Examining the state of coffee education around the world


There’s no shortage of education platforms around the world, but when it comes to coffee education, what’s on offer? GCR looks at the evolution of programs dedicated to upskilling and empowering coffee enthusiasts to turn an interest into a career.

It has long been said that most coffee professionals simply “fall into” the industry instead of undertaking a university pathway with a coffee degree rewarded at the end. Establishing a career in coffee takes time and experience. For many, it’s a labour of love, but that’s no longer the only option.

The Coffee Excellence Centre (CEC), founded in 2008 in Switzerland, offers an advanced course through its Certificate of Advanced Studies (CAS) in Coffee Excellence.

The online program is designed for the highest level of coffee training, where professionals are offered a comprehensive scientific education on coffee.

“We wanted to add a program that wasn’t competing with existing programs but complemented what was already available,” says Head of CEC Prof. Dr. Chahan Yeretzian, who noted a knowledge gap on a scientific level.

“We offer an education to those who already have knowledge of coffee who want to add science to their craft. What students look for particularly is aligning their coffee knowledge to scientifically validated content to create a community of coffee experts and education that shares a common, science-based language.”

The 15-month program includes six to eight hours of classes per week, depending on the experience of the student. It covers the entire value chain while promoting a holistic understanding of coffee. Through this, students learn and realise that each component of coffee is connected to create cup quality.

The curriculum consists of three distance learning modules. The first, The Coffee Fruit: From Tree to Trade, examines all aspects of the coffee cherry in origin countries, considering important aspects of botany and the role of agronomic and post-harvest processing practices on the farm to improve yield and quality.

The second module, The Coffee Bean: Transformation and Composition, covers the physical transformation and chemical composition of green coffee to roasted beans.

The third module, The Coffee Cup: Extraction and Sensory, looks at the vital role water composition and machine technologies play in the quality of a brew.

“We develop a lot of unique and novel knowledge, and we often do that through research partners within companies,” Yeretzian says.

He says the ideal student for the program would have vast experience in the coffee sector and pursued further coffee education in the past.

“Ideally, we would like people who already know the craft and even know how to taste coffee properly,” he says.

While the classes are largely scientific, there is no prerequisite for extensive chemical knowledge, as Yeretzian says the program teaches rudimentary levels of chemistry. Students have come from a number of different undergraduate degrees, including economics.

“The level of people who come in for coffee education programs is very different now compared to 10 years ago,” Yeretzian says. “People are showing interest because coffee is becoming such an important field.”

In addition, he says the CEC education can assist students in working with larger roasters, given the emphasis many of these businesses have on research and development.

“Students can easily do their own research once they are properly educated,” he says.

Knowledge is power

In the United States, Bill Ristenpart co-founded the Coffee Centre at the University of California, Davis (US Davis) College of Engineering in 2013. The program is among an expanding number of courses globally that provide opportunities and qualifications to those looking to advance in the coffee industry.

“In 2012, my colleague [Prof. Tonya Kuhl] and I were sitting around drinking coffee, thinking about how we could improve our senior level chemical engineering unit operations,” he says. “She looked at her coffee and suggested we have our students reverse engineer a cup of coffee, and that prompted us to make a whole course.”

The course’s first class, The Design of Coffee, teaches students the principles and practice of brewing. What began with 18 students enrolling initially has grown to more than 2000 taking part in the 2023/24 academic year.

“A lot of students like coffee, but don’t know anything about it,” Ristenpart tells Global Coffee Report. “[The class] serves its purpose as an academic pipeline [to the coffee industry].”

The university now offers two further classes: a plant sciences course named Just Coffee, which teaches the complex biological, ecological, and social interactions that go into a cup of coffee, and a sociology course named World in a Cup which explores the sociological and cultural aspects of coffee production and consumption over time.

The UC Davis Coffee Centre is also hoping to become one of the first universities in the US to offer a master’s degree in coffee sciences, allowing future students to remain at the university for further coffee education.

“Some students have fallen so in love with coffee that they’ve pursued graduate degrees elsewhere and have ended up working in the coffee industry,” he says.

The steady growth of success of the UC Davis Coffee Centre begs the question: why aren’t more universities offering coffee degrees in the US?

The answer, according to Ristenpart, stems from governmental funding decisions dating back to the 19th century. In California, laws were put in place to prioritise education on the production of wine rather than other agricultural resources like coffee that were not grown locally at the time.
“Napa Valley had enough political influence back then to get the University of California to create a department of Viticulture and Enology,” Ristenpart says. “Without government support for coffee, there was no academic research fund, and without that, there were no professors.”
Ristenpart adds the US has traditionally focused on agricultural exports produced domestically when it comes to education, including wine and even tree nuts.

The lack of specialised education at tertiary institutions in the coffee sphere has not prevented people from entering the coffee industry. Organisations such as Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) can provide the tools necessary for coffee professionals around the world and throughout the value chain to achieve greater knowledge of the industry while on their way to a Q Grader certification.

“CQI was founded to train, educate, and certify coffee professionals,” says CQI outgoing Interim CEO Bridget Carrington. “The institute was created as an educational trust in 1997 in order to use donor funded money to work in origin countries.”

The Institute’s mission is to enhance the lives of coffee-producing farmers around the world, which is why the majority of its education services extends worldwide.

“CQI provides Arabica and Robusta courses in both sensory evaluation and post-harvest processing,” Carrington says. “The courses are tiered from entry to professional level.”

The institute features a network of professionals and instructors from around the world, including Latin America, Africa and the Far East.
It trains and certifies instructors, preferably from the countries in which classes will be taught, who then teach the material to their students.

“We only have a staff of 15, but we have 80 instructors around the world. When combined with the lecturers that teach our classes, the number of CQI educators exceeds 200,” Carrington says.

When participants have advanced through the courses, they are awarded Q Grader certification for either Arabica or Robusta, which Carrington says is a “gold standard” for the coffee industry.

“In many farms and mills, these days you need a Q Grader certification to even get a job,” she says.

The students not only walk away with the required verification, but with a new network of coffee professionals they can learn from and lean on.

“If we’re going to create this common language, then people should be able to talk about coffee in the same way,” Carrington says.

She says the program is constantly under review, as CQI hopes to best equip its students with knowledge that can prepare them for the future, adjusting for factors such as climate change and urbanisation.

“We need to move with the industry, so we’re looking constantly at our programs and how we can improve them,” she says.

A similar desire for advanced education is also what drives the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), which reaches more than 40,000 participants annually through its authorised trainer network.

Aspiring students can enrol in three separate educational programs. The Coffee Skills Program includes courses on barista and brewing skills to green coffee buying, roasting, and sensory evaluation. The Coffee Sustainability Program explores how to develop more environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable organisations in the coffee industry. The Coffee Technicians Program helps students understand how to maintain and repair equipment.

“In 2016, professionals from the manufacturing and technical support community came together to form the Coffee Technicians Guild, which championed the creation of a training program for those who support coffee equipment,” says SCA Education Officer Dorit Lessard.

“Despite the name, the courses are designed for anyone who wants to better understand and support their coffee equipment.”

Lessard says the courses have attracted a wide range of participants, including practicing technicians and baristas looking to better understand the coffee machine industry.

“It’s a program that had been years in the making, and we have seen a very high demand for it,” she says.

According to Lessard, employers of all sizes had communicated with the SCA in the past about the need for staff who demonstrate a mastery of skills in a specific area. This is what each course seeks to accomplish.

“Each program includes live instruction, either in-person or online,” says Lessard. “Each course has been carefully reviewed by industry practitioners to ensure the content is relevant and accurate.”

SCA trainers and industry practitioners who have passed qualification tests run the program’s courses. There are more than 1800 authorised SCA trainers across the globe who lead the courses for each program. Following course completion, students take an online written exam, which is available in multiple languages.

“The courses have been designed to make the program as accessible as possible while maintaining the delivery standard of live instruction,” Lessard says. “Our chapter network [at the SCA] has been critical in spreading our certificate programs around the world.”

The courses are designed with adult learners in mind, where students can gain skills to bring to the workplace anywhere in the coffee industry.
Those who develop the curriculum bring a wealth of industry experience while factoring in past and future coffee market trends.

“We have created robust review structures that allow us to incorporate feedback from our global community, which includes industry practitioners, authorised trainers, and course participants,” Lessard says.

The result is a SCA certificate which is accepted by employers throughout the industry.

“Each diploma represents a person who has completed advanced training in specific areas while also being exposed to a broad view of the industry, including a good understanding of the fundamentals of sustainability,” says Lessard.

“The SCA certificate programs are an excellent way to distribute contemporary research, standards, and tools.”

Additionally, the SCA collaborates closely with Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) in an effort to implement the CAS in Coffee Excellence. The partnership is the start of a broader goal for the SCA to work with multiple universities around the world to create opportunities to teach specialty coffee in higher education and master’s programs.

Building a culture

Individual companies are also turning their attention towards education. Italian coffee roaster illycaffé has opened its own institution dedicated to assisting the next generation of the coffee industry.

The company’s Università del Caffè opened in 1999 in Trieste, Italy, as a way for coffee professionals to further their knowledge.

“At the time, few companies were thinking about developing knowledge on coffee culture,” says Università del Caffè Director Moreno Faina.

We thought about the possibility of structuring a series of coffee programs for professionals.”

Through the university, illycaffé hopes to impart the knowledge that has helped the company run for more than 90 years.

“We now have the full supply chain under our program, with which we’re able to build great relationships,” he says.

The university is open for anyone looking to expand their knowledge, with the company’s research and development departments carrying out in-person and online programs based on advanced research.

Since its inception, Università del Caffè has expanded to 23 countries, offering educational services and networking opportunities.

ACS Italia, a skills certification body that examines the level of knowledge and training proficiency across a range of industries including coffee, has certified all intructors at Università del Caffè as of February 2024.

“The network is based on knowledge developed here in Trieste, and is updated frequently,” Faina says.

In fact, every six months the university’s program is refreshed to reflect changes in the industry, with each of the network’s 72 professors receiving new training.

Faina says the program is still adaptable, depending on the location and the skill of the students in the class.

“We adjust the level of knowledge to the participant, considering they could be anywhere from a professional to a coffee consumer,” he says.

This article was first published in the March/April 2024 edition of Global Coffee Report. Read more HERE.

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