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IS SONIC WAVE COLD BREW A REAL THING? OR FAKE SCIENCE?

A new gadget for cold brew lovers, short of time and desperate to part with cash is coming to market soon.

We’re grateful to Kickstarter to provide Bartalks with a never-ending stream of news. In this case, the product named “Sonic Dutch” (Dutch Coffee being a name for cold brew) has gained quite a following raising over £33,000 (over $40,000) so far with 20 days still to go.

It claims to make cold brew without the wait. OK, you have wait 5 minutes, but that’s a lot less than 10 hours. If 5 minutes still seems too long, it has a Bluetooth speaker built-in so that you can listen to your music. They didn’t go into what the quality of the speaker is like, which is a shame as I figured if the coffee turned out to be terrible, at least you’d still have a Bluetooth speaker.

Colour me a sceptic, but I’m sceptical. It’s not that I don’t believe it’s possible, but I’d like to hear the science behind the extraction. As we know coffee extraction is fiendishly complex, which is why it’s such an absorbing field of science. My understanding is that by agitating the grinds, they don’t settle, and hence are more exposed to the water which reduces extraction time. I find it amazing that it reduces the time from 10 hours to 5 minutes, but there is some convincing time-lapse photography on the process.

Hunting for some more substantial facts, I stumbled across a patent for coffee extraction via sonic waves. Was the secret behind the science about to be revealed? No.

Most patents I’ve read contain 95% ‘filler material’ and 5% useful material. Depending on which country/region you file the patent, and what your intentions are (sometimes the whole technology is disclosed, other times you file only part of the unique technology so that you’re protected without giving away all the secret sauce), they vary tremendously in value. This one has very little value, but feel free to read it yourself here. A part of the patents abstract is below.

a magnetic vibration unit accommodating one end of the current support unit therein so as to form a magnetic field in a direction traversing the current support unit, such that the magnetic vibration unit is vibrated in the lengthwise direction of the current support unit by a polar change in the alternating current; and a plate unit coupled to the magnetic vibration unit so as to transmit the vibration to a fluid containing particulate matter. Therefore, coffee is extracted by using room temperature or low-temperature water, such that the amount of eluted caffeine is reduced, and a sonic wave vibration is transmitted to an aqueous solution containing coffee powder such that the time taken to extract coffee is shortened

TDS

The kickstarter page has a section where they measure Total Dissolvable Solids (TDS) using a refractometer over 5, 10 and 15 minutes using the Sonic Dutch. It actually looks pretty impressive, but as we know TDS by itself is not a measure of quality or taste. Still, it did make me wonder if there was something to this after all.

Earlier Version found on Alibaba

While looking around, I found what looks like an earlier version from a Korean manufacturer selling wholesale on Alibaba.

Sonic Dutch available on Alibaba

One problem Kickstarter has is the impression it can give that you’re backing an invention. Sometimes, as in this case, there is a commercial company with an existing product basically getting a free loan from kickstarter backers to build a new product. I’m sure it doesn’t break any rules, but it just feels a little opaque in how the product is presented.

If you want more fun and amateur science-based read on the subject, the forum over at level1techs.com has a thread on the subject along with photos of the outcomes.

Photo from https://forum.level1techs.com/t/sonic-cold-brew-coffee-with-sound/132120/14

As far as I can tell, there is not much to this idea other than to keep the grinds suspended, which may have merits. Whether changing the frequency and thus the agitation of the grinds will have any impact on flavour, and the relationship of that to the type of coffee and grind size I suspect will avoid much further scrutiny.

But perhaps I’m missing the point. People love gadets and perhaps this will make a lot of people happy as they twiddle the knobs to ‘dial in’ the ultimate cold brew in 5 minutes. As the Kinks famously wrote – ‘Give the people what they want’.

What do you think?

Written by Nick Baskett

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