Designing a machine that can identify the aroma of complex coffee flavors and describe it has proved challenging for flavour scientists. Seems like they have finally achieved it. To establish a connection between the verbal description given by humans and the chemical analysis performed by machines, Lindinger and co-workers compiled "sensory profiles" for 11 different espresso coffees by asking tasters to score each one in 10 different taste categories, such as bitter, woody, or acid. They then fed the results of proton transfer reaction mass spectrometry of the gas phase above each coffee into a computer program that was able to 'learn' from experience and matched up the mass spectrometry results to the human sensory profiles.
Finally, to test the program, the researchers used it to predict the sensory profiles for eight new types of espresso. The predicted profiles closely matched the evaluations of human tasters, even though the machines were not able to taste the coffee, only analyze its smell! As the machine only needs two minutes to take each sniff, the Nestlé researchers say their method would be suitable for high-throughput analysis of coffee quality. From there, a machine that can brew a cup of coffee to suit every customer's unique taste profile is surely just a small step away.
Nestle researchers have stated that the machine has "nearly" the taste accuracy of a panel of trained espresso tasters, who, if this machine is any indication, may soon have to switch professions! Will Nestle market this machine as a product? While there's apparently still quite a bit of work to be done on the coffee tasting machine, Nestle eventually sees it being used as a quality control device for the entire coffee industry. Right now, it has no plans to sell the concept as a "product".
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