The Impact of Ambient Temperature & Humidity on Coffee
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Ryan
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11.04.24

The Impact of Ambient Temperature & Humidity on Coffee

It’s important to note that coffee is a dynamic product; sensitive to its environment when it’s left even partially exposed. When coffee beans sit in the hopper of a grinder in a café or at home, ambient temperature and moisture play significant roles in altering their properties. These changes can affect the consistency and quality of the espresso, making it crucial for baristas to understand these influences and adjust their grinding methodology accordingly.


Effects of Ambient Temperature

Ambient temperature impacts coffee beans in multiple ways:

  1. Volatile Compound Stability: Higher temperatures can accelerate the evaporation of volatile aromatic compounds in coffee beans. These compounds contribute significantly to the coffee’s aroma and flavour profile. As they dissipate, the coffee can lose its complexity and desirable notes.
  2. Bean Expansion and Contraction: Coffee beans expand and contract with temperature fluctuations. This physical change can affect the grind size consistency. Warmer temperatures may cause beans to become softer, potentially leading to finer grinds, while cooler temperatures can make beans harder, resulting in coarser grinds.
  3. Static Electricity: Temperature variations can influence static electricity levels in coffee grinders. Higher static levels, often associated with colder, drier conditions, can cause grounds to cling to the grinder and each other, leading to uneven extraction.

Effects of Ambient Moisture

Moisture or humidity also plays a critical role:

  1. Bean Absorption: Coffee beans are hygroscopic, meaning they absorb moisture from the air. In a high-humidity environment, beans can absorb moisture, which increases their mass and alters their density. This change can affect the grind size and extraction rate.
  2. Grind Clumping: Increased moisture can cause coffee grounds to clump together, leading to inconsistent particle size distribution. This inconsistency can result in uneven extraction, with some grounds over-extracted and others under-extracted.
  3. Oxidation: Moisture accelerates the oxidation process in coffee beans, leading to staling. Oxidised coffee loses its fresh flavours and can taste flat or rancid.


Identifying Environmental Effects on Coffee Beans

Baristas can identify environmental impacts on coffee beans through careful observation and routine checks:

  1. Aroma Check: Regularly smelling the coffee beans can help detect any loss of volatile compounds. A diminished aroma might indicate prolonged exposure to high temperatures.
  2. Visual Inspection: Inspecting the beans for signs of moisture absorption, such as a change in the bean’s appearance with evident oiliness, can be a useful indicator.
  3. Grind Consistency: Monitoring the grind size and checking for clumping can help identify moisture issues. Inconsistent grinds often signal environmental influences.


Counteracting Environmental Effects in Grinding Methodology

To effectively counteract the impact of ambient temperature and moisture on coffee beans in the hopper, baristas need precise and actionable calibration techniques. Here’s a guide to get you started:

Adjusting for Temperature Variations

  1. Monitor Ambient Temperature: Regularly check the temperature around the grinder.
  2. Adjust Based on Temperature:
    • Warming Temperatures: Beans may become softer, requiring a slightly coarser grind.
    • Cooling Temperatures: Beans may become harder, necessitating a finer grind.
  3. Frequent Testing: Perform frequent grind checks during significant temperature changes throughout the day

Managing Moisture and Humidity

  1. Monitor Humidity Levels: Use a hygrometer to measure the humidity fluctuations.
  2. Adjust for High Humidity:
    • High Humidity: Beans may absorb moisture, becoming denser. Adjust the grind coarser to prevent over-extraction.
    • Low Humidity: Beans may lose moisture and become less dense, requiring a finer grind to avoid under-extraction.
  3. Routine Checks: Adjust the grinder settings as necessary during high or low humidity periods

Pro Tips for Calibrating and Managing Coffee During the Day

  1. Utilise Temperature and Humidity Sensors: Place sensors near your grinder hopper to monitor ambient conditions. These tools will help you understand the relationship between the environment and your coffee’s performance.
  2. Record Your Settings: Once you’ve dialled in that perfect shot, jot down the grind setting along with the temperature and humidity levels. This data will be invaluable when you need to troubleshoot or replicate results.
  3. Empowered Adjustments: If your shots start to deviate, refer to your logs to see how the environment has changed. Make informed adjustments to your grind settings based on these observations.
  4. Consistent Logging: Maintain a detailed log of temperature and humidity changes alongside your grind settings. Over time, this will help you build a comprehensive understanding of how your coffee behaves under different conditions.
  5. Informed Decisions: By closely monitoring and recording these variables, you’ll be able to make more methodological adjustments in response to ambient changes, ensuring consistently high-quality espresso.

Routine Cleaning

  • Regular Cleaning: Remove residual oils and particles to maintain grind consistency.
  • Check Burrs: Replace worn burrs periodically based on the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • Recalibrate After Maintenance: Follow the regular calibration steps after cleaning or replacing burrs

To mitigate the impact of environmental effects on coffee beans, there are a few preventative measures you can implement:

  1. Environmental Control: Maintaining a stable environment around your grinder, with controlled temperature and humidity levels, can significantly reduce fluctuations in coffee bean quality. Using air conditioning or dehumidifiers can help achieve this.
  2. Grind Adjustments: Baristas should regularly calibrate their grinders to account for changes in bean density and hardness. Adjusting grind size based on environmental conditions can help maintain consistency in the cup.
  3. Storage Solutions: Keeping beans in airtight, opaque containers when not in use can protect them from moisture and temperature fluctuations.

Final Words..

Understanding the effects of environmental conditions on coffee beans is paramount when aiming to maintaining the quality of your espresso. Begin by identifying these impacts and adjust your processes and grinding methodology to ensure a consistent and exceptional coffee experience.


References

  1. Illy, E., & Viani, R. (Eds.). (2005). Espresso Coffee: The Science of Quality (2nd ed.). Academic Press. – This comprehensive guide explores the scientific principles underlying coffee quality, including environmental factors.
  2. Clarke, R. J., & Macrae, R. (Eds.). (1987). Coffee: Volume 1: Chemistry. Springer. – This volume provides detailed insights into the chemical changes in coffee beans influenced by environmental conditions.
  3. Navarini, L., Rivetti, D., & Balzer, H. H. (2014). Physico-chemical properties of coffee and coffee derivatives. In M. J. Moreau & V. De Colli (Eds.), Coffee in Health and Disease Prevention. Academic Press. – This chapter discusses the physical and chemical properties of coffee, including its hygroscopic nature.
  4. Baratza, LLC. (2021). The Impact of Humidity on Coffee Grinding. Baratza. – An industry report on how humidity affects coffee grinding and extraction.

Considered as one of the region’s pioneers in specialty coffee education and Dubai cafe culture development, Ryan Godinho is an Australian entrepreneur who is accredited as the country's first SCAA AST and National Coffee Championships Coordinator. He is a frequent contributor to Forbes and Entrepreneur Magazines and also holds a postgraduate Certificate of Advanced Studies in Coffee Excellence from Zurich University (ZHAW).

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