Wine has largely defied quantitative analysis because of the many compounds that make up its aroma and flavor. Now, it appears that scientists have found a way to accurately predict the response of expert tasters to coffee aromas - can wine be far behind?
Scientists at the Nestlé Research Center in Lausanne, Switzerland, are reporting success in developing a system to judge the sensory qualities of a cup of espresso. Using a proton-transfer reaction mass spectrometer, which ionizes and analyzes the hot gases wafting above the coffee surface, the system can quickly predict what trained human tasters will say about it.
The aroma of roasted coffee contains as many as 1,000 volatile compounds, although a particular aroma can be defined and reproduced fairly accurately with about 50 or fewer. The system devised by Christian Lindinger and colleagues and described in the journal Analytical Chemistry does not rely on precisely identifying compounds but looks at how the mass spectrometry data differ from brew to brew. [From the New York Times - Scientists Finding Ways to Perfect a Cup of Joe, Without the Attitude by Henry Fountain]
The most interesting conclusion is that a relatively small number of compounds - sixteen, in this case - were sufficient to predict how human experts would describe the coffee's aroma. One would expect wine to be even more complex than coffee, but the prospect for validating human impressions is intriguing. Applications in blending, quality control, and so on seem more likely than bypassing expert tasters to describe a particular wine. (Via Neuromarketing - Simulating the Coffee Drinker's Nose.)