Limerick researchers edging closer to the perfect coffee using maths

1 Aug 2019

Image: © chayathon2000/

UL researchers looking to brew up a scientific storm have shown that baristas and coffee shops can calculate the perfect cup with the right maths.

Some may consider making the perfect cup of coffee an art form, but researchers at the University of Limerick (UL) have turned to hard mathematics to find a scientific answer.

In a paper published to PLOS One, Dr Kevin Moroney and Dr Ken O’Connell worked with industry partners to argue that baristas and manufacturers need to find the golden equation to get the hot beverage consistently good.

“When people are measuring the quality of coffee brews, they measure two things: the strength of the coffee – that is just the amount of soluble material in the drink – then they measure the amount of material that has been extracted from the dry coffee,” Moroney said.

“The problem with how they measure it is that it is just an average measurement. When they estimate the extraction level, they assume it is uniform across the whole coffee bed. So with this paper … we were modelling the flow within the coffee bed to try and capture non-uniform extraction.”

The research showed that a greater understanding of the chemical dissolution and transport processes taking place in a single coffee grain – all the way up to fluid dynamics in the coffee bed – will bring us closer to getting a consistently good brew.

Now, the pair are attempting to create a mathematical set of equations to predict the quality of a brew based on the properties of the bean’s grounds, water used and brewing settings. This could lead to the development of machines that can brew the elusive perfect cup of Joe.

In their paper, the researchers wrote: “If you give the same coffee to 10 baristas, you will end up with 10 different tasting drinks.

“Years ago, this inconsistency was put down to the ‘art’ of making espresso. These days it is more likely to be attributed to the ‘science’ of making espresso.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic