cappuccino

Coffee Damping

vortices in coffee

Vortices behind a tea spoon

How often do you allow yourself to get bored? Or to sit in a cafe and take your time to enjoy your coffee properly, noticing its appearance, the smell ‘landscape’ of the cafe, pausing while you absorb the sounds of the cafe and playing with the feel of the coffee while you create vortices with your tea spoon?

If you regularly drink black coffee, you may have noticed how these vortices form more easily in the coffee once the crema has dispersed. Intuitively this may seem obvious to you, perhaps you wouldn’t even bother trying to form these vortices in a cappuccino, you’d know that they wouldn’t appear. The bubbles of the crema (or the milk in the cappuccino) quickly kill any vortex that forms behind the tea spoon (we’d technically call it ‘damping’ them). But even when we are aware of this, it is still surprising just how quickly the crema stops those vortices. Try forming a couple of vortices in a region of black coffee close to a region of crema. Indeed I thoroughly recommend ordering a good black coffee in a great cafe somewhere and just sitting playing with these vortices all the while noticing how their behaviour changes as the crema disperses.

latte art, flat white art

Latte art at The Corner One. Lovely to look at but not good for the vortices.

The damping caused by bubbles on the surface of a coffee is responsible for another phenomenon that you may have encountered in a cafe but, to be fair, are more likely to have noticed in a pub. Have you ever noticed that you are less likely to spill your cappuccino between the bar and your seat than you are your lovingly prepared filter coffee? Or perhaps, in the pub, you can get your pint of Guinness back to the table more easily than your cup of tea? (At least for the first pint of Guinness)

Back in 2014, a team investigated the damping properties of foam by controlling the size and number of bubbles on top of a liquid as it was vibrated (sloshed) about. They found that just five layers of bubbles on top of the liquid was enough to significantly damp the liquid movement as it vibrated from side to side. That is, five layers of bubbles suppressed the sloshing (try saying that after a couple of pints of Guinness). Much as I dislike emphasising the utility of a piece of science, this work has obvious implications for any application that requires the transportation of liquids such as the transport of oil containers. There is an obvious need to suppress the effect of liquid oil sloshing from side to side as it is transported by boat for example.

The foam on our latte or crema on our long black should indeed give us pause for thought as we sit in a cafe enjoying our coffee.

 

 

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.