A brief journey through all the things you need and don’t need to know about coffee.

That Morning Aroma

Nothing else alarms you that it's the morning more than your clock, and possibly the aroma of coffee.

The smell of coffee is distinct and rich, but why? Research has shown that coffee is packed with heterocyclic compounds which influence the powerful flavour and smell that coffee produces. Researchers have extensively investigated which aromatic compounds are responsible for each of the iconic earthy smells associated with coffee. However, currently over 800 different aromatic compounds have been discovered in coffee; a figure which increases on a yearly basis with the precision in analytical methods advancing.

With such a complicated make up of aromas, it seems unsurprising that just the smell of coffee has been proven to wake drinkers up. One whiff of the scent sends signals to the brain that caffeine is coming.

However, is the smell better than the taste?

It is widely accepted that coffee drinkers can experience a completely different smell to taste; with some individuals delighting in the smell coffee but never opting to drink it. Research certainly suggests that the smell and taste of coffee is different. Professional Barry Smith of the University of London explained that nearly half of all those complicated and delicious aromatic compounds within coffee are wiped out by saliva. This causes the flavour to change before the drink has even been swallowed.

And even though smell affects taste, with research showing that around 80% of taste reaches us through smell receptors in our nose, the act of swallowing transforms the sensation of the smell in the brain. Professional Barry Smith refers to this as the 'second sense of smell' because the signals experienced through the nose from the inside of the mouth differ from those experienced by traditional sniffing. Essentially we have two senses of smell!

Another food which commonly differs in smell and taste is really strong blue cheese.

The Thrill of Caffeine

As mentioned, our brain has a strong association between the smell of coffee and the expectation of caffeine. But is caffeine really all its hyped up to be?

Caffeine increases alertness by blocking the chemical signals in your brain which make you feel sleepy. A brief explanation of the process goes as follows:

When the chemical adenosine binds to adenosine receptors in the brain, it slows down nerve cell activity through dilating blood vessels. This offers the brain more oxygen during sleep and causes drowsiness. Caffeine can also bind to adenosine receptors. However caffeine does not cause the same slowing down affect as adenosine. As a result, the brain registers the binding of the adenosine receptor but can no longer identify the adenosine. This causes a reversed effect whereby the nerve cells speed up and constrict the blood vessels. This is why caffeine is used in some forms of headache medicine, as it can restrict the blood flow to the brain.

This is one of the reasons why caffeine can become addictive. Caffeine can relieve symptoms such as drowsiness, headaches and loss of concentration. However high doses of this tasty stuff can cause anxiety and in some cases even instigate symptoms similar to panic attacks.

However, in moderate doses caffeine can improve mental abilities such as reaction time, memory and reasoning skills. Applied to a sports environment, caffeine has been shown to improve an athlete’s ability to work more intensely and for longer periods of time than they could sustain without caffeine. These effects were shown to be particularly emphasised when that athlete was sleep deprived.

So, the question still stands, is caffeine all its hyped up to be?

The answer is probably yes. A study comparing real coffee against its decaffeinated placebo found that real coffee had benefits beyond the placebo effect. Participants who took caffeine had enhanced reaction times and accuracy in a wide selection of motor function tasks than their decaffeinated counterparts. However, interestingly, not a single person who received decaf coffee noticed that they hadn’t received the real deal.

  • Pros

  • Reduce headaches
  • Prevent drowsiness
  • Increase concentration
  • Improves reaction time
  • Improves memory
  • Improves reasoning skills
  • Cons

  • Withdrawal can cause headaches
  • Affects sleep patterns
  • Addictive qualities
  • Can cause anxiety
  • Can cause panic attacks symptoms
  • Pros

  • Reduce headaches
  • Prevent drowsiness
  • Increase concentration
  • Improves reaction time
  • Improves memory
  • Improves reasoning skills
  • Cons

  • Withdrawal can cause headaches
  • Affects sleep patterns
  • Addictive qualities
  • Can cause anxiety
  • Can cause panic attacks symptoms

A Backwards Guide to the Bean

Having reviewed some of the compounds that make up coffee, we’ll explore a wide variety of choices and history involved in your morning fix.

We will journey from the brew to the plant in a backwards guide to the bean.

It’s coffee time and you’re in need. The question is, what will it be?

  • Espresso
    A shot of coffee
  • Americano
    Espresso + water
  • Cappucino
    Espresso + steamed milk + foamed milk
  • Latte
    Espresso + steamed milk
  • Moccacino
    Espresso + steamed milk + chocolate syrup
  • Frappucino
    Espresso + Milk + Sugar + Ice + Flavouring
  • These may be the most popular ways to drink your coffee, but there are many, many more types of coffee available.

Your choice of coffee type is, supposedly, meant to mean something about you...

Black Coffee

Efficient, Simplify things, Moody and quiet, Dismissive, Resistant to change.


People pleaser, Generous, Over Work, Don't put themselves first.


Make healthy choices, Perfectionist, Controlling, Paranoid.

Instant Coffee

Relaxed, Laid back, Procrastinate, Poor planners.

Coffee The Good The Bad
Black Coffee Efficient,
Simplify things
Moody and quiet,
Resistant to change
People pleaser,
Over Work,
Don't put themselves first
Decaf Make healthy choices,
Instant Coffee Relaxed,
Laid back
Poor planners

A recent study by clinical psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula found that common personality traits exist in those with similar coffee preferences. The study analysed 1,000 coffee lovers and found correlations such as latte drinkers like to please others, decaf choosers have obsessive and controlling tendencies and those who opt for black coffee tend to prefer a no-nonsense lifestyle.

Hopefully this won’t influence your decision too much, but it’s good to know where you stand in the coffee community.

Machines & Methods

There are many methods to brewing coffee. Here is a short list of some of them:


The process is simple, a filter and ground coffee is placed in a tube above a mug. The tube is then topped with hot water. After just a few seconds, the brew is ready for a plunger tube to press down on the mix slowly and squeeze the water over the ground coffee and into the mug.


A popular household choice. The coffee grounds are brew in hot water within the beaker. After sufficient brewing time, usually a few minutes, a filtered plunger is squeezed through the coffee mixture, preventing coffee grounds spilling into the mug when poured.


An hour glass container with a clamp in the middle. Filter paper filled and coffee grounds are balanced over the clamp and hot water is periodically poured in, until enough coffee has been brewed. The filter is removed so the coffee can be poured straight into a mug.


A machine with heated plates and a drip system. A jug is placed on the hot plate. Hot water is then poured through the machine and slowly dripped through a filter which is filled with coffee grounds. Once the jug is full, the coffee is ready to be poured.


A jug with a pipe in the centre and a filter full of ground coffee balancing on a chamber at the top of the jug. Water is poured into the bottom of the jug, with the filter and coffee grounds added on top. Heat is applied at the bottom, forcing the water to boil and travel up the inner pipe. The pipe releases the water over the filter and coffee grounds which drips the brewed coffee back into the bottom of the jug, ready to be poured.

With so many brewing methods available, it is no wonder that there is such a great choice of machinery available today for brewing the perfect cup.

This guide is a brief history of how and when some of the modern coffee machines were created.

  • 1822 The Coffee Percolator by Mr Laurens of Paris
  • 1822 The Espresso Machine by Bermard Rabaut
  • 1852 The cafetiere by Mayer and Delforge
  • 1908 Filter Coffee Machine by Melitta Bentz
  • 1929 Cafetiere was flexible seal by Attilio Calimani
  • 1935 The Automatic Espresso Machine by Ernest Illy
  • 1947 The Chemex by Peter Schlumbohm
  • 1947 Gaggia’s Piston Machine by Archille Gaggia
  • 1961 Faema E61 by Ernesto Valente
  • 1963 The Commerical Automation Drip Coffeemaker by The Bunn Corporation
  • 1972 The Mr. Coffee by Vincent Marotta
  • 2005 The AeroPress by Alan Adler
  • The first documented coffee machine was invented in 1818 by Mr Laurens of Paris. It was a percolator type coffee maker which had a pipe connecting the pot of coffee to a heated chamber below. The chamber would be filled with water, which when heated over a flame rose up through the pipe to infuse the coffee above. In just 1822, the first espresso machine was created by Bermard Rabaut. His machine used stream to forced hot water through ground coffee. The term espresso has nothing to do with the bean or roast type; it is a preparation method in which highly pressurised hot water is forced over coffee grounds to produce a very concentrated flavour.

    It is believed that the first cafetiere was patented by two Frenchmen, Mayer and Delforge, in 1852. The design was simple. A metal coffee pot was fitted with a movable metal filter that was attached to a rod. Initially, due to manufacturing restraints, they couldn’t get the filter to fit snugly in the pot. This meant coffee grounds commonly escaped the filter.

    It wasn’t until 1908 that filter coffee ever existed. Melitta Bentz, a housewife in Germany, wanted to brew coffee without the common risk of over brewing which occurred regularly with the current machinery. By testing pouring boiling water over various types of paper, Melitta found that blotting paper was very effective at filtering the coffee without breaking and therefore she created the process of filtering coffee.

    In 1929 an Italian named Attilio Calimani improved the cafetiere design by preventing coffee grounds from escaping the filter. The major change he imposed was a flexible packing around the edge of the filter which formed a seal against the side of the pot.

    The first automatic espresso machine was invented in 1935 by Ernest Illy, the founder of Illy Caffe. Peter Schlumbohm, a German scientist and inventor, created the Chemex in 1941. This brewing machine is an hour glass shaped, heatproof glass vessel with a cinched waist. The filter balanced on the top sector where the hot water was poured in.

    Shortly afterwards Illy, in the 1947, Achille Gaggia evolved the function of the espresso machine by introducing additional cylinders which dramatically increased the water pressure level exerted on the coffee. It operated through a manual spring piston lever which relied on the strength of the Barista. A side effect of this level of pressure was the production of ‘crema’, the foam that floats over the coffee liquid. By today’s standards this is an indicator of a quality espressos, however initially consumers were dubious about the ‘scum’ floating over their beverages. That was until Gaggia began referring to it as ‘caffe crème’ and suggested that the coffee was such good quality that it produced its own cream.

    By 1961 Ermesto Valente revolutionised the espresso machine again by swapping the manual spring piston lever with a motorised pump. This enabled the same level of pressure as Gaggia’s design but without the reliance on manual force by the Barista. Further improvements to the design efficiency enabled the machine to be a smaller size, which also contributed towards its commercial success. The first automatic drip coffee maker wasn’t introduced to the market until 1963 by the Bunn Corporation. This design heats the water, drips the hot water through the filter filled with coffee grounds and falls into a jug. The jug is continually heated on a warm plate to keep the coffee warm. Bunn Corporation’s design was produced for restaurants. However, in 1972 Vincent Marotta invented the Mr. Coffee which was a commercial phenomenon as it was the first automatic drip coffee maker for home use.

    Recently a new form of coffee maker, called the AeroPress, has been causing a storm amongst coffee lovers. Some claim this invention creates the best coffee in the world; for something that costs a modest £30, favourable opinion against thousand pound machines is quite momentous. The invention is a simple process whereby a filter and ground coffee is placed in a tube above a mug. The tube is then topped with hot water. After just seconds, the brew is ready for a plunger tube to press down on the mix slowly and squeeze the water over the ground coffee and into the mug.

    Strong as you like it

    Alongside different brewing methods, everyone has a different preference to the strength of their coffee.

    Therefore it probably comes as no surprise that pantone have provided these colour matching options (please compare your coffee at a safe distance from the screen).

    However, has anyone ever questioned why we add milk to coffee?

    There is a lot of advice available about how much milk to add and how to add the milk for the best flavour. However, the tradition of actually adding milk to coffee doesn’t naturally occur as strange.

    But it used to.

    Coffee first reached Europe via Turkey. At the beginning, Europeans didn’t like coffee very much but the taste began to grow on them. The acceptance of coffee was reflected in the number of cafes that opened up in Europe in the 1600’s. Supposedly France was the first nation to introduce milk to coffee and thus create the café au lait. This may have been because the previous nations that were familiar with coffee weren’t big milk drinkers.

    However in another attempt to adopt the beverage to usual customs, the French also used to brew coffee in the same fashion as tea, with tea bags.

    • Its bitter sweet •

    The history of adding sugar to coffee is also unclear. Issues with the cost of sugar around the 17th century would certainly have had an impact on who could have enjoyed this luxury. However Jerzy Franciszek Kulczycki, the owner of a Viennese coffee house, is often credited as the first to adapt the bitter Turkish drink for the European palette by adding sugar. He is also credited for being the first to add milk, so the French claim has competition.
    Conclusively, it is clear that both milk and sugar were later additions to coffee by Europeans in approximately the 1600s.

    • Grinding •

    To properly infused coffee, the coffee beans need to be grinded. Yet heed this warning, coffee lovers worldwide will pledge that the best cup of coffee is grinded moments before brewing. This poses logistical nightmares for coffee companies, as they often need to (and should) sell grounded coffee in a matter of weeks or days after grinding.

    Pretty much as soon as coffee was discovered it was ground in one way or another. Originally it was ground in a mortar and pestle style alongside animal fat and eaten in dried balls. Sometime after 500AD coffee was consumed as a weak drink and by 1200AD Arabia began grounding the beans using small milestones. Clearly demand grew rapidly because the Romans are credited for adapting wheat mills for the use of grinding coffee in large quantities.

    Flashing forwards to modern times, the first electric belt driven grinder was created in 1898 by the Hobart Manufacturing Company of Troy, Ohio.

    • Roasting •

    The variety of coffee flavours available is heavily down to the roast. When heat is applied to the raw bean, it produces oils and releases natural sugars. These caramelise and add to both the bean’s colour and flavour.

    The roast is also closely linked to the additional flavouring part of the coffee process. If a specific flavour is being added to the bean, i.e. vanilla, then it should be done while the bean is still warm from roasting as more flavour will be absorbed at this time than when the bean is cold.

    The first roasted coffee beans were by Arabia in the 13th century. They roasted the beans over a fire, ground them and mixed them with animal fats. This created a drink called ‘qahwa’ which means ‘that which prevents sleep’.

    Coffee Lifestyle

    Throughout history, coffee has been endorsed by many nations pretty much as soon as it became commercially available to them. This is partially due to the drink and its associated benefits but it is also because of the social attributes related with ‘going for a coffee’.

    The rise of coffee shops began in 500AD in Cairo and Mecca.

    Coffee didn’t reach England until the 17th century, but not long afterwards it was common for women to complain that their husbands were spending too much time in the coffee houses!

    Nowadays, it is usual and natural for friends to meet up in a coffee shop and catch up over a hot drink.

    The social aspects of coffee are a huge factor behind the success of Starbucks, which only opened its doors in 1971 in Seattle. Since then, then there has been a considerable rise in coffee shops in England. The UK saw a 15% rise in independent coffee shops in 2013. Plus, the American chain Starbucks have been expanding heavily also, having had over 300 UK outlets open in 2012 alone.

    Could the American style coffee chain culture have been a factor behind the rise in coffee shops in the UK in recent years?

    Another interesting question is why coffee and not tea is America’s favourite drink. When England began colonising America in 1607 it was common for the new settlers to drink tea. Tea continued to be the nation’s favourite drink throughout the 17th and early 18th century. However, in 1776 The Stamp Act in the U.S. placed a tax on tea which meant that coffee was cheaper to drink. This began encouraging consumers to convert to coffee. After this adoption, the popularity for tea in the U.S. never regained strength.


    The tea vs. coffee debate still rages on today. Though tea is still considered the iconic drink of England, the rise in coffee drinking is dawning.

    This could be due to the exposure of coffee drinking in media, especially in top US T.V. shows and movies which are ever increasingly becoming a part of the British lifestyle.

    But which should you drink? Tea or coffee.

    The answer depends on what benefits you are interested in.
    If you want to stay healthy, it probably comes as no surprise that green tea is considered the healthiest choice. Green tea is full of the antioxidants EGCG which recharges the white blood cells that defend your body against viruses. Therefore green tea is especially good for a weak immune system.

    But, that’s not really the tea we’re challenging here.

    The classic English breakfast tea has less caffeine than coffee (11mg of caffeine in tea compared to 40mg in coffee per 100g), for this reason the health risks associated with caffeine are more pronounced in coffee. However, a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that people who drank four cups of coffee everyday were 30% less at risk of developing type 2 diabetes than non-coffee drinkers. Ultimately this proves that there are health risks and benefits to both coffee and tea – though green tea is superior.

    Green tea is even better than caffeine if you want to lose weight. Although caffeine supresses appetite, those same EGCG antioxidants have also been proven to help shrink fat cells and make muscle cells more active.

    However, if you want to gain muscle, coffee is the winning beverage. In a study published in the Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise journal, when the participants drank more than two cups of coffee a few hours before working out were able to sprint 9% further than when they didn’t drink it. Caffeine can stimulate your muscles and helps you complete a harder work out, which can help you build up muscle.

    Nevertheless the rivalry is really a battle of taste; which only you can decide.

    Selecting the Bean

    Back to the bean, because at this point it would be fair to presume that we have all picked to side with a cup of coffee.

    Before the roasting can commence, an important part of the coffee flavour lies in the bean. A premium coffee starts at the farm with great lands, plants, farmers and a great process. To grow this delicious bean, you need a hot, tropical climate. There are over 50 countries around the globe that currently grew coffee, here are a few:



    Puerto Rico


    Costa Rica





    Ivory Coast




    However, don’t just let the country of origin decide which coffee bean to go for. There are so other factors that vary the flavour of coffee, therefore it is never worth rejecting a country based on one experience. However, do make sure your coffee is always fair trade.

    • The Fair Trade of Coffee •

    Fairtrade started because of things such as the slavery and unacceptable working conditions faced by coffee farmers. Coffee, alongside chocolate, tea and sugar was a popular commodity in Europe in the 17th century. The high society fashion for drinking coffee meant that there was a great deal of money to be made from providing the bean at a low price, usually through slave labour.

    Whilst law has since prohibited slave labour, it stills exists today. Fair trade coffee is certified by the Fairtrade foundation, which ensures sustainable farming and fair priced labour for all those involved in the process of making the coffee. For more information about Fairtrade coffee visit the fairtrade website

    The Beginning

    For coffee to become popular in Europe, it had to travel a long way. This is a brief visit through the first 1,600 years of coffee.

    The coffee story starts anytime between 1 and 500AD in either Choche of Ethiopia or Yemen of the Arabian Peninsula (opinion varies). The legend states that a goat herder noticed his animals dancing with an usually amount of energy. The herder noticed that his animated animals were always lively after chewing on wild and bright red Arabica coffee berries. Soon after this discovery the locals began consuming the coffee themselves as a stimulant.

    Sometime after 500AD, the first coffee houses were introduced to Cairo and Mecca. They used a vessel known as an Ibrik to brew a weak coffee by using unroasted coffee cherries. A coffee cherry is the bean with the husk.

    Flashing forward to the 1400’s, coffee trees were extensively planted in the Yemen region of Arabia. The Arabians became the first to roast and grind the coffee beans before brewing them. This quickly led to the use of coffee beans being spread through the Arabian Peninsula and the Ottoman Empire to Turkey, where the first coffee shop allegedly opened in 1475.

    It wasn’t until the 1600’s that coffee reached Western Europe and 1652 for England specifically. Once it did, mornings were never the same again.

    Sources and Attributions

    Icon attributions:

    Chemex designed by Eric M. Ellis from the Noun Project French Press designed by Eric M. Ellis from the Noun Project Moccamaster designed by Eric M. Ellis from the Noun Project Bialetti designed by Eric M. Ellis from the Noun Project Aeropress designed by Eric M. Ellis from the Noun Project Approve designed by Gilad Fried from the Noun Project

    Data Sources: