Why the smell of coffee gets you going on a morning

We’ve all heard the phrase “wake up and smell the coffee”. But is there some truth behind the saying? Does the smell of coffee really wake you up?

It seems the answer is yes, with lots of research taking place into how coffee affects the brain. We look at how it works and how you could harness this to your advantage.

What happens when you smell coffee

Coffee is noted for its strong aroma. This is due to aromatic volatile compounds - coffee beans have more than 800 of these which evaporate readily, allowing us to smell them.

Research by the Sheridan Elder Research Centre found that for many people it’s one of their favourite aromas. For many people, it has positive associations that are triggered when they smell it - it’s called associative learning. So if coffee wakes us up, eventually just the smell can do the same thing.

Scents have a particularly significant effect, as the hippocampus in the brain which is responsible for associative learning is connected to the amygdala which deals with emotions. That’s why smells can trigger long-forgotten memories - or happy thoughts of your favourite brew.

Other benefits

Some preliminary studies in Japan have also shown that the smell of coffee might lower stress levels caused by sleeplessness - at least in rats. When the rodents were kept awake for 24 hours and then exposed to the smell of roasted coffee, their bodies produced more genes associated with cell survival and reduction of stress.

It’s possible that this happens in humans too, meaning the smell of coffee could help you have a better day after a sleepless night.

Using the smell of coffee to give you a boost

There’s a number of ways that you can get the smell of coffee to achieve a boost, from scented candles to body wash.

Of course, we reckon the best thing to do is put some coffee on to brew. Not only do you get the advantages of the aroma, you also get to drink it too - a win-win situation.

To get the most from the aroma, it’s important to make your coffee with freshly ground beans. These have more aromatic volatile compounds than instant coffee so the smell is more intense and has more effect.

Happy brewing.


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