uc davis coffee center undergraduate education


In 2013, eighteen students took the first “Design of Coffee” class offered at UC Davis. This class, developed by Professors Bill Ristenpart and Tonya Kuhl, was designed to better engage a diverse population of students and stoke excitement around engineering. Today more than 1500 students per year take the class that’s been voted the most popular elective course on campus.

Building on the success of this course, the Coffee Center plans to further expand undergraduate offerings. Additional courses are currently under development in Chemical Engineering, Plant Science and Sociology. 

Current offerings

The Design of Coffee (ECH 1) 

Learn the principles and practice of brewing a truly excellent cup of coffee, while earning course credit and also getting an introduction to chemical engineering: UC Davis undergraduates can do all this by enrolling in ECH 1 “The Design of Coffee.”

This course provides a non-mathematical introduction to chemical engineering, as illustrated by the roasting and brewing of coffee. Hands-on coffee experiments demonstrate key engineering principles, including material balances, chemical kinetics, mass transfer, fluid mechanics, conservation of energy, and colloidal phenomena. The experiments lead to an engineering design competition where contestants strive to make the best tasting coffee using the least amount of energy – a classic engineering optimization problem, but one that is both fun and tasty!

The Design of Coffee: An Engineering Approach  by W.D. Ristenpart and T.L. Kuhl (2015)

Just Coffee (PLS 7)

From its roots in Africa to its position as the world’s favorite drink, the story of coffee is one rich in history and mythology. It is also a great lesson in biology and ecology, global climate change, development, trade and societal impacts. This course will help students understand the complex set of biological, ecological and social interactions that go into a truly ‘just' cup of coffee and how our food and agricultural systems interact with human well-being. Designed as a general education class suitable for students in all disciplines. 

World in a Cup: Global Social Change in Coffee Cultures, 1500-Present (SOC 5)

The course uses the theme of coffee production and consumption over time to explore how social scientists have thought about macro-social change over the past three centuries. It uses the “case” of coffee-related innovation, production, consumption, and their relationship to the three concepts of rationality, culture, and individual creativity to explore these concepts.

Going back and forth between history and the theories of core social scientific ideas in the world of coffee, the course covers the beverage's origins in Ethiopia, its development within Islamic societies and its sharp rise in popularity in the 1700s in Europe, up to the present-day trade and global culture of coffee production and consumption. Themes include institutions and their subjects, inequalities and their ideologies and the social construction of value or merit of non-cognitive and cognitive things—humans, cyborgs and machine intelligence.