Smoking and drinking coffee

Why Your Coffee Smells Like Cigarettes (It’s Science)

So…you wake up, and you’re eager for that perfect cup of coffee to kick-start your day. You carefully grind the beans, savoring the anticipation. Then, as you take that first sip, something’s a little off—your coffee smells like cigarettes.

It’s an age-old burning question (kind of): Why does coffee smell like cigarettes?

In this article, you’ll earn the intriguing science behind this funky phenomenon. You’ll also get some useful tips to help you tackle this issue. So, keep reading for all the dirty details.

Why Does Coffee Smell Like Cigarettes?

There are several reasons why coffee and cigarettes have similar scents. For starters, they share aroma compounds.

Aside from that, external factors – like smoke contamination or medical conditions – can affect coffee flavor and smell.

Sack of Roasted Coffee Beans with wafting smoke

1. Similar Chemical Compounds

Coffee and cigarettes have some common chemical compounds. Acetaldehyde, a chemical that provides a fruity and nutty flavor to both compounds, is among these chemicals. 

Likewise, 2-methylpyrazine contributes to coffee’s rich aroma and is also found in cigarettes. 

The main culprit, however, is pyridine, a component of nicotine.

When you light a cigarette or cigar, the nicotine undergoes a Maillard reaction, breaking down into different pyridine compounds. These components create the distinctive smoke smell.

Interestingly, that’s the same case in coffee. Whether you’re brewing Arabica or Robusta, coffee beans will produce pyridine during the roasting process.

And no, we aint just blowin’ smoke here.

In fact, out of the 800 volatile organic compounds found in roasted coffees, over 20 pyridine compounds emerge, producing an array of odors. That said, only pyridine in the azine group produces an unpleasant smoke-like smell.

2. Smoke Contamination

Aside from the shared aroma notes, external reasons, like smoke contamination, can cause your cup of coffee to smell like tobacco.

Coffee beans are highly porous by nature. For that reason, they absorb odors from the atmosphere. 

In fact, because of its powerful aroma, coffee can also combat foul smells.

Researchers at the City College of New York used coffee grounds as an eco-friendly warrior against the stench of hydrogen sulfide,, which is found in raw sewage and, you guessed it, cigarette smoke.

The nitrogen in caffeine effectively absorbs hydrogen sulfide and eliminates its smell. Sounds nice, right?

Unfortunately, its porous nature makes coffee susceptible to contaminants. Smoking near coffee can lead to the absorption of the smoke’s strong odors. 

3. Psychological Effects

The cigarette scents infiltrating your morning cup of coffee may just be due to your habits.  Heavy smokers who are also coffee enthusiasts might form a psychological association between the compounds in both. 

Smelling roasted coffee beans

Surprisingly, this might actually help reduce the harm of smoking. Roasted coffee beans contain chemicals that can help alleviate morning nicotine cravings. 

There’s a catch, of course. Nicotine-dependent smokers link tobacco use with coffee. This can cause them to mistake the smell of coffee for smoke.

4. Medical Conditions

Medical conditions, like phantosmia or olfactory hallucinations, can also cause some people to mistake the smell of coffee for cigarettes or cigars. 

In case you’re wondering, people with this disorder detect smells that aren’t actually present in their surroundings. 

The condition differs from one person to another. Some smell sweet aromas, while others experience unpleasant odors like burnt food, chemicals, mold, and tobacco smoke.

While generally not a cause for concern, in rare cases, phantosmia could be a sign of more serious health conditions like Parkinson’s disease or a brain tumor.

If your coffee always smells like cigarettes, it might be a good idea to have a doctor check you out.

Why Does Coffee Make Your Breath Smell Like Cigarettes?

Ever notice that your breath smells like cigarettes after you get your coffee fix? Blame it on the roasted coffee beans.

During the roasting process, sulfur-containing compounds form. (These chemicals are also found in cigarette smoke.) When combined with coffee’s acidity, they can cause some pretty bad breath.

But wait…there’s more. Coffee also makes your mouth feel dry, thanks to caffeine and tannins. Tannins also latch onto proteins in your saliva, slowing down its production. Why does this matter? Because saliva usually washes away leftover food bits and odor-causing bacteria.

Without enough saliva, microorganisms flourish and release sulfur gas, causing bad breath.

How to Prevent the Cigarette Smell of Coffee

Now that you know why your coffee tastes and smells like cigarettes, here are a few tips that’ll help you avoid this problem:

1. Buy Fresh High-Quality Coffee Grounds

Your coffee’s quality can make all the difference in its taste and odor. (Duh). You should prioritize freshness by selecting recently roasted beans. That’s because old coffee grounds can become stale and pick up unwanted odors.

Additionally, opt for Arabica over Robusta since they have a milder taste. Consider drinking light roasts. Due to the shorter roasting time, light roasts can produce lower VOCs (volatile organic compounds).

You might also want to try a high-quality coffee that is low in acidity. Lifeboost Coffee is a great option.

2. Clean Your Coffee Maker

Prevent unwanted odors by regularly cleaning your coffee maker. Use a mixture of vinegar and water for a thorough cleanse. Make sure to clean the filter basket and other removable parts of the coffee maker. This helps avoid burnt coffee flavors, which can smell like cigarettes or cigars.

3. Get Creative With the Brewing Process

Spice up your coffee by adding cinnamon or ginger during brewing. You can also melt some chocolate to get that mocha flavor. These natural spices not only enhance your coffee’s taste but also introduce delightful aromas. As a result, they mask any potential cigarette-like odors.

Chocolate and coffee in a coffee mug

Wrapping Up

So, why does coffee smell like cigarettes?

Coffee and cigarettes can smell alike because they have similar chemical compounds. These include acetaldehyde, 2-methylpyrazine, and the key player, pyridine. 

External factors, like smoke contamination and psychological associations, contribute to this aroma overlap. Occasionally, medical conditions like phantosmia can play a role. 

To avoid the unpleasantness, use fresh, high-quality beans, regularly clean your coffee maker, and experiment with flavors during brewing.  With these tips, you’ll be able to say ‘so long’ the cigarette smell and savor your morning cup of joe.

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