A Major University Has a Coffee Research Center

© Getty Images/EyeEm

By Danica Lo Posted September 09, 2016

Now you can major in coffee, sort of.

The most popular elective at the University of California, Davis, is all about making coffee. No, seriously, coffee.

In 2012, engineer professors William Ristenpart and Tonya Kuhl were looking for new ways to attract new students to the engineering department. One idea that they batted around was giving intro-level classes Mr. Coffee machines to take apart—just so they could get a first taste of small-scale engineering. The professors soon realized that the entire coffee brewing process itself—"the chemical reactions of roasting, to mass transfer (when hot water extracts oils and flavor compounds from coffee grounds), and fluid dynamics, which control the flow of hot water and steam"—lined up perfectly with the overall chemical engineering curriculum.

That year, they launched a new class called "Design of Coffee." And over the past four years, NPR reports that the enrollment of that intro to engineering class has grown from 18 students each year to 1,500. "We have an army of teaching assistants," Ristenpart told the site. "Every graduate student wants to work with this class."

Today, Ristenpart and Kuhl are the director and co-director, respectively, of the UC Davis Coffee Center, which is housed in a 6,000 square foot building anchored by a Peet's Coffee Pilot Roastery and founded on a $250,000 donation from Peet's Coffee. It's not a far stretch for the university, which already has highly-respected research facilities specializing in wine and beer.

The Coffee Center houses several research labs—and what's really exciting is that the work these labs produce could have direct effects on consumers. In the near future, the center will be developing a lab exploring coffee storage facilities, a facility dedicated to studying cold brew and cold brew packaging, a sensory lab, an analytical lab that will house "mass spectrometry and chromatographic techniques" to analyze how roasting and brewing can affect the 1,000+ molecules involved in creating coffee's unique flavor, a lab dedicated to advanced espresso brewing, and a water quality facility.

Kinda makes you want to go back to school, huh.

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