Gettin My Science On

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When I was 16, I somehow convinced the biology teacher to let me write poems about nature rather than taking biology class (I grew up in Berkeley, what’s it to ya?). I went on to major in English in college and study journalism in graduate school. That’s all to say, I’m stunted when it comes to science.

Or so I always thought. It took getting deeply involved in the coffee industry to heighten my interest in science, and agronomy specifically. I’m still more interested in nature than test tubes, so I’m more drawn to the farms than the lab. That said, I’ve been totally geeking out on coffee science today.

It all started with this fascinating video on varietals that our friend and Barista Mag contributor and copy editor Erin Meister posted to Facebook about varietals.

That got me thinking back to Erin McCarthy’s World Brewers Cup Championship-winning performance in Melbourne a few weeks ago; Erin is whip-smart and a total science stud, but he also possesses the (often rare) ability to make sense of coffee chemistry for science nim-nums like me. He does this amazing interview on NPR that if you haven’t already checked it out, I urge you to. Right now.

Dr. Coffee Science Man, Erin McCarthy (also known as the 2013 World Brewers Cup Champ)

Dr. Coffee Science Man, Erin McCarthy (also known as the 2013 World Brewers Cup Champ)

And then there’s this cool little experiment that I found on the Science Friday that I just love. This is a great way for new cuppers to get a hold of the concepts of dissecting coffee taste profiles. Watch the video. Go do it right now. It’s fun!

All fun and games aside, however, we’ve barely begun to see the effects of climate change on our precious coffee—this is some scary science, and it’s a you-really-need-to-know-this area of coffee education. To get a leg up, I encourage you to become a member of the Colombian Coffee Hub (like Facebook for coffee geeks), and take advantage of the glut of free information there about how climate change has already started to negatively impact—and we’re talking really, really negative—coffee, specifically specialty.

If you haven’t already marked your calendars for the upcoming free online lecture being hosted by the Hub, do it! It’s June 20, 11:30 a.m. Colombian time. Dr. Álvaro Gaitán is going to share his knowledge about this issue that’s affecting coffee producing countries worldwide.

Álvaro Gaitán, the expert in charge of this Lecture, is a microbiologist with a PhD in Plant Pathology from Cornell University. He has been working at the National Coffee Research Center of Colombia (CENICAFE) since 1989, as part of the coffee breeding and genomics team, and in 2000 he was appointed as Head of the Plant Pathology Department. His research focus is the Integrated Disease Management in coffee, that includes the study of pathogens and disease epidemiology.

Álvaro Gaitán, the expert in charge of this Lecture, is a microbiologist with a PhD in Plant Pathology from Cornell University. He has been working at the National Coffee Research Center of Colombia (CENICAFE) since 1989, as part of the coffee breeding and genomics team, and in 2000 he was appointed as Head of the Plant Pathology Department. His research focus is the Integrated Disease Management in coffee, that includes the study of pathogens and disease epidemiology.

To end this post on a light note (it is Saturday, after all), I invite you to look at the awesomeness that was a class project by Maya, an elementary school kid here in Portland. Her mom is an architect who works with Stumptown Coffee, and mom’s work inspired Maya to learn about coffee and share with her class. Let’s get ‘em young, folks! I want to see science fairs blowing up with coffee science projects!

Maya's project for Buckman Elementary School in Portland.

Maya’s project for Buckman Elementary School in Portland.

So that’s what I’ve been doing today. Science. On a Saturday. My high school biology teacher wouldn’t believe it.

About the Author

Sarah

Sarah Allen is co-founder and editor of Barista Magazine, the international trade magazine for coffee professionals. A passionate advocate for baristas, quality, and the coffee community, Sarah has traveled widely to research stories, interact with readers, and present on a variety of topics affecting specialty coffee. She also loves animals, swimming, ice cream, and living in Portland, Oregon.