From left: Radhika Barua, Ph.D., Barbara D. Boyan, Ph.D., and Stephen Robertson of Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Co., judged students’ coffee samples.
From left: Radhika Barua, Ph.D., Barbara D. Boyan, Ph.D., and Stephen Robertson of Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Co., judged students’ coffee samples.

Chemical engineering students compete to brew the best coffee

After being introduced to fundamental chemical engineering concepts this semester, first-year students recently showed off what they learned in front of a panel of judges including the dean of VCU College of Engineering.

How? By brewing the optimal cup of coffee.

Thomas D. Roper, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Chemical and Life Science Engineering, revamped a traditional lecture class into a series of hands-on labs through a grant from VCU Relevant Experiental Applied Learning (VCU REAL) in the Office of the Provost.

The Chemical and Life Science Engineering 101 course culminated in VCU Engineering’s first coffee tasting competition last month, in which students used various filtration methods and coffee grind sizes to design a cup of coffee with just the right mix of bitterness, sweetness and acidity. (Pro tip: A dark roast tends to be easier than a light roast.)

Here are the winners:

  • 1st place: Isabella Berin; Smeet Ghelani; Tayah Mezick.
  • 2nd place: Namkhang Le; Marisol Escalante; Patrick Latimer.
  • 3rd place: Nathan Hensley; Priyanka Mathur; Tristan Rodewald.

Serving as judges were Radhika Barua, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering, who co-sponsored the course with Roper; Stephen Robertson of Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Co., in Richmond (Blanchard’s supplied the coffee beans for the course); and Barbara D. Boyan, Ph.D., the Alice T. and William H. Goodwin, Jr. Dean of VCU Engineering.

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