There's a part of the popular Breaking Bad TV show where they discuss making very good coffee in an advanced drug laboratory. They mention a specific temperature and you can see some apparatus. Does anyone here know how accurate that segment of the show is, and whether there is a specific optimum process for making coffee which would ensure perfect coffee, even if it's not something you'd necessarily be able to reproduce at home?
1Though the actual apparatus is debunked, I see it as a metaphor for optimizing the preparation of coffee; compare the precise parameters for making IENI "certified" espresso. It also brings up some tangible questions, e.g. brewing temperature, or with pressure/vacuum, or others yet to be asked. But I maintain there is no optimum nor perfect method for brewing coffee! Except that which is optimal based on personal preference.– hoc_ageFeb 20, 2015 at 14:58
For safety reasons it would be a bad idea to drink fluids found in the lab.– Peter HMar 4, 2016 at 16:54
All coffee preparations can be improved with an application of science! Simply by monitoring and carefully controlling conditions such as water temperature, brew-time, grind etc., you can improve the taste of your coffee. No doubt with the array of instruments available to them in Breaking Bad they could have done a fine job of this!
As for the aparatus, this Chemistry Stack Exchange answer goes into a lot of detail. It seems a vacuum pump is being used to boil the water at a lower temperature than otherwise. This setup might be a bit beyond what non-chemists are able to construct though!
If you want to pretend you're in Breaking Bad while making your cup of coffee without a PhD in Chemistry, the closest you're going to get is with a Chemex flask:
It's basically pour-over drip coffee, albeit with proprietary, thicker filters that change the taste of the coffee (by removing more of the oils).
Using science to brew the "perfect coffee" is still fairly subjective...
Each scientist may be able to brew, to their own palate, a perfect cup. But palates being what they are, each cup and each method would be different.
The alternative would be to run a series of trials with focus groups to see which coffees tested "best". And here danger lies...
Arguably some of the worst coffee ever produced came from coffee manufactures and retailers using the focus group method. Because their focus was a mass market they tried to divine what was palatable to the largest audience and tried to produce "a perfect coffee" when what they probably should have been doing was trying to find "perfect coffees".
Malcolm Gladwell gave an excellent Ted Talk entitled:
Choice, happiness and spaghetti sauce
I would really encourage you to watch the whole talk but here's an excerpt that makes the point pretty well:
About 15 minutes in...
And the reason we thought that -- in other words, people in the cooking world were looking for cooking universals. They were looking for one way to treat all of us. And it's good reason for them to be obsessed with the idea of universals, because all of science, through the 19th century and much of the 20th, was obsessed with universals. Psychologists, medical scientists, economists were all interested in finding out the rules that govern the way all of us behave. But that changed, right? What is the great revolution in science of the last 10, 15 years? It is the movement from the search for universals to the understanding of variability. Now in medical science, we don't want to know how necessarily -- just how cancer works, we want to know how your cancer is different from my cancer. I guess my cancer different from your cancer. Genetics has opened the door to the study of human variability. What Howard Moskowitz was doing was saying, this same revolution needs to happen in the world of tomato sauce. And for that, we owe him a great vote of thanks.
I'll give you one last illustration of variability, and that is -- oh, I'm sorry. Howard not only believed that, but he took it a second step, which was to say that when we pursue universal principles in food, we aren't just making an error; we are actually doing ourselves a massive disservice. And the example he used was coffee. And coffee is something he did a lot of work with, with Nescafe. If I were to ask all of you to try and come up with a brand of coffee -- a type of coffee, a brew -- that made all of you happy, and then I asked you to rate that coffee, the average score in this room for coffee would be about 60 on a scale of 0 to 100. If, however, you allowed me to break you into coffee clusters, maybe three or four coffee clusters, and I could make coffee just for each of those individual clusters, your scores would go from 60 to 75 or 78. The difference between coffee at 60 and coffee at 78 is a difference between coffee that makes you wince, and coffee that makes you deliriously happy.
Yes, there is absolutely an optimal temperature, not as much for brewing coffee, I believe, but for drinking it. Perfect brewing would deliver coffee slightly above optimal drinking temperature. Makers that can consistently deliver 200 degree coffee are considered the best machines.
EDIT: Apparently, that sweet spot applies to the brewing, not just consumption. While you will see people refer to using boiling water as "burning" the coffee, it seems that, at boiling temperature, the mix of flavors and oils gets extracted too rapidly, bringing out too many of the less pleasant, bitter flavors and oils, leaving an unpleasant taste.
When brewing coffee, the sweet-spot for water temperature is around 202-206 degrees Fahrenheit. ... Since boiling water is a little too hot, pouring the boiling water directly onto the coffee grounds can cause them to extract too much too early, leaving a bitter taste in your cup.