Director’s Letter

Welcome to the U.C. Davis Coffee Center!  These are exciting times for coffee science, and we at U.C. Davis are honored to be at the vanguard of cutting edge coffee science and education.

U.C. Davis is already famous for its world renowned programs in wine and beer, but you might be wondering: where does coffee fit in?   As many in the coffee industry are aware, coffee has traditionally been an “orphaned” industry with regard to academia.  There are few academic programs in the nation that investigate or even discuss the science of roasting and brewing coffee.  This is not because coffee is uninterestingly scientifically – far from it! – but because traditionally there has been little federal or state support to investigate a commodity based on agriculture outside the United States.

The U. C. Davis Coffee Center aims to change that paradigm.  To provide some background, two years ago U.C. Davis launched a “Coffee Initiative” that brought together faculty interested in coffee.  U. C. Davis already has tremendous expertise in many disciplines that pertain to coffee, ranging from microbiology, to analytical chemistry, to engineering, to consumer and sensory science, to economics and cultural analysis.   Near the same time, we also launched an undergraduate course, “The Design of Coffee,” which has exploded in popularity – it now serves 1,500 students per year and has been voted the most popular course on campus.

What the Coffee Initiative lacked, however, was a physical location on campus for research.  Experiments were conducted with small bench-top roasters, which are convenient but not necessarily representative of how coffee is roasted industrially.  Moreover, there were no analytical or laboratory spaces dedicated to coffee.

This is why we are delighted to announce that the Coffee Initiative is now evolving into a full-fledged Coffee Center.   The focal point of the new Coffee Center is a 6,000 square feet building, located on campus within walking distance of the world class facilities at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science.

In particular, we are especially grateful to Peet’s Coffee, which has provided a generous founding donation to support renovation of one of the high-bay labs in the Coffee Center to establish a Pilot Roastery.  This first of its kind roastery in an academic setting will include industrial scale roasting capabilities, to perform cutting edge research and education on the physics and chemistry of roasting.

The Peet’s Coffee Pilot Roastery is only the beginning of the story, however.  We are extremely fortunate to have almost 5000 more square feet of assignable space available for the investigation of coffee.  Our vision for the Coffee Center includes the following:

  • Experimental Green Bean Storage Facility. A lab dedicated to careful investigations on how storage conditions affect coffee quality and ‘past-crop’ issues.
  • Advanced Cold Brew and Coffee Packaging Facility. A pilot facility to investigate best practices in coffee extraction and bottling for the exploding market in cold brew coffee.
  • Sensory and Cupping Laboratory. The quality of coffee ultimately hinges on its taste, and we intend to establish a state-of-the-art sensory lab featuring modern sensory and consumer analysis techniques.
  • Advanced Coffee Analytical Laboratory. A lab with the latest mass spectrometry and chromatographic techniques to quantify the effects of roasting and brewing on the more than 1000 molecules identified as contributing to coffee flavor.
  • Espresso and Brewing Laboratory. No coffee center would be complete without a lab dedicated to investigation of espresso and advanced brewing techniques.
  • Custom Water Quality Facility. Coffee is 99% water, and the trace ions present in the water affect the quality of the brew.  We envision a state-of-the-art water system that provides each sink in the Coffee Center with 10 separate faucets, each dispensing a different type of water (e.g., magnesium rich hard water, calcium poor soft water, etc.).
  • Office, classroom, meeting, and reception space.  A key goal for the Coffee Center is to facilitate both undergraduate and graduate level education, as well as technical short courses and gatherings for the coffee industry.

This is our vision for the available space, which we have developed in close collaboration with our colleagues at the Specialty Coffee Association of America.  We should stress, however, that right now this is merely a vision – and to make this this vision a reality, we need your support.  The generous founding gift from Peet’s Coffee will support the Pilot Roastery, but all of the other facilities described above need patrons to become reality.  There are opportunities available to name each of the specific facilities within the Coffee Center, as well as to highlight your state-of-the-art equipment.  Please join us in creating the first world class academic center focused on the science of roasting and brewing coffee.

Again, these are exciting times.  We thank Peet’s Coffee, our colleagues at the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), and the coffee industry in general for their enthusiastic support in helping us take the next step from an initiative to a Coffee Center.   Coffee has long been a beverage enjoyed by millions, and with your help we look forward to making the future for coffee even brighter.

Best regards,

William Ristenpart

Joe & Essie Smith Endowed Professor of Chemical Engineering and Director of the U.C. Davis Coffee Center


Tonya Kuhl

Professor of Chemical Engineering and Co-Director of the U.C. Davis Coffee Center


Jean-Xavier Guinard

Professor of Food Science and Technology and Co-Director of the U.C. Davis Coffee Center