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The growing role of universities in coffee research

From the September 2017 issue.

Slowly but surely, top universities are working toward coffee of the future through new coffee research and education programs.

Coffee education at UC Davis

When University of California (UC), Davis professor Bill Ristenpart developed his “Design of Coffee” freshman seminar in 2012, he was simply looking for a unique way to introduce students to chemical engineering.

That academic school year, 18 students enrolled. Fast-forward to 2015 and it was voted the best course on campus. Now more than 1500 students enrol each year, making it the highest enrolment of any elective course offered at UC Davis.

Ristenpart jokes that the course was more of a “pedagogical exercise” than anything. He’s long been a part of the food sciences faculty, but as far as coffee, “I don’t have any experience except that I drink it every day”, he admits lightheartedly.

He says publicity brought a lot of attention to the course, in addition to its hands-on approach to introducing engineering principles. But its popularity is no real surprise considering the university is well known for its similar approaches to beer and wine. UC Davis’ other most popular course is “Introduction to Beer Brewing”, with classroom and laboratory components similar to the coffee course. The latter are conducted in the August A. Busch III Brewing & Food Science Laboratory, which houses a moderate-size brewery donated by Anheuser-Busch in 2006.

UC Davis also has programs in viticulture and enology. California winemaker Robert Mondavi has partnered with the school to support programs within the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine & Food Science. The campus has the first-ever LEED-certified winery.

Aside from UC Davis’ unique academic take on agriculture, there are widespread trends happening in the greater coffee industry behind the popularity of UC Davis’ coffee course. In fact, these industry-wide forces are largely responsible for the growing number of coffee courses, programs and centres at universities across the country.

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