Foamy liquids have stronger structural integrity and are less likely to slosh all over your lap, according to new research.
Lattes—and latte drinkers—are easy prey. John Oliver delivered an impassioned attack on the pumpkin spice latte in the fall of last year. And when Starbucks introduced its version of the "flat white" at the start of 2015, a hybrid latte made with micro foam, Time managed to both praise and curse it as "the drink of choice for hipsters everywhere." But while the media may be bent on trampling the latte's dignity, scientists are proving the beverage's worth.
A new study postulates that lattes—anchored by their foam—are less likely to spill than cups of regular coffee. Foam acts as a holding weight, buffering the liquid's movement if the mug is suddenly jolted. More foam seems to be more effective: According to the researchers, five layers of foam have can subdue a liquid tenfold. The research team, from Princeton University and elsewhere, made their conclusions based on a series of tests using a water-based liquid and various heights of foam generated from dawn dish detergent. They believe their findings will translate to other liquids, like coffee:
This study demonstrates that a relatively thin layer of foam effectively damps sloshing. Our findings suggest that foam be used in various industrial processes in which sloshing needs to be minimized.
The physics of sloshing have become an interesting area of expertise for this group of researchers. They previously did a comparative study on the power of foam to mitigate spillage in beer versus coffee (coffee is more prone to spill). But looking at slosh-prevention from a coffee-centric view might help keep Americans out of harm's way.
According to the American Burn Association, scalding—injury to skin from hot liquids including coffee—is the second-most common cause of burns in the U.S. In 2011, a United Airlines flight was forced to make an emergency landing (and was thought to have been hijacked) after a pilot spilled hot coffee in the cockpit.
Of course, lattes are not for everyone. Just look at what happens because of one sip in Zoolander. But for the risk-averse—and those with coffee-stained laundry piling up—the foamy drink may be the safest cuppa that money can buy.