Lumpy Coffee

Yo, Matt:

Me and the boys here in Corporate Hell are pondering the Mystery of the Powdered Coffee Creamer. When I sprinkle the sinister powder on top of my hot coffee, it kind of coagulates into a strange form, like egg flower soup. No matter how much I stir it up, the soup remains. My friend Ben's technique is to put the creamer in the cup first, then pour the coffee in. Voila! His method does not create the Egg Flower Soup Effect. I'd love to come up with the real reason for this chemical reaction, and I knew just the person to ask.

-- Baffled in Cubicleville

Ben must have read the instructions on the creamer bottle. So I'm sure he's the office suck-up. No regular Joe ever reads instructions, right? Coffee creamer is, on average, about 30 percent vegetable fat, maybe as much as 45 percent. A little whey, a little casein, some lactose, some fat-loving and water-loving emulsifiers, and flavorings. In the manufacturing, each ingredient is reduced to as fine a powder or flake as possible, including the fat solids. The hope is that each granule will be saturated with the coffee as quickly as possible and either dissolve or float free in suspension in your cup, depending on the ingredient. The secret to saturation is agitation -- keeping the grains separate and moving. Dumping the creamer in the bottom of the cup fluffs it up a little bit, exposing more granule surface to the coffee, and it aids in agitation as the coffee is poured in and shakes up the creamer. A clump of creamer dropped from a spoon wets only a small portion of the powder and creates gummy lumps. The ingredients want to stick together, not disperse.

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