Man roasting coffee

The Coffee Lab

Focused on the business of coffee

North Central's Coffee Lab is one of a few collegiate facilities of its kind in the United States. However, it is the first laboratory with a primary focus on the business of coffee!


"Our focus is on the business of coffee, which is unique from other coffee labs. Our goal is to engage students across a multitude of disciplines: Marketing, management, accounting, entrepreneurship, engineering, anthropology and sociology, to name a few." -Jim McDermet M '92, North Central College Trustee and Board Chair and former senior vice president, global and Americas operations, Starbucks Corporation

Discover the Coffee Lab

Learn about how the Coffee Lab got started, our unique and holistic approach to the study of coffee, and the hands-on training our students get in the coffee business.

Featured Corporate Partner

The Coffee Lab features a professional-grade Probat P12/2 coffee roaster, which was donated by Probat, Inc. Located just 50 miles north of North Central’s campus in Vernon Hills, Ill., Probat is a coffee industry leader with 70 percent of the world’s coffee roasted using Probat equipment.

probat coffee roaster

Coffee Culture and Social Entrepreneurship

For hundreds of years, coffee has been an enabler of social occasion, conversation and community. The early days of the coffee house culture in Europe helped facilitate debate, discussion and learning. Similarly, the North Central College Coffee Lab is the beginning of a phased program connecting students with the professional world through study of coffee production and distribution.

Guatemala trip

At all times, our focus remains on the ethical dimension of the Coffee Lab: support for farmers in Guatemala who provide our coffee beans. Our policy of paying above market price aids family farmers in getting what they need and we work with them to ensure they can cover living expenses and overhead. Our students never forget that social impact is a key ingredient to their work.

students in guatemala

A rich history with deep roots in Highland Guatemala 

It started with an idea. In 2005, North Central student organization Students in Free Enterprise (now called Enactus) first began importing and packaging coffee beans from Guatemala for local sales. Soon after, six students and two professors, Matt Krystal and Jerry Thalmann, traveled to Guatemala to personally connect with the coffee growers. They learned about the direct impact they have on the growers’ lives.

Since 2006, these professors have led biannual trips to Guatemala to help students better understand the idea of social entrepreneurship and its impact. In addition, the trips have inspired student research projects ranging from the challenges of international coffee marketing to ethnographic studies into customary law and indigenous spirituality.

Students in lab

The blend of coffee and academics made its way to campus, as well. Seminars and courses now examine the complex topic of coffee from multiple angles, including the business of coffee and decision-making from a financial viewpoint. Outside of class, students have continued to import, roast and market coffee, while pursuing new options for branding, online distribution and compostable single serving pods.

students tasting coffee

The North Central College Coffee Lab is the next step in engaging students and faculty from other disciplines in the use of coffee as a learning medium and brewing new ideas.

students learning about coffee roasting process

More than just the science of coffee

While the project originated through work by students in North Central’s chapter of Enactus, an organization promoting social justice through entrepreneurship, the Coffee Lab connects with students from numerous disciplines, which makes North Central’s Coffee Lab the most far-reaching of its kind.

Engineering students have the opportunity to visit the lab and work hands-on with equipment, taking it apart and putting it back together to better understand its function and taking data from the roaster to understand how it operates during a roast cycle. Chemistry students run analyses of coffee at different stages of the roasting and brewing process.

engineering student

Business students study the environmental economics of coffee production, the logistics of importing from Guatemala, and compare integrated marketing plans, business-to-business and customer sales. Additional disciplines impacted by the lab include: accounting, economics, entrepreneurship, anthropology and sociology.

students and coffee farmer talking

In addition to the academic connections, students can learn about the coffee business firsthand by:

  • Roasting coffee in house
  • Visiting the Coffee Lab for a class on cupping or home brewing
  • Packaging, printing labels and shipping product
student packaging coffee

The benefits come not just from the experience of operating a business, but the revenue generated by the coffee. These funds go back into funding Enactus projects, furthering the group’s goal for students to create their own socially conscious businesses.

student in guatemala

The equipment behind the craft 

North Central College is committed to creating a modernized campus that fits the needs of college students in a fast-moving world. The North Central College Coffee Lab incorporates the latest in high-end roasting technology and is ideally designed for both production and educational opportunities.

Lab Features

  • 450 square feet of space
  • Probat P12/2 roaster and PRG 1Z single-barrel gas roaster
  • H3X Element Hot Water Dispenser, ICB Twin SH Brewer, and G Series VH Grinder by Bunn
  • Chemex Coffeemakers
  • Acaia Pearl coffee scales
  • AeroPress Coffee Makers
  • Gooseneck kettles and storage canisters by Bean Envy
  • Green Bean Donation by Cafe Imports
  • Visions Espresso cupping set
  • RA-710 color analyzer by Acronova Technology & RoastRite
  • Lighttells MD-500 coffee analyzer by Coffee Tec
  • Beverage Air undercounter  refrigerator
  • Cropster roasting software
  • Transparent glass LED wall display
coffee lab

Corporate Partnerships

In addition to financial support from Jim McDermet M ’92, North Central College Trustee and former senior vice president of global and Americas operations at Starbucks Corporation, many other companies have supported the North Central College Coffee Lab.

sponsors logos