Scientists are discussing these questions - and many more - at the Third International Congress on Cocoa, Coffee and Tea, in Aveiro, Portugal, this week.
The congress offers an inter-disciplinary discussion for scientists researching three incredibly popular products: cocoa, coffee and tea. Delegates have come from 37 countries - showing the worldwide interest in these products, say organisers.
The congress is hosted by Elsevier the University of Aveiro. It has been preceded by the Nespresso Coffee Conversation Symposium, which focused on the quality of the coffee experience.
So what have coffee gurus been saying?
“You begin a consumer’s experience of coffee long before it’s brewed.”
Peter Giuliano, director of the SCAA Symposium, USA, explains the importance of the ‘cupper’ - a person who assesses coffee’s quality and taste.
“Language is extremely important,” he said. “When you describe as ‘strong,’ ‘intense,’ ‘sweet,’ ‘bright,’ ‘bitter’ - these are heavily weighted words. Once spoken, they influence the way people perceive the coffee.”
“Coffee is the second most sought commodity in the world after crude oil.”
Dr. Koushik Adhikari, University of Georgia, US, in his presentation: ‘Unraveling the grind: Do emotions influence coffee drinking?’
“Italian language has colonised the vocabulary of coffee history. Did you think about the word espresso, cappuccino? The other instance of colonisation of global language by Italian language is music:andante, pianissimo, fortissimo.”
Marino Petracco, Illy.
“What American consumers want is to feel they’re not alone. They want to be in the company of others, without necessarily having to interact.”
Melissa Caldwell, professor of anthropology at University of California, Santa Cruz, on American coffee culture - and why Starbucks’ ‘Race Together’ campaign was not the success it had hoped for.
In the campaign, Starbucks asked baristas to write ‘Race Together’ on cups and encourage people to start a conversation about racial issues.
But Caldwell says that American consumers expect a certain amount of privacy even though they are in a public space. They don’t want to talk to strangers about deep, complex issues.
“Coffee, cocoa and tea products are in a good position to target the healthy foods market.”
Vincenzo Fogliano, Wageningen University, The Netherlands, in his presentation ‘Dietary significance of the not digestible fraction of coffee (the melanoidins), cocoa and tea (polyphenols).
“I cannot change the beverage. Because that would be simply a miracle and I am not in the business of miracles. I am here to deal with physics.”
Georg Riedel, of the Austrian Riedel Glas company, on his company’s wine glasses. Riedel specialises in sensory evaluation, and research into how the shape and size of a vessel influences perception of hot and cold drinks.
“It’s possible to know a lot about wine and that creates a connection between product and consumer. With coffee, the connection is not so strong. Maybe coffee companies will think about this.”
Silvia Rocha, professor of chemistry at Aveiro University, Portugal.
“in summary, we can say the benefits - or at least null effects - clearly outweighs the risks of moderate coffee consumption.”
L.K. Pourshahidi, University of Ulster, in her presentation on ‘Risk-benefit analysis of coffee consumption.’
“At the end of the day, if it’s complex and bogs you down, you’re not likely to use it.”
Representatives from Red Jade explain their sensory analytics software.
“The consumer experience is difficult to mimic in a sensory lab. That is true for any product, but particularly for cocoa, tea and coffee.”
Paula A. Varela Tomasco, from the research institute Nofima in Norway.
“Food fraud is as old as food trade. There are many [pieces of] legislation going back thousands of years.”
Elke Anklam, JRC Science Hub, European Commission.
“One of the fascinating things about human beings is they’re unpredictable and always do what you don’t expect them to do.”
Melissa Caldwell, professor of anthropology at University of California, Santa Cruz.