Media Releases

First-of-its-kind coffee lab focused on exploring the business of coffee

Apr 08, 2019

Professional-grade coffee lab uses coffee as a medium for hands-on learning across a wide range of academic programs

The North Central College Coffee Lab ceremonially roasted its first batch of coffee beans last Friday at a “First Crack” event held in the new, 450-square-foot, on-campus facility. The lab is one of only a few college-operated facilities in the nation dedicated to studying the craft of coffee. North Central’s is the first with a primary focus on the business of coffee—from sourcing, to supply chain, cost accounting, marketing and sales.

“The Coffee Lab is a single initiative that ties together North Central’s core values of student-centered learning and purposeful collaboration,” said North Central College President Troy D. Hammond. “College and coffee go hand-in-hand, and the new Coffee Lab will bring together students and faculty from a wide range of academic programs in business, humanities, science and the arts to explore the impact of coffee. It’s a distinctive program with benefits that will extend to the community around us.”

The coffee lab is toured by its founder, Jim McDermet.

Board of Trustees Chair Jim McDermet M ’92 gets a tour of the lab from Entrepreneur-in-Residence Connor McGury '18.

Coffee as not just a study aid, but a subject

The idea for the Coffee Lab was born out of the College’s chapter of Enactus, a student and faculty collaboration promoting social justice through entrepreneurship. Enactus has sourced coffee beans directly from small plot family farmers in Guatemala since 2005. In 2006, North Central professors Gerald Thalmann and Dr. Matthew Krystal began leading students on biannual trips to Guatemala to personally connect with the farmers and learn about the local impact of their coffee purchases. Back on campus, the students package, market and sell the coffee to help fund their initiatives.

Alongside business and entrepreneurship students who will use the Coffee Lab to study the economics of coffee production, manage shipping and supply chain logistics, and create integrated marketing and sales plans—not to mention roasting and sampling coffee—the lab will integrate students from numerous other backgrounds into the College’s coffee operation, including:

  • Accounting students who will apply cost accounting measures and business plan assessments
  • Chemistry students who will analyze different stages of the roasting, brewing and storage processes
  • Engineering students who will work hands-on with roasting and brewing equipment to gain a deeper understanding of their mechanics
  • Social sciences students—including anthropology and sociology—who will study the social impact in the communities of coffee farmers
  • Additional academic integration will include art and graphic design, among other programs

“Coffee is ubiquitous in our daily lives, but most people don’t think about all that goes into getting the coffee from its source and into your cup,” said North Central College Board of Trustees Chair Jim McDermet M ’92, former senior vice president of global and Americas operations at Starbucks Corporation, who, along with his wife Nancy, provided the lead donation that made the project possible. “The new Coffee Lab will enable North Central students to explore the many facets of this multi-billion-dollar global industry, all with an eye toward social impact. That kind of educational experience is something very few colleges have access to.”

The coffee lab is worked in by North Central students.

Enactus students preparing coffee in the lab.

The finest coffee is an experience to be shared

The Coffee Lab features a professional-grade Probat P12/2 coffee roaster, which was donated to the College by Probat, Inc., a coffee industry leader based in nearby Vernon Hills, Ill. Seventy percent of the world’s coffee is roasted using Probat equipment. The College has received support from other coffee industry partners through the donation of additional equipment, including CHEMEX and AeroPress, Inc., coffeemakers; Acaia coffee scales; Acronova Technology, Inc., RoastRite and CoffeeTec analyzers; Cropster roasting software; and a BUNN grinder, hot water dispenser and brewers.

Initially, the North Central Coffee Lab will roast approximately 75 to 100 pounds of coffee beans per week. In addition to roasting, the lab will be used for student educational workshops and coffee tastings, as well as for facilitating Enactus’ current coffee operations, including quality control, cupping, packaging, sales and shipping. In the future, the lab will host community-based coffee classes, workshops and tastings.

An official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the North Central Coffee Lab is being planned for May 17.

For more information, visit our Coffee Lab web page.