Citizen Scientist–Coffee Joulies

Coffee Joulies and their bag

About 4 months ago, I invested in a Kickstarter (www.kickstarter.com) initiative. If you’re not familiar with Kickstarter it’s a website where people with an idea can seek venture capital from the masses. There are some great ideas, some not so great ones, and some that are really random. Usually, initial backers get some perk for investing early, and then there are tiers for sponsorship levels.

Anyway, the initiative that caught my eye was for Coffee Joulies (CJ) (http://www.joulies.com/). The idea was that you put some of the Joulies in your cup of hot coffee (or tea in my case) and that the molten temperatures would drop to the ideal drinking temperature of 140*F rapidly due to the magic of a “phase change material” in the Joulies that absorbed the heat and then slowly released it back into the beverage to maintain relatively constant temp. So, you get to ideal temperature faster and it remains there longer. For $75, I was invested and down for two sets of Joulies.

The guys at CJ’s did a great job of keeping their investors up to date with the ramping up of their operation to full scale manufacturing. They took over an old Oneida factory in NY, retooled the equipment and staff, and after some time, I received the Joulies yesterday.

Casey was out shopping and the kids were asleep when I got the box. Instead of opening the box, washing the Joulies, and using, for some reason I decided to let some intellectual curiosity get the best of me. I was a double major in Cell Biology and Microbiology with a minor in Biochemistry in college. Which really means that I spent a lot of time in labs at one point in my life. Actually, come to think of it, I really didn’t have that much of a life at that point in my life. Lots of time in labs, studying chemical cycles and cascades with a white board (eg, Kreb’s cycle), and reading books with near unpronounceable names. Did I mention that I work in IT now? I still maintain it was a great choice and a great preparation for life in critical thinking skills, scientific method, and experimental design. But, I digress.

My setup. Note the spiderman mug was _critical_ to the test.

I pulled out a coffee mug and used the electric kettle to heat up some water. Next, I got a candy thermometer and the grill thermometer to measure the effect of the CJs on the water. I first ran the water through and put the thermometers in to see what happened with no CJs. This, in scientific parlance, is called a “control” which is basically what happens to your setup if nothing different happens. You compare this to what happens when you change a variable (in our case, the Joulies). Your repeat it a bunch of times to make sure it’s valid. You write it up, publish it, and then have people say that you are an idiot and try to prove you wrong. Somewhere in there is the scientific method (consider a problem, postulate a reason aka hypothesis, then test and repeat until you are sure your hypothesis is true or false, then put it out for others to test), which sounds kind of negative, but this is the way we, at least in the West, seek to discover truth. It’s not perfect, but it’s served us pretty well through the industrial age.

The control test of the water showed that water from the kettle entered the cup around 210*F. The room temp was about 70*F. And it took just at 20 minutes for the water to get down to 140*F, which is the temperature the folks at CJs say is the ideal temperature for drinking hot beverages. The water went from 140*F to 128*F in 8 minutes. Thus, you wait for 20 min so you don’t scald your mouth, and then you have about 8 minutes of ideal drinking time.

Now, let’s do all that again but with the CJ’s in the cup. I rinsed out the cup to get it to room temperature so the previous retained heat wouldn’t impact the experiment. Same procedure as before, except there were five Joulies in the cup. The water was the same 210*F and the room was about 70*F. The water went from 210* to 140* in 7 minutes and 30 seconds, and took just under 15 minutes to get to 128*F.

This ends the quantitative part of the experiment where specific measurements support the hypothesis. Now, satisfied in reliving some glory days, I made myself a cup of tea to test in actual use. This is called qualitative measurement.

And, I generally was able to drink the tea faster than I would’ve normally and enjoyed it a bit longer than normal. To the tea snobs out there, normally I wait for the boiling water to cool before I put it in my tea. Here I just put the Joulies in and used the milk Oolong that was in my strainer. So there.

The kids woke up right about here, and Casey wasn’t long in arriving home so that ends my experiment time. She did wonder why the thermometers were out, and since she was a business major she just wanted me to clean it up without hearing the details.

Had I more time, I would’ve tried the experiment again in a vacuum mug instead of a regular coffee mug. To make it more scientific, I could’ve run the tests several more times and gotten more than my opinion on the qualitative part. But, it was good to shake the dust off of the experimenter part of me.

The Joulies worked as promised in that they got the water down to the “ideal” drinking temp and kept it there longer than if nothing was used. I invested in a start up, spurred the economy with American manufacturing jobs, enjoyed tea (something I’ll talk more about another time), and played with some scientific gadget whizbangery. What’s not to like?

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6 thoughts on “Citizen Scientist–Coffee Joulies

  1. Micah, thanks for the note. I hadn’t seen this. Maybe in another Citizen Scientist related post I’ll cover the literature review. I agree that the CJs aren’t going to be up for the Nobel Prize and many will question the cost/benefit value proposition, but for me the joy of getting back to some science roots, especially in preparing to work on basic experimental methodology with Eva and Preston (my 7 mo/old twins), was worth the money. I’ll call it a Dad lab fee!

  2. That wasn’t the review I thought it was, either — there was another one that went into the hard science of molar composition of materials and concluded the only materials that might live up to the claim were too toxic to put in your drink — even encased.

    They are still cool, though. And rock on with the science!

  3. Nice writeup. I particularly liked the notes for further research at the end — it was just like reading a real journal article.

  4. Hi Robert,
    Interesting article. I like the concept – nothing ruins a good cup of hot chocolate more than burning your tongue and not being able to taste it.
    It was nice to see that you are putting all that regained time “post ELOC” to use!

    Great picture by the way.

  5. Pingback: Zojirushi CW-PZC22 Micom Super Boiler Electric Dispensing Pot 2.2 Liters | Zojirushi Water Boiler

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