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March 8, 2009

Seeing University of Georgia students jump-starting a day with a cup of coffee isn't unusual. However, a professor requiring them to do so is.

Rob Shewfelt typically starts his coffee technology class with a taste test. Between sips, the students shout out their guesses: "Is it French roast?" "It has milk in it." "Iced café au lait!"

The first-year freshman seminar class teaches every aspect of coffee, from how it's grown, priced and promoted to the array of flavors and kinds available. Students sip on the coffee samples Shewfelt purchases from a coffee house on the UGA Athens Campus.

The students are required to identify the coffee by the brew's flavor, robustness and other taste qualities. From Crackachino to a special pink Valentine's Day mocha, students this semester have sampled a variety of coffees.

"People that are interested in coffee are really into it," Shewfelt said. "I wanted to take something that people like and use it as a way for students to learn about food science."

Shewfelt promotes food science as a major and a field. Students learn about the job opportunities and many factors that go into creating coffee along with other aspects of food science.

Students don't just sip coffee. They must also study "Uncommon Grounds" by Mark Pendergrast, the required reading.

A field trip to Athens-based Jittery Joe's roasting plant allows the class to get an inside look at how coffee goes from bean to cup.

"At the Jittery Joe's roaster, students met the owner and learned about certain beans, their different acidities and which ones require more roasting," Shewfelt said. "There we also tasted Guatemalan and African coffees, which have very distinguishing tastes."

This isn't Shewfelt's first venture into uniquely-themed courses. He has been teaching the popular chocolate science class for eight years.

The class is made up of freshman from many major, from psychology to photography. After taking both the chocolate science and coffee technology seminars, Shelby Marbury is thinking about changing her major from dietetics to food science.

"I never drank coffee before the class, but I drink it now sometimes," Marbury said. "I love the class and Dr. Shewfelt is entertaining and knowledgeable. I like learning about coffee's other benefits, besides caffeine, like antioxidants and boosting metabolism."

Shewfelt hopes the course will help students gain a greater appreciation of all foods.

"We deal with food and coffee every day, but most people don't know what goes on behind the scenes," he said. "This seminar takes what interests students and gives them an idea of what goes into creating this product and the science behind it. I want them to see that learning can be fun and get them interested in food science."