Coffee Cupping Is A Grind — Spectroscopy Could Brew Better Beans

If you’ve ever bought whole coffee beans, chances are good that there was all kinds of information on the bag that led to your decision, like the origin, the roast type, and the flavor notes. Traditionally, coffee grading — that’s judging the aroma of both dry and wet grounds and slurping the coffee evenly across the tongue to determine the flavor profile — is done by humans in a process called cupping. To call it a process is too clinical — it’s really more like a ceremony performed with the grave sincerity that coffee deserves.

A traditional cupping ceremony. Image via Kaldi’s Coffee

There’s an industry standard coffee flavor wheel, so why not leverage that to make a robot that can remove the human bias and possible error of doing things the traditional way? That’s exactly what Demetria, a Columbian-Israeli company is doing.

They’ve developed an AI platform that can determine bean quality as judged by handheld scanners that were born on Kickstarter. The scanner uses near-infrared to look for biochemical markers in the bean, which it uses to match up with a profile backed by the all-knowing coffee flavor wheel.

Demetria is using SCiO scanners and a custom app to judge beans before they’re even roasted, which greatly speeds up the process but makes us wonder how green bean spectroscopy stacks up against roasted beans as judged by humans. You may remember the SCiO, a pocket-sized, connected spectrometer made by Consumer Physics that finally started delivering the goods a few years after funding. If you got your hands on a SCiO, you might like to know that there’s an open project out there to hack them. Sparkfun did a nice, thorough teardown, and it seems to be a well-engineered piece of hardware.

On the one hand, cupping is a tradition and thus may people feel that robbing coffee of this tradition will rob coffee of its soul. On the other hand, cupping is wasteful, as the coffee must be roasted and ground immediately prior to the ceremony and it requires the availability of Q graders who have been trained in the ways of coffee grading.

Want to know more about coffee production? Might as well learn the Retrotechtacular way.

[Main and thumbnail images via Demetria]

Seeing Plant Health In Infrared

aerial

Since the 70s, NASA, NOAA, and the USGS have been operating a series of satellites designed to look at vegetation health around the world. These satellites, going under the name Landsat, use specialized camera filters that look at light reflecting off chlorophyll to gauge the health of forests, plains, oceans, and even farms. It’s all very interesting technology, and a few very cool people want to put one of these near infrared cameras in the hands of everyone.

The basic idea behind gauging the health of plants from orbit, or the¬†Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, is actually pretty simple: absorb red and blue light (thus our verdant forests), and reflect nearly all infrared light. By removing the IR filter from a digital camera and adding a ‘superblue’ filter, the NDVI can be calculated with just a little bit of image processing.

The folks behind this have put up a Kickstarter with rewards including a modified webcam, a custom point and shoot camera, and a very low-cost source of one of these superblue filters. Just the thing to see how your garden grows or how efficiently you can kill a houseplant.