Using spectroscopy to brew a better coffee

Monday, 04 May, 2015

Coffee: one minute we’re told it’s bad for us, the next that it’s practically a health food. New Australian research has added some more weight to the argument for java, demonstrating how free radicals and antioxidants behave during every stage of the coffee brewing process, from bean to brew.

Commissioned by Illycaffé and conducted by Monash University researchers, the research is reportedly the most comprehensive study on the topic to date.

Using state-of-the-art EPR (electron paramagnetic resonance) spectroscopy, the team observed the behaviour of free radicals in the human body. For the first time they discovered that, under certain conditions, coffee can act as an antioxidant - a compound in foods that helps stabilise free radicals.

Published in the journal PLOS ONE, the findings are expected to lead to a deeper understanding of the brewing process, as well as the potential health benefits of coffee.

“The most important aim of this research was to better understand the development of stable free radicals during the roasting process and the possible influence exerted by developed radicals on the well-documented coffee antioxidant properties. We also wanted to evidence possible coffee constituents as a source of antioxidant activity,” said Dr Luciano Navarini, chief chemist of Illycaffé.

Dr Navarini approached Monash physicist Dr Gordon Troup to conduct the research. Dr Troup was one of the first scientists to discover free radicals in coffee in 1988. The spectroscopy for this study was carried out by Dr Simon Drew at the University of Melbourne.

“Our research studied both the Arabica coffee bean itself and what happens to its stable free radical and antioxidant properties during the brewing process,” Dr Troup said.

“The findings provide a better understanding of the potential health benefits of coffee, as well as a deeper knowledge of the roasting process - ultimately leading to the highest quality cup of coffee.”

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