Smart Spectrophotometers Help the Coffee Industry Increase Accuracy of Color Measurements

coffee color measurement
A smart spectrophotometer can measure the color of hundreds of coffee beans simultaneously. Image Source: Unsplash user Jason Wong

The United States is home to some of the most avid coffee drinkers in the world. About 64 percent of adults in the U.S. say that they drink at least one cup of coffee every single day.1 While this is great news for the coffee industry, it also presents a potential challenge for coffee manufacturers. To meet this daily high demand for both quantity and quality, manufacturers have to make sure that their products are as consistent and delicious as possible. Just one bad experience with unevenly-roasted beans could impact a customer’s perception of the product in the future.

This is why color quality control is essential for the coffee industry. Color is often closely tied to the roast level and flavor of the coffee, so having a consistent batch of beans is important. But what’s the best way to ensure color consistency in your coffee products? You may consider using a smart spectrophotometer that’s specifically designed to measure the color of textured samples like whole and ground coffee beans. When you use a smart spectrophotometer, you’ll not only get the most accurate color measurements possible, you may also save yourself a significant amount of time and effort in the process.

Measuring the Color of Coffee Samples Isn’t Always Fast or Simple

Although color quality control is an essential step in the coffee manufacturing process, that doesn’t necessarily mean that measuring the color of coffee is easy or quick. In fact, there are a number of challenges that coffee manufacturers face when they try to analyze the color of their beans. Here are just a few of these potential hurdles:

  • Inaccurate Analysis: If you use the naked eye alone to analyze the color of your beans or ground coffee products, you may misinterpret your product’s color. This is because the perception of color is subjective between different people and because certain environmental factors (like lighting) can make the color appear darker or lighter than it really is.
  • Sample Sizes That Are Too Small: A small sample of coffee may not accurately reflect the color of the entire batch. For example, if some of your coffee beans were closer to the roasting heat source than others, then those beans will likely be darker in color.2 If you only measure the color of those beans, then you may end up throwing out the entire batch because you believe all of the beans were over-roasted. In general, measuring a larger sample of your coffee product will provide you with more accurate results because it will be more reflective of the entire batch.
  • Time-Consuming Measurements: Even if you use a spectrophotometer to analyze the color of your products, many standard benchtop and portable instruments are only capable of taking small area measurements of a sample. This means that you can only analyze the color of a few beans or coffee grounds at a time. To determine whether the entire batch falls within you color tolerance, you would have to take multiple measurements of many small coffee samples and average these separate measurements to get your final color consistency results. This process takes a great deal of time and effort.
  • Sample Holders Need to Be Replaced: Standard spectrophotometers also often come with sample holders that include a glass or plastic covering designed to protect the sample inside from touching the instrument’s sensor. The problem with these types of holders is that they can become scratched or contaminated with product over time, and this may impact your color measurement results. You have to replace these holders frequently in order to ensure that you’re getting accurate measurements every time.

For these and many other reasons, coffee manufacturers may find a smart spectrophotometer like HunterLab’s Aeros more beneficial for their color quality control process. The Aeros is a smart non-contact spectrophotometer that solves all of the challenges above, allowing coffee manufacturers to get accurate color readings quickly and efficiently.

coffee color measurement
The color of your coffee beans can impact the perception of quality, and even the flavor, of your final product. Image Source: Unsplash user Kurniawan Adhi

How the Aeros Solves These Challenges

The Aeros smart spectrophotometer has a number of features that make it ideal for measuring the color of coffee samples, such as:

You Won’t Have to Clean or Replace Sample Holders

To start, the instrument is a non-contact spectrophotometer, meaning that the sensor never touches the sample directly. However, the Aeros takes this feature one step further by automatically detecting where the sample is in the holder and adjusting the sensor height to an ideal position above the sample. This automatic sensor adjustment is part of what makes the Aeros “smart.” The sample will never touch the sensor yourself and you won’t have to waste time cleaning and prepping plastic or glass covers to protect the sensor. This also means that your measurements stay consistent over time since you won’t have to deal with scratched or contaminated covers.

You Can Take Much Larger Measurements

The Aeros also solves the challenge of small area measurements. Compared to standard benchtop and portable spectrophotometers, the Aeros is capable of measuring more coffee at once. In fact,  it has the largest sample area in the world. This allows you to test the color of potentially hundreds of beans simultaneously. But how does the Aeros measure such a large sample area? By rotating its sample platform. As the platform rotates around, the sensor takes 35 different measurements, covering every surface of the platform in just five seconds. It would take someone hours to perform the same number of measurements using a standard spectrophotometer operating with a Small Area View (SAV).

You’ll Get Reliable, Accurate Color Readings

Finally, the Aeros solves the challenge of inaccurate or biased color perception. After the instrument takes all of its measurements, it averages them automatically, providing you with both a color measurement number and a corresponding Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) number, which tells you where the color falls on the standard roast scale. Rather than comparing your beans or grounds to SCAA tiles with your naked eye (which can give you inaccurate results), the Aeros will tell you with certainty where your product falls on the SCAA scale with the highest level of accuracy. This allows you to refine your manufacturing process and aim for the perfect roast, whether that’s a light roast or a certified gourmet-quality medium roast.3

coffee color measurement
A well-roasted batch of coffee beans will be nearly identical from bean-to-bean, with very little mottling or blotchy, uneven browning. Image Source: Unsplash user Ben Kolde

How to Use the Aeros to Measure Your Coffee Products

To use the Aeros, you simply place your coffee sample into the platform holder. You don’t have to do any prep work on your sample ahead of time—the instrument measures the coffee in its whole state. From here, you simply touch the start button, and the Aeros adjusts its sensor height and begins the measurement process. The platform rotates as the sensor takes in all of its individual measurements, and within seconds, you’ll see a display of both the color measurement number and the SCAA number on the screen. From here, you can choose to email, print or stream the data across your network. To take measurements of additional coffee samples, all you have to do is remove and empty the sample tray and quickly clean off any excess coffee. You can repeat this process for as many batches as you need.

If you have any questions about this process, the Aeros also includes real-time Remote Access Support (RAS). This innovative support service allows you to ask experts technical questions about the instrument long after your purchase. Whether you need help finding all of your instrument’s features or you need to update your software, our experts will walk you through the process from the Aeros’ integrated chat feature.

HunterLab Innovation

For more than 60 years, HunterLab has introduced innovative solutions to common industry challenges. Our line of spectrophotometers is designed to be as reliable and efficient as possible. From smart benchtop spectrophotometers to handheld instruments, we provide the tools you need to implement a dependable color quality control protocol. Contact us today to find out more about our specialized line of color measurement instruments.

  1. “Americans Are Drinking a Daily Cup of Coffee at the Highest Level in Six Years”, March 17, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-coffee-conference-survey/americans-are-drinking-a-daily-cup-of-coffee-at-the-highest-level-in-six-years-survey-idUSKCN1GT0KU
  2. “Uneven Roasts”, http://www.thecoffeeguide.org/coffee-guide/coffee-quality/uneven-roasts/
  3. “Roast Level for Cupping”, https://www.scaa.org/PDF/resources/roast-level-for-cupping.pdf