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]

Hackaday Prize Entry: Infrared Vein Illumination

Phlebotomy is a fun word, and the fine art of finding veins. While the skill of putting needles in arms is honed by nurses and physicians over the course of decades, there are, of course, technological solutions to finding veins. One of the more impressive medical devices that does this uses near-infrared imaging — basically looking under the skin with almost visible light. These devices cost a fortune.

One project in the Hackaday Prize is looking to change that. It’s a near-infrared vein finder. Instead of the thousands of dollars professional unit costs, this one can be built for under one hundred bucks.

As far as this build goes, veins are illuminated via IR light at about 950nm. The backscatter of this light is captured via a Raspberry Pi NoIR camera, with regular old photography film blocking visible light. From there, it’s just a simple matter of image processing and hitting enhance several times until veins appear on a display.

The team behind this project has already developed a mobile version of the device, complete with 3D printed parts. It’s a handy device and a great entry for the Hackaday Prize.

SCiO “Pocket Molecular Scanner” Teardown

Some of you may remember the SCiO, originally a Kickstarter darling back in 2014 that promised people a pocket-sized micro spectrometer. It was claimed to be able to scan and determine the composition of everything from fruits and produce to your own body. The road from successful crowdsourcing to production was uncertain and never free from skepticism regarding the promised capabilities, but the folks at [Sparkfun] obtained a unit and promptly decided to tear it down to see what was inside, and share what they found.

The main feature inside the SCiO is the optical sensor, which consists of a custom-made NIR spectrometer. By analyzing the different wavelengths that reflect off an object, the unit can make judgments about what the object is made of. The SCiO was clearly never built to be disassembled, but [Sparkfun] pulls everything apart and provides some interesting photos of a custom-made optical unit with an array of different sensors, various filters, apertures, and a microlens array.

It’s pretty interesting to see inside the SCiO’s hardware, which unfortunately required destructive disassembly of the unit in question. The basic concept of portable spectroscopy is solid, as shown by projects such as the Farmcorder which is intended to measure plant health, and the DIY USB spectrometer which uses a webcam as the sensor.