High School Coffee Scholars

Might wanna hold off on the bikinis and poolside coffee sodas--school’s not out just yet.

Joseph Lyle and his high school students in Little Rock, Arkansas, have one more class to teach us before that summer bell rings.

Joseph, an English teacher at Little Rock Christian Academy, knew coffee had a lot to teach us, about our world, about our communities, about our stories. He wanted to teach a class on coffee. To high schoolers.  

He pitched us the idea back in the winter, and we pitched some coffee right back. Because the only thing better than a little coffee learnin’ is startin’ them young, before the Dark Roast Monster has a chance to ensnare our nation’s youths in its bold, roasty jaws.

Anyway, Joseph taught the class. This is what happened, from his perspective.


I teach at a high school that offers a mini-term immediately after Christmas break. First-year teachers are often tapped to give new ideas for J-Term classes. I suggested a coffee class.

While my suggestion wasn’t met with pessimism, I did get asked how I expected to teach a two-week class on coffee. “That’s not the issue,” I would respond. I was more concerned with how to shrink all of the information to fit the ten lessons.

From the start, I knew there was a linear component to coffee. It’s planted, grown, harvested, processed, distributed, roasted, and ultimately ends up in your cup. I decided to focus on three areas I thought accounted for the beginning, end, and most things in between: Science, Economy, and Art. It was, despite what others thought, a surprisingly educational approach.

I was working with twelve students, a mixture of sophomores, juniors, and seniors, who had only ever had—according to them—forgettable experiences with coffee.

We started slow. Folgers and a coffee pot. The next day I showed them a French Press. Then a Melitta one-cup brewer. Then a V60. Then a Chemex. Our explorations with brewing devices paralleled the depths we descended to better understand the production of specialty coffee.

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By the second day, any fears I’d had about students misunderstanding quality coffee or expecting a class about Frappuccinos melted away. They got it. They loved it. They wanted to know more.

And I wasn’t just fostering hipster sensibilities in today’s youths, with their moody Instagram pictures of latte art and symmetry. They loved coffee because they loved the coffee, everything about it.

They’d left the bitterness, sugar, and syrups behind and become part of a community.

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At the end of the class, I had students write a reflective paper about how their opinions of coffee had changed. I’ll quote a student who says it better than I ever could:

“The first day of class when we all shared our coffee stories surprised me, for it had never occurred to me that coffee could bring about not only stories, but stories that differed greatly from one another. However, that barely scratched the surface of what coffee is. We discussed how much effort went into creating something as miserable as Folgers to the ways specialty coffees come about. Again, coffee seemed to precipitate stories, but now it was a story involving millions of people in different countries instead of my simple story about wanting to be like my sister.”

 

* All photos courtesy: Grant Harrison 


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