The chemistry of coffee

wcc article 3Most of us drink our cup of coffee without thinking too much about what’s in the cup, but what we’re tasting can be very complex. Roasted coffee beans are made up of around 1,000 different compounds which combine to give your morning cuppa that unique flavour. Some of these compounds exist naturally in the raw bean, and others appear as a result of the roasting process.

The best known compounds are alkaloids, of which everyone can name at least one – caffeine! More correctly known as 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine, it’s naturally present but varies according to the type of bean and the preparation method.

Scientifically, caffeine is a secondary compound as it’s not essential to the survival of the plant. Plants have evolved to produce caffeine as a form of natural pesticide, as it’s toxic to fungi, insects and even to other plants. The caffeine is stored in vacuoles, specific cells that work like a locked cupboard, keeping the compound safe until it’s needed. Caffeine is safe for humans to ingest in the doses that we drink it in, and in fact has a number of health benefits.

Another natural compound found in coffee beans is  a bitter alkaloid called trigonelline. This degrades during roasting to produce two further compounds – niacin (vitamin B3) and pyridines. Niacin is vital for digestion, and also performs a range of other important functions in the body including repairing DNA damage. Pyridines contribute to producing the sweet, earthy aromas produced when coffee is roasted.

With all that going on, it’s no wonder that the flavour of coffee varies so much depending on country of origin, roasting time, roasting temperature, storage, growing season and much more. Here at the Wholesale Coffee Company, though, you can be sure of a top quality blend all the time, as a great wholesale price. Visit our main website at to find out more and browse our range.