The hot chocolate effect

hot chocolate effect, Raphas

A ready prepared hot chocolate

This is an effect that reveals how sound travels in liquids. It enables us to understand the milk steaming process involved in making lattes and yet, it can be studied in your kitchen. It has an alternative name, “The instant coffee effect”, but we won’t mention that on this website any further. To study it you will need,

1) a mug (cylindrical is preferable),
2) some hot chocolate powder (no, instant coffee really will not do even if it does work)
3) a teaspoon
4) a wooden chopstick (optional, you can use your knuckle)

Make the hot chocolate as you usually would and stir. Then, remove the spoon and repeatedly tap on the bottom of the mug with the wooden chopstick (you could instead use your knuckle). Over the course of about a minute, you will hear the note made by the chopstick rise (not having a musical ear, I will have to trust that this can be by as much as three octaves).

resonator, mouth organ

The length of the pipes in this mouth organ determine the note heard. Photo © The Trustees of the British Museum

What is happening? Well, just like an organ pipe, the hot chocolate mug acts as a resonator. As the bottom surface of the hot chocolate is fixed in the mug and the top surface is open to the air, the lowest frequency of sound wave that the hot chocolate resonator sustains is a quarter wavelength. The note that you hear depends not just on the wavelength, but also on the speed of sound in the hot chocolate, and it is this last bit that is changing. When you put in the water and stir, you introduce air bubbles into the drink. With time (and with tapping the bottom surface), the air bubbles leave the hot chocolate. The speed of sound in a hot chocolate/air bubble mixture is lower than the speed of sound in hot chocolate without air bubbles. Consequently, the frequency of the note you hear is higher in the hot chocolate without bubbles than in the former case.

Let’s use this to make a prediction about what happens when a barista steams milk ready for a latte. At first, the steam wand introduces air and bubbles into the mixture but it is not yet warming the milk considerably. From above, we expect that the speed of sound will decrease as the bubbles are introduced. This will have the effect of making the ‘note’ that you hear on steaming the milk, lower. At the same time the resonator size is increasing (as the new bubbles push the liquid up the sides of the pitcher). This too will act to decrease the note that is heard as you steam (though the froth will also act to damp the vibration, we’ll neglect this effect for the first approximation). At a certain point, the steam wand will start to heat the milk. The speed of sound increases with the temperature of the milk and so the note will get higher as the milk gets warmer.

So this is my prediction, musically inclined baristas can tell me if there is any truth in this:

1) On initially putting the steam wand into the cold milk, the tone of the note heard as the milk is steamed, will decrease.
2) This decrease will continue for some time until the milk starts to get warm when the note increases again.
3) Towards the end of the process, the note heard on steaming the milk will continue to increase until you stop frothing.
4) It should be possible, by listening to the milk being steamed, to know when the milk is ready for your latte just by listening to it (if you are experienced and always use similar amounts of milk per latte drink).

So, let me know if this is right and, if it is wrong, why not let me know what you think is happening instead. I’d be interested to know your insights into the hot chocolate effect in a milk pitcher.

Reflections at Knockbox, Lamb’s Conduit Street

Knockbox, Knock box, coffeeKnockbox coffee is on the corner of Lamb’s Conduit Street and Dombey Street. It is a small place and we had to go twice in order to get a seat, though the compensation is that there are views all around the cafe (it being on a corner). I enjoyed a very good americano, made using Workshop coffee. Complementary jugs of mint infused water were dotted around the cafe which is always a nice touch. Sadly, I tried Knockbox just after lunch and so didn’t try any of the edibles on offer. This does mean however that I will just have to go back to try them at some point (and of course, to enjoy another coffee).

There were a lot of things to notice around Knockbox that day. There were the air bubbles in the water that had become stuck around the mint leaves. There were the light bulbs (that you can see through the windows in the picture). And there was the espresso machine: A gleaming piece of machinery that sat majestically on the counter. Looking at the espresso machine it was impossible not to be struck by the reflections from the surface. The reflections are not only testament to how much the staff at Knockbox must polish the machine; how reflections work is the subject of today’s Daily Grind.

espresso machine, metal, reflection

The gleaming espresso machine at Knock box

The interaction of materials with light is one of those fascinating areas that reveal physics at its most fundamental. I’ve often taught undergraduate physics students who are looking forward to learning about quantum mechanics because it is “weird”. This is true, quantum mechanics can be quirky, but electromagnetism (which is about light) can be just as odd. To get such elegant and surprising physics out of what is essentially all classical, nineteenth century theory, is one of those joys about learning about (and teaching, using and experiencing) this subject.

However, to return to the espresso machine and light.  How light interacts with objects reveals how the electrons are distributed in the material which in turn tells you something about the atoms that make up the espresso machine. (For how to experience electrons in your coffee, see Bending Coffee, Daily Grind, 26 Nov. 2014). As the electrons are electrically charged, they respond to light which is, ultimately, an oscillation of electric (and magnetic) field. Electrons in a metal are shared in an “electron sea” between all the atoms in the metal. Consequently, when light falls on a metal surface, the electrons can respond to the electric field oscillation of the light and they re-emit the light backwards as a reflection.

ImpFringe, #ImpFringe, Fox's Glacier Mints, linearly polarised light

Sugar rotates linearly polarised light. The ‘device’ above is made from layers of Fox’s Glacier Mints and 2 linear polarisers (eg. a pair of polarised sunglasses). Photographed at ‘Lit Up’, an Imperial Fringe event held at Imperial College London, that was free to the public.

On the other hand the electrons in the atoms of the plastic of the grinder (or the glasses on the top of the espresso machine) are held firmly to each atom. Therefore most of the light that we see will go straight through these substances with each atom acting to propagate the light forward but not able to completely block it for a reflection. Coffee beans too contain electrons that are held in place by the atoms in the molecules that make up the bean. Unlike the glass though, the electrons in coffee beans are held in atomic bonds that happen to have an “excitation energy” that is at a visible light frequency. Rather than let the light through, they absorb certain colours of light (more info in the Daily Grind here). The result is the opaque, deep brown of the coffee bean.

This year is the international year of light, a year which is intended to celebrate our understanding of light. There are so many light based processes occurring all around us at every moment. Why not stop in a cafe and see how many you can spot in your coffee cup?

Levitating water

V60 from Leyas

Time to look more closely at the surface of your black coffee.

Have you ever sat watching the steam that forms above a hot Americano? Beneath the swirling steam clouds you can occasionally see patterns of a white mist that seem to hover just above the dark brew. Bean Thinking is about taking time to notice what occurs in a coffee cup and yet I admit, I had seen these mists and thought that it was something that was just associated with the evaporation of the water and that “someone”, “somewhere” had probably explained it. So it was entirely right that I was recently taken to task (collectively with others who have observed this phenomenon and taken the same attitude) for this assumption by the authors of this paper who wrote “The phenomenon that we studied here can be observed everyday and should have been noticed by many scientists, yet very few people appear to have imagined such fascinating phenomena happening in a teacup.

ineedcoffee.com, espresso grind

The water particles in the white mist are a similar size to the smallest particles in an espresso grind. Photo courtesy of ineedcoffee.com, (CC Attribution, No Derivs). The coin shown is a US nickel of diameter 21.21 mm

The authors of the study show that the white mists (these “fascinating phenomena”) are, in fact, layers of water drops that have a typical diameter of around 10 μm (which is roughly the size of the smallest particles in an espresso grind). Although the white mists exist above tea and even hot water as well as coffee, they are probably easiest to see against the black surface of the Americano.

More surprising than the fairly uniform distribution of water droplet size though is the fact that the authors of this study showed that the droplets were levitating above the coffee. Each water droplet was somehow literally hovering above the surface of the coffee at a height of between 10 – 100 μm (which is, coincidentally, roughly the particle size distribution in an espresso grind).

white mists, slow science

You can (just about) see the white mists over the surface of this cup of tea (which is a still from the video below)

One of the questions that the authors of the paper have not yet managed to answer is what is causing this levitation? Could it be the pressure of the hot coffee evaporating that keeps these particles held aloft? This would explain the observation that the mists form patterns similar to those caused by (heat) convection currents. Alternatively perhaps the droplets are charged and are kept away from the coffee by electrostatic repulsion, an explanation that is suggested by the behaviour of the droplets when near a statically charged object (eg. hair comb, balloon, try it). Perhaps the levitation is caused by the droplets spinning and inducing an air cushion under them? Why not design some experiments and try to find out. It would be great if we can drink hot black coffee in the name of science. Let me know the results of your observations in the comments section below. In the meanwhile, here is a video of the white mists in tea, enjoy your coffee:

You can read the study at: Umeki et al., Scientific Reports, 5, 8046, (2015)

 

The Corner One, Camden

20 Oval Road, Corner One

The Corner One in Camden

While browsing London’s Best Coffee, I came across a recommendation for The Corner One in Camden. The Corner One is tucked away on a side street near Camden Lock. What a great recommendation. The café itself is quite small and could be described as ‘cosy’. As the name suggests, it is on a corner, meaning that there are plenty of window seats on which to perch while enjoying your coffee. We ordered an Americano and a Flat White (Nude roastery) and couldn’t resist trying their muffins (which were very good). The atmosphere in the café was relaxed and, in a nice touch, dotted around the room were a variety of potted plants.

The strangely leaf-less plant at the Corner One

The strangely leaf-less plant at the Corner One

After a while, our attention was drawn to one plant in particular that had no leaves on it, although the flowers themselves seemed very healthy. This observation reminded us of the importance of plant life (and leaves) in the global environment and the fact that this week, diplomats from 200 countries are meeting in Geneva to edit the text agreed at the Peru climate summit. Their aim is to get the text into a form that could become a legally binding agreement at the climate talks to be held in Paris in December.

Plants are an essential part of the ecosystem of our planet. They absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen during photosynthesis. Another important contributor to the world’s oxygen supply are algae, as I became aware when I went to a recent Café Scientifique at the Royal Society (free and open to all). Dr Sinead Collins of Edinburgh University was describing her work on algae and what may happen to them as the oceans become more acidic. (The audio recording of the evening is available here). Ocean acidification is a consequence of increasing CO2 in the atmosphere. As CO2 dissolves in the sea water, it forms carbonic acid thereby increasing the acidity of the oceans (for more information click here). This increased acidity affects the ocean’s plant and animal life in ways that we are only just starting to understand. The evening emphasised how important it is to address the issue of climate change before it is too late.

latte art, flat white art

What the plant lacked, the coffee made up for

During the meeting, Collins mentioned that she preferred the term “global weirding” to “global warming”. The term does indeed convey the fact that a large greenhouse effect would make the weather system highly unpredictable rather than merely ‘warmer’. We should expect odd weather if we continue to pump CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It is critical that the draft text currently being discussed in Geneva is agreed in Paris this year. We need a legally binding agreement to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Already our aim is very low; to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to a quantity that would limit the global temperature increase to not more than 2°C higher than pre-industrial levels. Even so, this modest aim occasionally seems too high.

Let’s hope that the diplomats in Geneva this week and then the world leaders in Paris from 30 Nov – 11 Dec, agree to limit our CO2 emissions to that we can continue to enjoy our coffee.

The Corner One can be found at 20 Oval Road, NW1 7DJ.

Of worms and grind

coffee ground, grind, composting

What do you do with your used coffee grounds?

What do you do with your finished coffee grounds? Feed them straight to the plants? Donate them to Biobean to be transformed into fuel? Or perhaps turn them into compost with a worm bin? Ground to Ground is a website dedicated to sharing information about what can be done with old grounds. My preferred option though is the worm bin. Each Chemex of coffee grounds gets put out into the “can-o-worms” compost bin ready to be transformed into compost and plant fertiliser.

I had thought that there could be very little connection between my worms (so to speak) and the Bean Thinking website. However, I recently came across an anecdote about Charles Darwin that, to me at least, unites some of what Bean Thinking is about with my can-o-worms.

can-o-worms, worms, coffee grounds, composting

The top layer of my worm bin. You can just see some coffee grounds but it is mostly cabbage.

Darwin’s last book was “The formation of vegetable mould through the action of worms” published in 1881. After Darwin’s death (in 1882), Edward Aveling (1849-1898) wrote about meeting Darwin years earlier. In “Charles Darwin and Karl Marx: A Comparison” (1897), Aveling wrote: “I remember, in my youthful ignorance, asking Darwin why he dealt with animals so insignificant as worms. I shall not forget his reply, or the look that accompanied it. ‘I have been studying their habits for forty years’.”

By studying what to others looks insignificant, Darwin had made huge progress in our understanding of worm behaviour. This has led to our current knowledge about the contribution of worms to the ecosystem and the benefits of composting our coffee grounds, both for our plants and our planet. It strikes me that we can all benefit from slowing down and noticing what seems insignificant.

Perhaps you do something unusual with your old coffee grounds? Maybe you have noticed something about coffee grounds and worm behaviour. Whatever it is, do let me know in the comments section below.

Rain drops at Notes, Covent Garden

Notes Covent Garden, rain, puddles

No one wanted to sit outside when we visited Notes at Covent Garden

It was a cold and wet afternoon in early January when I finally had the opportunity to try Notes (Covent Garden branch). Inside, there were plenty of places to sit while warming up and drying off enjoying a coffee. Although it seems small from the outside, inside, the branch feels quite open, with the bar immediately in front of you as you come through the door. One of the attractions of Notes to me, was the fact that I knew that they served different single estate brewed coffees. I think I tried a “La Benedicion” coffee, or at least that is what I seem to have scribbled in my notepad. We took a stool-seat at the window to look out at the rain as my coffee arrived in a 0.25L glass jar. It is always nice to try different single estate coffees and generally, if I know that a café serves single estate coffees I will seek them out to try them for the Daily Grind.

The reflection of the Notes sign board in a cup of tea

The reflections in a cup of tea

Watching the rain form puddles outside, my thoughts were turned to the reflections bouncing off the water in the puddle. It struck me that the appearance of puddles depends on the water molecules behaving both as individual molecules and as molecules within a group. The rain creates ripples in the puddle which can only occur because each molecule is (weakly) attracted to the other water molecules in the puddle, forming a surface tension effect. A ripple is a necessarily collective ‘action’. On the other hand, the reflection of the lights from the street is the response of each individual water molecule to the incoming light. The reflected image is made from the response of many individual molecules. Reflection is more of an individual molecule thing.

Warning sign, train, turbulence

Such turbulence should be familiar to anyone who has stirred a cup of coffee.

I continued thinking about this when I got home where it occurred to me that there was another connection between rain and coffee. It is often said that “rain helps clear the air”, or something similar. Yet this is not quite true. If you have a coffee in front of you at this instant, take a moment to drag a spoon through it. Note the vortices that form behind the spoon. Such vortices form around any object moving through a fluid. In the case of the coffee it is the spoon through the water. For the rain, as the rain drop falls through the air it creates tiny vortices of air behind it. Just as with the coffee spoon, the size of these vortices depend on the speed and size of the falling drop. These vortices pull and trap the atmospheric dust bringing it down to earth more quickly than rain alone could do. The air is cleaned more by this ‘vacuum cleaner’ action than by the ‘wet mop’ of the rain itself.

I’m sure that there are many other coffee-rain connections that you can make if you sit in a café as I did on a rainy day. Let me know your thoughts on this or indeed, on anything that you notice and think interesting while sitting in a café. There is so much to notice if we just put down the phone or close the laptop while enjoying our brew.

Edited to add: Sadly, this article was posted just as Notes Covent Garden was closing down. Notes still has branches at Trafalgar Square and in Moorgate and is opening new branches in Kings Cross and Canary Wharf in February I believe. Hopefully they will all serve single estate brewed coffee and have good window seats from which to observe the rain when it falls.

Getting my teeth into some latte art

LatteArt_CoffeeworksEach year, in the UK, there are approximately 160 000 hip or knee replacements. Additionally, many of us will have a dental implant during our lifetime. How is this linked with coffee? The answer lies in the differences between a latte and a cappuccino.

To support the artwork that can be seen on many a latte, the milk foam used for the drink is a fine “micro-foam”. It is quite a soft structure. On the other hand a cappuccino is more rigid, being made out of a larger foam structure. The different way that a barista froths the milk for a cappuccino compared to a latte means that the peak structures that can be formed in the cappuccino, are far more difficult to create in a latte, the cappuccino has more of a “meringue like” froth.

Joint replacements and dental implants were traditionally made from solid metal. This meant that the majority of the load that was put on the joint (by walking or chewing for example) was carried by the implant. It is thought that this was one of the reasons that joint replacements and dental implants eventually failed; the bond between the bone and the implant became progressively weaker in a process called “aseptic loosening”. In recent years there have been many improvements to joint replacements/implants so as to avoid these problems. One such improvement is to manufacture the implant out of a metallic foam instead of solid metal.

Cappuccino showing peaks in the foamJust like a latte or a cappuccino, the way that the metal foam responds to stress (and its rigidity) is dependent on many factors including the size of the bubbles in the foam and exactly what the foam is made from. (Imagine comparing a cappuccino with a soya milk cappuccino). By manipulating the structure of the metal foam, an implant can be made that behaves almost exactly as bone does when stress is placed on it. Together with the inherently stronger bone-implant bond created by the bone growing into the ‘bubbles’ of the implant foam, this is thought to reduce the risk of implant failure owing to ‘aseptic loosening’.

I am indebted to Michaela and Juan of Poppy’s Place for patiently showing me the art (and science) of making coffee. With good coffee (from Climpson & Sons) and knowledgeable barista-teachers, it is a place that I am sure that I will return to very soon. Michaela and Juan assured me that if I would like to see a properly rigid milk foam I should order a “babyccino”. There are however limits to the amount that I am prepared to ‘suffer for my science’ and the babyccino is it. If you would like to properly investigate the effect of bubble structure on the ability of an implant (dental or otherwise) to take stress, I suggest you compare a latte with a babyccino. If, like me, you like your coffee, a cappuccino will definitely suffice.

 

Red Door, Greenwich

Red Door Greenwich, Red Door

Interior of Red Door cafe, Greenwich

Red Door in Greenwich is a great escape from the bustle of the busy streets surrounding it. Although it was crowded when we visited, it was still possible to find a table and have a conversation without too much background noise. I had heard good things about Red Door and wasn’t disappointed. Good coffee (from Monmouth), nice cake and warm surroundings. Definitely a place to go to when in Greenwich. The music that was playing was coming from a record player in the corner. A proper turn-table playing vinyl records. Suddenly, there were so many possibilities for stories for a Daily Grind article. There was the fact that records are analogue based (as opposed to the digital CDs), or perhaps I could write about the physics of a valve amplifier and how it relates to the evaporation of water from coffee (some of the physics is very similar). However what I started to get obsessed with is: what would happen if you put a coffee on a record player?

Now, I am an experimentalist and I do have a record player at home but before I could say “what would happen if…” my plans for experimentation with the record player were blasted out of the water. So I had to make a model record player out of a rotating spice rack. This probably worked better as I could control the speed of rotation, though it did make taking photographs tricky.

record player, turntable

The record player at Red Door

So, what would happen if we put a coffee at the centre of a turntable? The movement of fluids in cups and on record players is extraordinarily complex and is indeed very far from my ‘area of expertise’. However, we can start to understand what might be happening in the cup by making some approximations. Our first approximation is that the coffee in the mug rotates as a ‘rigid body’, meaning that it rotates as a whole. As the coffee cup rotates about its central axis on the “record player” the coffee inside the cup will (eventually) also rotate at the same angular velocity (speed of rotation). The fact that there is a rotation means that there is a force acting on the particles in the coffee liquid. This force produces an acceleration that increases with increasing distance from the axis of rotation. Each coffee particle is of course also subject to the vertical action of gravity. The combined acceleration means that each particle is simultaneously being pulled downwards and inwards. As the acceleration due to rotation increases with increasing radius, the horizontal acceleration becomes increasingly dominant away from the centre of the cup. This leads to the familiar curved surface (a dip at the centre of the mug) that we see with rotating fluids.

vortices, turbulence, coffee cup physics, coffee cup science

This polystyrene cup was rotated about its axis before being stopped. The water inside continues to rotate causing turbulent layers at the edges. These have been visualised with a small amount of blue ink.

Yet we know that this cannot be the full story. If we suddenly stop rotating the mug, the coffee in the mug continues to rotate for a while but does not do so indefinitely; it slows down. We can understand this by refining our approximation that the coffee inside the mug rotates as a rigid body. In fact, the coffee is a viscous liquid and the viscosity means that the layer of coffee immediately adjacent to the mug walls will move at the same speed as those walls: Stationary wall, stationary coffee. The coffee towards the centre of the cup meanwhile continues to rotate for a while. Imagine suddenly stopping the record player so that the mug is now still but the coffee inside continues to spin around the central axis. Stress is being produced between the stationary ‘layers’ of coffee next to the mug wall and neighbouring ‘layers’ of rotating coffee. This stress leads to turbulence. We can make this turbulence visible if, instead of coffee we use a mug of water. Rotate the mug of water as before and then suddenly stop the mug rotating. As with the coffee, the water continues to rotate. Now drop a tiny amount of water soluble ink or food colouring into the very edge of the water (I used a cocktail stick dipped in ink and held against the mug wall so that a small amount dripped into the water). As the water continues to spin, the ink is caught up in the turbulence and the vortices it produces can be seen. These concepts of boundary layers and turbulence are important for many applications including weather systems and car design. We need to understand how liquids (or gases) flow past each other in order to predict the weather and we need to know how they flow past solid objects in order to make cars more aerodynamic. In the coffee however I think that this turbulence is one of those things that is worth just creating and appreciating. A great demonstration of beauty, art and science in a mug of coffee.

Please do share your pictures of these coffee cup vortices if you manage to create them, particularly if you are able to see the effect with cream in coffee. You could either write about your results in the comments section below or email me photographs of your coffee and I will include them on this page. As always, enjoy your coffee.

My thanks to Kate & Edward of Red Door for sending me the photos of Red Door.

Extra photos of vortices in a rotating coffee:

Rotating coffee

An attempt at visualising the vortices using cream in coffee. Not so successful though you can see at least 2 well defined vortices in the top left of the image. Introducing the second liquid right at the edge of the mug seems critical, not so easy with cream as it is with ink!

Joe’s espresso cafe bar, Victoria

radiant heat, heat loss, heat conduction, infra red, Joe's espresso cafe bar

The slightly ajar door at Joe’s espresso cafe

A few weeks ago I happened to be near Joe’s espresso café bar on the corner of Medway St. and Horseferry Road, with around twenty minutes to spare. Joe’s is an old-style independent café, very focused on their lunch menu and take away coffees. Nonetheless, there is a decent sized seating area in a room adjacent to the ‘bar’ where you can sit with your coffee and watch the world go by on Horseferry Road. It is always nice to come across a friendly café that allows you to sit quietly and people-watch. As I sat and watched the taxis pass by, I became aware of the fact that it had got quite cold. The people who had just left the cafe had left the door to the room slightly open; the cold was ‘getting in‘. Now I know, heat goes out, cold does not come in but sitting there in that café that is not how it felt. Then it struck me, rather than cause me to grumble, the slightly open door should remind me  of the experiments of Carl Wilhelm Scheele (1742-1786).

Scheele was a brilliant chemist but one who performed experiments that would make our university health and safety departments jump up and down spitting blood. Recognised for discovering oxygen in the air (Priestley discovered it a few years later but published first), manganese and chlorine, Scheele also investigated arsenic and cyanide based compounds. It is thought that some of these experiments (he described the taste of cyanide) contributed to his early death in May 1786 at the age of 43. Fortunately, none of this has a connection to Joe’s espresso café. What links Scheele with Joe’s, is Scheele’s discovery of ‘radiant heat’ as he was sitting in front of his stove one day.

Open fire, Carl Wilhelm Scheele, Radiant heat, infra red, convection

Sitting in front of a fire we can observe several different ways that heat moves.

Scheele’s house was presumably very cold in winter. He describes how he could sit in front of his stove with the door slightly ajar and feel its heat directly and yet, as he exhaled, the water vapour in his breath condensed into a cloud in the air. The heat from the stove was evidently heating Scheele, but not the air between Scheele and the stove. He additionally noted that this heat travelled in straight lines, horizontally towards him, as if it were light and without producing the refraction of visible light associated with air movement above a hot stove. Nor was a candle flame, placed between Scheele and the stove, affected by the passage of the heat. Clearly this ‘horizontal’ heat was different from the convective heat above the stove. Scheele called this ‘horizontal form’ of heat, ‘radiant heat’.

A few years later, the astronomer and discoverer of Uranus, William Herschel (1738-1822) was investigating glass-filter materials so that he could better observe the Sun. Using a prism to separate white light into its familiar rainbow spectrum, Herschel measured the temperature of the various parts of the spectrum. Surprisingly, the temperature recorded by the thermometer increased as the thermometer was moved from the violet end to the red end of the spectrum and then kept on rising into the invisible region next to the red. We now recognise Herschel’s observation of infra-red light as responsible for the radiant heat seen by Scheele, though a few more experiments were required at the time before this was confirmed.

sunlight induced chemical reactions, milk

Often milk is now supplied in semi-opaque bottles. Why do you think this is?

Further work by William Hyde Wollaston (1766-1828) and, independently Ritter (1776-1810) & Beckmann not only confirmed Herschel’s infra-red/radiant heat observations but also showed that, at the other end of the spectrum was another invisible ‘light’ that produced chemical reactions. Indeed, milk is often sold in semi-opaque plastic containers because of the fact that the taste and nutritional content of the milk are affected by such sunlight induced chemical reactions.

So, it seems to me that, in addition to an interesting story with which to idle away 20 minutes in a café, this set of thoughts offers a variety of experiments that we could try at home. If we are out, we could try to discern the different ways that heat is transferred from one body to another (as Scheele). If we had a prism, we could perhaps repeat Herschel’s experiment very easily with a cheap (but sensitive) thermocouple and, if we were really ambitious hook it up to a Raspberry Pi so that we could map the temperature as a function of wavelength. Finally, we could investigate how light affects chemical reactions by seeing how milk degrades when stored in the dark, direct sunlight or under different wavelengths. If you do any of these experiments please let me know what you discover in the comments section below. In the meanwhile, take time to enjoy your coffee, perhaps noticing how the hot mug is warming your hands.

Books that you may like to read and that were helpful for this piece:

“From Watt to Clausius”, DSL Cardwell, Heinemann Education Books Ltd, 1971

“On Food and Cooking: The science and lore of the kitchen” H McGee, Unwin Hyman Ltd 1986

Apologies to university H&S departments, you guys do a great job (mostly!) in trying to help to prevent us dying from our own experiments too prematurely.

 

Happy New Year

It is a timely coincidence that today’s Daily Grind falls on New Year’s eve; a perfect opportunity to reflect on how the year has been and to think about the future.

The first thing to reflect upon is the fact that, since starting Bean Thinking in autumn 2014, I have had a great excuse to get out and try many interesting independent coffee shops and tea houses. Obviously there are many more to try and so something to continue with in 2015, but what matters to me is that they are independent. It is an interesting question, at what point does a cafe with multiple branches turn into a chain? Perhaps this is something to worry about another time, for the moment there are still a great many to try (both old and new) that I don’t need to worry about it for a while.

Do you see a wood or the trees?

Do you see a wood or the trees?

Then there has been the opportunity to encounter some very interesting people who, it is fair to say, are quite obsessed with coffee. Some of them are interested in different ways to make the coffee taste good. Some are interested in areas where coffee meets art (3-D latte art anyone?). There are those who are interested in the science of coffee and then those who try to ensure that everyone, from grower to consumer inclusive, gets a good deal for the coffee. In short, science, art, philosophy and coffee. In many ways it reinforces my opinion that a good education is far more than a mere qualification in a narrow specialisation. In the book “History and Philosophy of Science”, LWH Hull suggests an analogy to help us to understand our contemporary tendency to specialisation. Hull suggests that those who specialise are like people exploring different trees. We cannot understand another’s tree by stopping our work (of climbing our tree), and instead climbing “a few feet” up the tree of another. Hull instead suggests that by understanding the history and the roots of our own field of specialisation we can understand that others have similar roots, similar motivations and are seeking similar ends by different means. Understanding our own tree and appreciating how it has come to be, allows us to appreciate the trees of others and thereby allows us to see the wood instead of the trees.

So Happy New Year to all, feel free to leave any comments about art, social justice, science, in fact, anything that you think coffee related and vaguely relevant to this start of the year. I look forward to ‘meeting’ more of you and hearing what you have to say in 2015.

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