When it comes to flavor, aroma and body in coffee, it's all about the chemicals in your cup. Two professors in the engineering department at the University of California - Davis take those chemical -- and the resulting coffee -- very seriously. In fact, they take them so seriously that they'll be teaching a whole class about it for the Winter 2014 semester.
Tonya Kuhl and William Ristenpart will be teaching ECM1: The Design of Coffee as an engineering design course open to students in all departments. The pair started out designing an experiment to analyze the Mr. Coffee brewer and expanded their idea to encompass many different brewing techniques and experiements in brewing and design.
According to Kuhl, students will learn about the principles of chemical engineering durng lectures, and then apply those principles during lab sessions where they will attempt to brew the perfect cup of coffee using those principles. It will be one of the few lab classes where students will be encouraged to eat and drink in the lab -- not to mention, to consume the chemicals they'll actually be using in their experiments.
There are no prerequisites for the class. In fact, the professors prefer students who don't know a lot about the art of brewing coffee because they don't want participants to enter the experiments with preconceived notions. It's their intent to encourage class members to think creatively and use the types of problem-solving skills expected of engineering students. Kuhl and Ristenpart are particularly excited to be offering the class to the general student population who typically don't get a lot of exposure to the principles of engineering design and chemical engineering. They'll be happy to accept coffee lovers of all levels, though, and believe that even those experienced with brewing coffee may learn a thing or two about brewing and may even find their favorite brewing methods challented.
The labs will include coffee cupping where students can try the results of their experiments. The course will culminate in a challenge to brew the perfect coffee with the least amount of energy possible. The students' coffee results will be judged by a panel of judges in a blind coffee cuppping. The final scores will include both the coffee's cupping score and the amount of energy required to brew the cup.
We're honestly not surprised that a pair of chemical engineering profs would be fascinated with the design elements of coffee brewing. Some of our favorite coffee brewers depend on unexpected design choices to brew superb coffee. They include the Chemex -- which was actually designed by a chemist -- and the Technivorm, the first automatic drip brewer to be recognized by the Specialty Coffee Association of America for its brewing ability.