Crusty, dried-up coffee looks beautiful under a microscope

What you’re looking at above is not bubbles of melted gold on a rusted surface.

It’s dried-up blobs of espresso coffee.

The high-power microscope image is part of Nikon Small World, a contest that awards cash prizes for the most amazing microscope photos from around the world each year.

This particular image is one of dozens of stunning finalists that judges hand-picked from thousands of entries, and I can see why. (I was a judge for the competition’s 40th anniversary in 2014.)

Under normal conditions, a view like this might appear fuzzy and washed-out. But by using a microscope with a special polarising filter, which cancels out the glare of light that reflects off shiny objects, the true colours of the dried espresso break through.

The photomicrograph was taken by artist and environmental scientist Vin Kitayama, who runs the Vinsanchi Art Museum in Japan, and his wife Sanae Kitayama.

“During my research, I discovered the mystery and beauty of natural design that is hidden in one small drop of coffee,” Vin wrote in his photo entry. “The natural gold colour in this photograph reminds me of the beautiful gold that you sometimes can see in the finest traditional Japanese lacquer work, such as created by the famous artist, Korin, about three hundred years ago.”

The couple said the technique they used to take this photo was “developed over a long period” and took “a most difficult process” to get the espresso to crystallize. (Business Insider contacted Vin for more details, but he did not immediately respond.)

In this zoomed-in detail shot, you can see filaments of crystallised chemicals — perhaps caffeine, which is white as a pure crystal — propping up cracked, golden blobs of crema, or coffee foam:

Nikon will release the winners on Wednesday, October 19, via its Instagram account.

Until then, you can cast a vote for your favourite image.

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