Over the next three weeks, we devised and ran a set of experiments to rule out as many confounding variables as we could.
We measured and manipulated temperature, humidity, bean quantity, roast type, roast age, and grinding action, and we simulated a handful of storage scenarios before we finally convinced ourselves that the data we read from the sensors could be used as a reliable measure of freshness.
Swapping out the familiar Espresso Vivace beans and grind setting for a commodity bean was a terrible idea.
Swapping out the familiar brand of whole milk for 2% was also a terrible idea.
All of the timing, sounds, and instincts that I’ve been developing every morning at work went straight down the drain by changing those parameters.
My heart was in the right place: I didn’t want to waste good beans. It took me nearly 30 lattes to recover, and even then, yikes.
And, when we left the setup to log data over time, we could see that the concentration of the headspace gasses in the container diminished over time, just as we’d expect from beans losing freshness.
This was great news, but far too little data to have certainty that we could determine freshness.
We believed this might reveal key insights about how the freshness sensing experience should be designed – from hardware to service to mobile app – and could inform decisions early on, while changes are cheap and easy to make.
Except we’ve never done that kind of thing before.” My eyes lit up.
I had done of that kind of thing before for Modernist Cuisine projects, and as it turned out, I was about to have a lot of time on my hands. By the end of week 1, we had determined that the idea was feasible.
I’m happy to report that the average quality of my daily latte art has been on an upward trend for the last two years – even beyond the mediocre level I demonstrate in the video.
But clearly I have a lot more practice ahead of me. I had the incredible opportunity to help the GIR team develop the coffee freshness sensing technology that will become part of the Voltaire, launching on Kickstarter today.