Small houses keep a family close. My childhood home was built in the 1950’s and it is small and cozy. The kitchen has a dining room table that has a view of “out back”. “Out back” is not small. There are five acres in which we raised cattle and hundreds of acres beyond which cattle once roamed.
I have fond memories of mornings eating breakfast, looking out and smelling coffee. Perhaps this is why coffee is my favorite beverage.
Furfuryl mercaptan (otherwise known as coffee mercaptan) is the characterizing component of coffee. Coffee flavor and Furfuryl mercaptan are generated by a roasting process and a chemical reaction called the Maillard reaction. The Maillard reaction is one of the most important reactions in food flavor development. The Maillard reaction is between a carbonyl group (sugar) and an amino compound (protein). Degradation of the condensation products of this reaction give a number of oxygenated compounds; such as furans, pyrazines, pyrroles, oxazoles, thiophenes, thiazoles and other heterocyclic compounds.
Furfuryl mercaptan is found in other roasted foods: beef, pork, chicken and popcorn. It is a sulfur compound and is very powerful. An empty bottle of this mercaptan broke at a facility I worked for and management evacuated the facility overnight. Furfuryl mercaptan is “that” strong and is found in coffee at levels of 1 ppm.
Furfuryl mercaptan can be described as roasty, but when used at a high or unbalanced level, it can be described as “skunky”. Skunky is undesirable in coffee flavors. A flavor chemist balances Furfuryl mercaptan with roasted, creamy and sweet compounds to make a coffee flavors. These compounds consist of the aroma chemicals such as:
4-Hydroxy-2,5-dimethyl 3(2h) furanone (aka Furaneol)
3-Methyl-cyclopentane 1,2-dione (aka cyclotene)
2-Ethyl 5-Methyl pyrazine
In my experience, coffee flavor has never compared to fresh brewed. Flavor is reminiscent, but it can not conjure up fond memories of the dining room table looking “out back”. Mother nature wins with coffee.