“Cinnamongate”: The Intriguing Science Behind El Diamante’s Aroma
El Diamante is one of our most exceptional coffee varieties. This coffee first made its grand appearance on the World Brewer’s Cup stage in 2016, marking a significant milestone for Keen Coffee. The sensation that made El Diamante stand out was its compelling and potent cinnamon-like aroma and taste, which intrigued coffee connoisseurs worldwide.
Image: Esteban at Danilo’s farm
This unique trait, however, stirred a series of questions within the coffee community. The way that the coffee’s producer, Esteban Villalobos, could cultivate such distinctive flavour notes through his anaerobic fermentation process remained a mystery. So, how did Esteban manage to bring out cinnamon, apple, and pastry-like notes?
Image: Rob and Bonne with Esteban and his fermentation tank
A key element to note is that Villalobos does not incorporate any additives into the fermentation process. Despite this, there were still speculations that cinnamon additives could have contributed to El Diamante’s unique flavour profile.
Driven by curiosity and the pursuit of truth, we decided to delve deeper into this enigma. We trusted Dr. Samo Smrke, a wonderful chemist and coffee scientist, who conducted an explorative research to scrutinise the claims. The objective was simple: to determine if there were any traces of cinnamon in our El Diamante coffee. Dr. Smrke meticulously examined the green and roasted coffee beans, and then performed a gas chromatography-olfactometry (GC-O) analysis to detect potential cinnamaldehyde, a chemical compound characteristic of cinnamon. If cinnamon sticks were indeed added to the fermentation tank, traces of cinnamaldehyde should be detectable.
To our surprise, the results showed no trace of cinnamaldehyde. We further tested for eugenol, another compound found in cinnamon, yet again, the results came back negative.
What was even more fascinating, however, was the fact that even without any tangible presence of cinnamon, we perceived cinnamon-like notes in the coffee. Instead, we found other flavours, such as apple pie and cinnamon bun. This brought up an interesting question: how does our brain interpret the complex flavours in coffee?
Dr. Fabiana Carvalho, a notable neuroscientist, provides a fascinating explanation: our brain is excellent at recognizing and interpreting sensory experiences based on our past experiences. When the bag of coffee is labelled with ‘cinnamon’, our brain tries to match the flavour to our internal model of what cinnamon should taste like, even if the actual spice isn’t present.
However, this model can accept only so much variance. Once we compare the coffee’s taste with actual cinnamon, our brain can’t reconcile the difference. But when we describe the coffee’s flavour as ‘apple pie’ or ‘cinnamon bun’—flavours commonly associated with cinnamon—our brain comfortably accepts the ‘cinnamon’ descriptor.
Image: Danilo’s farm in Costa Rica
In conclusion, the cinnamon-y notes of El Diamante coffee aren’t a result of cinnamon additives but rather a fascinating interplay of unique flavour compounds and our brain’s recognition capabilities. This mystery solved gives us an even greater appreciation for this extraordinary coffee, and shows us that the world of coffee is full of intricacies waiting to be discovered.
Read more about Samo Smrke’s projects: https://www.zhaw.ch/en/about-us/person/smrk/