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Monday, June 10, 2024

UC Davis Coffee Center opens on May 3

The center is the first facility in the country dedicated solely to coffee research


By JORDAN POLTORAK — campus@theaggie.org


On May 3, UC Davis opened the Coffee Center, the first center in the United States dedicated solely to coffee research. The 7,000-square-foot center will house pre- and post-harvest coffee science research. This includes brewing laboratories, experimental bean storage, a sensory and cupping laboratory and a pilot roastery.

“We have the expertise here,” Tonya Kuhl, a UC Davis professor and co-director of the Coffee Center, said. “There are challenges coffee faces because of climate change, and we want to improve how it is processed in a sustainable way. This is the place where this activity can be attacked from all angles.”

The space will house many classes, such as The Design of Coffee (ECH1) created by Co-Directors Tonya Kuhl and William Ristenpart. The center plans to offer over 50 fields of study, covering subjects from chemical engineering to plant science and sociology. 

ECH1 was initially created as a first-year seminar. In its beginning, the lab equipment featured many items that can be found in a home, like a drip coffee maker. 

“We made do with the original lab space until about 2016,” Kuhl said. “Then, we renovated the space and devoted it to the coffee lab. It was paid for by Chevron, the College of Engineering and an alum [named] John Watson.”

In the new space, Peet’s Coffee provided the initial gift for their pilot roastery, and $6 million were provided by private donors to complete the center.

Eventually, Kohl and Ristenpart’s class evolved from a first-year seminar to a full-fledged course. 

“Many students take the class as a general education requirement,” Kuhl said. “Students from all sorts of majors get exposed to chemical engineering, and every year, we pluck off a couple of those students and get them to change to our major because it’s really fun.” 

Isabella Engler, a fourth-year international relations major, discussed the benefits of the course. 

“Not only does the class allow you to put the theory and science discussed in lecture into practice, but your newly acquired understanding will enhance your own coffee drinking experience,” Engler said.

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the center, over 200 individuals attended. There were student research displays and roastings as well as espresso brewing demonstrations.

Having a dedicated place for coffee research allows UC Davis to be at the forefront of the chemical engineering field. Kohl and Ristenpart’s textbook, “The Design of Coffee: An Engineering Approach,” is currently used at colleges such as University of San Diego, University of Colorado Boulder and Auburn University to teach similar classes. 

“Before [ECH1], I was convinced coffee could only be enjoyable when used to enhance the richness of a chocolate cake when baking,” Engler said. “I now have a whole other appreciation for the science and artist license that goes into brewing each cup.” 

Written by: Jordan Poltorak — campus@theaggie.org


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