Why are lattes and beer less likely to spill?

Scientists say lattes and foamy beer are less likely to make a splash. They also offer tips for making you less likely to spill any beverage.

Why are lattes and beer less likely to spill? Photo (cc) by a.dombrowski

A foamy Starbucks latte and a frothy print of Guinness helped inspire recent scientific findings.

Not because Princeton University scientists were buzzed on caffeine or alcohol, but because they wondered why the beverages were less likely to slosh around.

“The scientists took their observations from the coffeehouse and the pub to the laboratory,” the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s EurekAlert reported.

Their conclusion? Bubbles like those in latte foam and beer froth decreased the height of the waves in those beverages, thereby reducing how much the drinks slosh around when being carried.

Here’s how the researchers illustrated it:

Just a few layers of foam are enough to significantly decrease the height of the waves in a sloshing fluid. (Credit: Alban Sauret/Princeton University)

“The team believes that the foam dissipates the energy of the sloshing liquid through friction with the sides of the container,” EurekAlert states.

Of course, this research, written up in the journal Physics of Fluids, aims to do more than help the average Joe down his morning cup of joe more gracefully. The scientists hope it can help uncover cheap and easy ways to transport large amounts of fluid.

“The potential applications are much bigger than just beer,” says Alban Sauret, a researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research, in a journal article.

If you prefer a less frothy beer brand — or coffee over lattes — fear not. Another group of scientists had you in mind.

In 2012, Rouslan Krechetnikov, a mechanical engineer at the University of California, Santa Barbara, authored research into coffee spilled while the person holding it was walking. He discovered three factors that help reduce spillage.

“Starting your walk slower — that is, accelerating less — will help. So will leaving a decent gap between the top of the coffee and the mug’s rim; this should be at least one-eighth of the mug’s diameter — for a normal mug, about a centimeter should do it,” Science reported. “But the researchers’ take-home advice is to look at what you’re doing — so long as your mug isn’t filled too high, a watched mug almost guarantees a clean run.”

Do you know any tricks to avoiding spilled drinks? Or do you find spill-fighting science a waste of resources? Share your thoughts below or on our Facebook page.

For more about your favorite beverages, check out 5 Best Cheap Coffee Grounds, Upcycle Your Beverages: 20 Uses for Coffee, Tea, Soda and Beer and Many Drinkers No Longer Pop a Top on These 7 Beers.

Karla Bowsher
Karla Bowsher
I’m a freelance journalist and former newspaper reporter who has covered both personal and public finance. I've worked for a top 50 major metro daily and a community newspaper as well as ... More

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