect cup of coffee. Check out the Guardian article to learn more.

If you’re looking for more than a few tips to make delicious java, then maybe you should check out the newly refurbished Chemical Engineering Coffee Lab at UC Davis, home to the fall-quarter class titled ECM1: The Design of Coffee. The lab is one of the more popular classes on the campus with students able to get a new insight into their favorite hot drink through courses that use the roasting, processing and brewing of coffee to teach the principles of chemical engineering. According to the Daily Democrat article, students begin their lab studies by dismantling a coffeemaker to figure out how it works, then experiment with different techniques in roasting and brewing, measuring the chemical and physical changes involved. The course will end with a tasting competition: the object being to make the best-tasting cup of coffee from the same basic ingredients while using the least energy.


Traci Purdum is Chemical Processing’s senior digital editor and aspiring coffee connoisseur. You can email her at