The Coffee Science Foundation partners with FREC at The Ohio State University to launch new research

The Coffee Science Foundation (CSF) has announced the launch of a new research project, “Sweetness in Coffee: Sensory Analysis and Identification of Key Compounds,” in collaboration with the Flavor Research and Education Center (FREC) in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.

Specialty coffee consumers and experts alike agree that a key part of coffee quality is the natural sweetness that is a part of high-quality coffee flavour. Recent research has confirmed that, counterintuitively, the sweetness in coffee does not come from sugars in the bean. This has created something of a mystery among coffee experts and sensory scientists —if sugars do not make coffee taste sweet, what could be the reason for the sweet taste of high-quality coffee?

Since natural sweetness makes coffee more valuable to consumers, roasters, and coffee farmers alike, the specialty coffee community considers solving the mystery of sweetness to be a key element in making coffee better and more sustainable. “We learned from cuppers (coffee tasters) in our industry that sweetness is regarded as one of the most important sensory attributes,” says Dr. Mario R. Fernández-Alduenda, technical officer at the Specialty Coffee Association. “However, it is not clear how sweetness in coffee is perceived from the sensory point of view.”

“The CSF exists to leverage science and industry knowledge to help make coffee better,” says Peter Giuliano, executive director of the Coffee Science Foundation. “And we hope that this sweetness research will help plant breeders, cuppers, roasters, and farmers produce higher quality, and therefore higher value, coffees.”

Ohio State’s Flavor Research and Education Center (FREC) has pioneered the identification of specific flavour compounds in foods and has begun researching coffee in recent years. They were therefore the perfect place to turn to for this cutting-edge research project. “FREC has developed ‘untargeted’ chemical fingerprinting methods to advance our comprehensive understanding of stimuli that contribute to flavour, termed flavoromics. These methods are well suited to define complex flavour perceptions, such as sweetness, that can originate from multiple sensory systems such as smell (olfactory) and taste (gustatory) or by flavour modulators.

We are excited to apply these new methods of flavour discovery in collaboration with the CSF to improve our understanding of this key attribute of coffee quality,” says Devin Peterson, distinguished professor of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences within CFAES at Ohio State.

“Sweetness in Coffee” began research in fall of 2022, and the CSF hopes to see results as soon as 2023. The project, “Sweetness in Coffee: Sensory Analysis and Identification of Key Compounds,” and other Coffee Science Foundation research projects will be presented at upcoming SCA events, webinars, and publications.

Research outputs from this project and others are available in the Project Index section at

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