Because science improves every part of our lives (even breakfast), researchers from the University of Bath discovered that refrigerated coffee can actually taste better than room-temp grinds. More specifically, the team came to the conclusion that chilling beans before grinding can yield more flavor when it comes time to fire up the percolator. For years, common convention suggested that you shouldn't refrigerate coffee beans, as they could absorb flavors and smells from nearby items. But now it seems like the tide is shifting in the opposite direction, even if the reasons behind the discovery aren't quite what one might expect.
As it turns out, chilled coffee beans produce a more even grind, which means more consistent surface area. And the more surface area the hot water can hit, the better your coffee extraction. (See? You're already on your way toward becoming a Q Grader.) To test their hypothesis, the researchers ground beans at varying temperatures, ranging from ambient temps to -196 degrees Celsius. And as the temperature dropped, the finer the grinds came out. Plus, the particles were much more even, yielding a better brew.
The refrigerated coffee study didn't stop there. It also sought to understand how coffee becomes the flavorful, life-sustaining beverage that it is. It looked at the role of the Maillard reaction (i.e. the reason toast smells so good in the oven), harvesting processes (dry versus wet process), and phenols (compounds that give off aromas and flavors) within coffee roasting more broadly to determine why coffee smells and tastes the way it does. Although much is known about making coffee, scientists aren't sure exactly what conditions are required to make the perfect cup.
The study doesn't come down authoritatively on the merits of refrigerated coffee, especially since the number of variables and temperatures in the actual study go far beyond what your typical fridge can pull off. But the team believes there's hope for future coffee innovations. The study concluded by saying, "[...] coffee that is ground and brewed cold could potentially demonstrate increased aroma and or flavor in the eventual brewed cup."
Looks like cold brew coffee just got a hefty endorsement, too.