Meet Socratic Coffee: Using science to help the coffee industry

Have you ever met those guys that always want to push the boundaries and discover new amazing things? Socratic Coffee are those guys. With their background in science and a passion for coffee, Joe and Jeremy are turning our questions into answers.

I came across Socratic Coffee on Instagram a while back. Their experiments intrigued me and provided me with knowledge. 

Joe (based in Sydney, Australia) heads up the experiments and overall operations. He also does most of their Instagram and social media work. With decades of experience in the coffee industry, he has also completed culinary school and most of the requirements for his Master’s in Business Administration. His day job involves coffee consultancy/training/wholesale and controlling roasted coffee solubility.

Jeremy (based in the United States) serves as the overall Socratic Coffee science advisor. He has been a barista competition judge for years and has been nerding out over coffee as a home barista for nearly 15 years. He has a BS in engineering and PhD in neuroscience. His day job is as a consultant to a government organisation and a part-time university professor.





I asked the guys a few questions about Socratic Coffee and what they do. Here they are....

1. What made you guys start researching coffee and performing coffee experiments?

Really just our own innate curiosity, wanting to see for ourselves how specific variables may/may not actually affect the brewing process. We are science people. We crave objective, empirical evidence, collected in a well-controlled manner. And, even if someone else has already put the evidence together, we often like to see it for ourselves (replication is a key part of the scientific process). Thanks to the fairly recent development of consumer-friendly refractometers for coffee TDS measurement (due, in large part, to the work of VST), a world of opportunity has opened up to coffee hobbyists like us to systematically explore aspects of coffee brewing objectively.

2. What have been your most interesting findings?

That's hard to say. We love all of our tests and experiments for different reasons. In the end, we learn something from each of them. Whether or not they end up being very useful to anyone else is another matter. And it often seems like the experiments we personally enjoy the most are the least appreciated by others. It's been interesting to see the wide range of particle size distributions that can yield similar espresso shot parameters. We thoughts our experiment on particle size and particle placement in the espresso puck was very interesting, allowing us to capitalize on one of the big advantages our sieving equipment affords--physical separation of particles. Our study on the effects of various tampers was probably our most ambitious with regard to experimental protocol, where we worked very hard to remove any possible source of bias (real or perceived). 

3. Have you got any tips for home brewers wanting to produce a better cup?

It's probably most important to establish a good foundation on the basics of coffee extraction--water is the solvent and the coffee particles contain the solutes. Factors can boost the action of the solvent, such as temperature, agitation, and pressure, as well as chemical makeup of compounds in the initial water, etc. The characteristics of the solutes were given to you by the coffee seed itself and the roast. Coffee particles extract at a very linear rate based on size. With this as your starting point, you can better hypothesize how adjustments in one variable (e.g., changing grind setting, changing brew temp) might affect the overall extraction.

Also, demand good evidence for claims people make. Remember the famous quote by the statistician W. Edwards Deming, "In God we trust, all others bring data."

4. What's in the pipeline for the next experiment?

Lately, Socratic Coffee has been busy writing articles for various coffee-related publications. We've also acquired some new equipment that we're still testing out, establishing lab protocols we are confident in (e.g., roaster, moisture balance). We've held off on espresso-related experiments lately until we can more easily hit beverage mass targets. If your beverage mass differs significantly between conditions, it confounds any potential independent variable(s) you're attempting to assess. We hope to get some equipment in our lab over the summer which will greatly improve our ability to maintain consistency in this area. And we haven't forgotten about exploring the effects of CO2. There are also a couple of "secret" projects still in the works, which may pan out to something useful--or may never see the light of day. Hard to say.

5. Finally, what is your favourite brewing method?

This really depends on many things. What coffee is available to brew (origin, roast profile, etc.)? How much time do we have to brew it? What's the weather like outside? What sort of equipment is available for us to brew on? How much do we need to brew (just for us, sharing with others, etc.)?

Thanks guys, really loving what you do!

You can check out the Socratic Coffee Blog and follow them on Instagram.  

Cover photo by Padurariu Alexandru.