North Central to launch new on-campus Coffee Lab
From picking coffee cherries off plants in Guatemala to packaging beans for local sales, North Central College students have been using hands-on practices for more than a decade to learn about the coffee industry.
Program leaders now are hoping to round out the experience by launching a facility with a professional-grade coffee roaster on the Naperville campus.
The 450-square-foot Coffee Lab, slated to open next month, will be among a handful of college-operated roasteries in the country, Professor Matthew Krystal said.
What makes North Central's program unique, he says, is that it's centered around the business of coffee, including sourcing, logistics, cost accounting, marketing and sales.
"We have beginning-to-end supply chain engagement with the students," he said. "There's a big focus on practical, interdisciplinary learning experiences."
The concept originated in 2005, when students in the college's chapter of an entrepreneurship organization, now called Enactus, started importing coffee beans from Guatemala. It wasn't long before Krystal and Professor Jerry Thalmann began leading biannual trips to the country's highlands to personally connect with farmers.
As the program developed through the years, Krystal said, students and professors have learned best practices for creating a high-quality product. Too much lag time between roasting the beans and drinking the coffee, for example, can have a negative impact on its taste.
The college previously roasted its beans at a Naperville shop that has since gone out of business, prompting officials to begin discussing a potential next step for the program: acquiring its own roastery.
Krystal and Thalmann sought counsel from North Central board Chairman Jim McDermet, a former Starbucks executive who introduced them to Probat Inc. The company's equipment is responsible for roasting 70 percent of the world's coffee -- and its North American headquarters are located 50 miles north in Vernon Hills.
Probat ultimately donated a top-of-the-line P12/2 coffee roaster to the new Coffee Lab. Through other industry partners, the college received donated coffee makers, coffee scales, roasting software and additional equipment.
In addition to roasting and sampling the coffee, business and entrepreneurship students will use the Coffee Lab to study the economics of production, manage shipping and supply chain logistics, and create marketing and sales plans.
The program is expected to integrate students from other academic backgrounds, too, Krystal said. Chemistry students can analyze different stages of the roasting, brewing and storage processes, while aspiring engineers can learn about the mechanics of the equipment. Students studying social sciences, accounting, graphic design and art also could have a hand in the action.
The college roasted its first batch of beans earlier this month during an event called "First Crack." When operations officially begin mid-May, Krystal said, the Coffee Lab is expected to roast 75 to 100 pounds of beans per week. On top of their in-store sales, students and faculty are preparing to sell the coffee online.
The lab will be used for all Enactus coffee operations, as well as various student educational workshops and tastings that eventually could extend to the rest of the community.
"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," McDermet said in a written statement. "The new Coffee Lab will enable North Central students to explore the many facets of this multibillion-dollar global industry, all with an eye toward social impact."