Espresso yourself — a sensor-based approach for coffee tasting

Thursday, 07 March, 2024

Espresso yourself — a sensor-based approach for coffee tasting

Traditionally, the assessment of coffee properties has relied on trained panellists and standardised questionnaires, leading to potential biases. Now researchers in Italy have demonstrated the feasibility of using wearable technology to measure the emotional responses of coffee experts during tastings. The technology provides a solution for reducing judgement biases that can result from traditional and more subjective methods of coffee quality assessment.

Published in SCI’s Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, the study shows how the wearable sensors have been employed to examine the implicit emotional responses of experienced coffee judges.

“This research could open a new perspective into sensory analysis of coffee tasting,” said Lucia Billeci, a researcher at the Institute of Clinical Physiology of the National Research Council of Italy (IFC-CNR), and corresponding author of the study.

To monitor physiological responses, the team equipped judges at an international coffee tasting competition in Milan, Italy, with sensors for measuring the electrical activity of the heart, brain and skin.

An example of a panellist monitored during electroencephalogram recording at the ‘International Coffee Tasting 2022, Summer Session’, hosted at the Mumac Academy premises in Binasco, Milan, Italy, in July 2022. Image credit: National Research Council of Italy

Alessandro Tonacci, a biomedical engineer at IFC-CNR and lead author on the study, explained the significance of the biomedical signals measured.

“We used the electrocardiographic (ECG) signal, the Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) and the electroencephalographic signal (EEG). The ECG measures the electrical activity of the cardiac muscle and is able to provide information about the autonomic nervous system branches, which are in charge for arousal and relaxation, respectively. 

“The GSR is related to the electrical activity of the human skin, correlated with emotional states, and is under direct control of the sympathetic nervous system. Finally, the EEG measures the electrical activity of the brain, measured at the scalp level, and provides information about the activation and connectivity of and between specific brain areas.”

The findings revealed significant correlations between these biomedical signals and data obtained from conventional questionnaires across all sensory domains, confirming the viability of the approach for enhancing the quality assessment of coffee.

The team is now looking to attract funding to carry out other investigations in specific use case scenarios related to coffee production and distribution, as well as looking beyond coffee. “We are now conducting other investigations on different biological matrices related to food and drinks, for example in some particular wines,” Billeci said.

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