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Roasted coffee beans

Student projects: Studying forest pests, bean temperature

Graduate student Royce Dingley starts each day by sampling a science project.

Better known as a cup of hot coffee, it’s made from beans he roasts at home, using a DIY setup that involves a used bread machine, a heat gun and an infrared thermometer. Too much heat and the beans are burnt; too little and you don’t get the full flavor.

After years of working out the kinks, Dingley, a master’s student studying forestry and natural resources, now has a process for a quality cup of fresh-roasted coffee right from his kitchen. Or, well, maybe his outdoor patio, for safety reasons.

“I got into coffee roasting because my roommate when I was an undergrad roasted his own coffee. I had seen the process, but I didn’t start roasting until about a year after I graduated,” said Dingley, who received his bachelor’s degree from Berry College near Rome, Georgia. “I wanted to do it because, one, I like to produce as much as I can without consuming, and two, I like the home to be a place of production just as much as consumption. Roasting coffee was one of the ways I could do that.”

Dingley found the master’s program at the University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources after a few years working in Georgia and North Carolina. After receiving his bachelor’s degree, he spent time in Nicaragua before returning to Northwest Georgia to work as a health inspector. This is also when he got married, and the couple then moved to Durham, North Carolina, where Dingley’s wife began a master’s program.

After about a year and a half, Dingley said, he was also intrigued by the idea of pursuing a master’s. He met Warnell associate professor and forest health specialist Elizabeth McCarty and not long after, the couple relocated to Athens. Dingley began his Master of Science while his wife began a master’s program in landscape architecture.

“I’m working on a two-part project with female forest landowners and also canopy arthropods—insects in the tops of longleaf pine,” he said, adding that insects weren’t exactly his first love. “But I have a lot of respect for them and I understand how people love them.” 

The combination of the two areas allows Dingley to further explore a passion he discovered while living in North Carolina, where he worked for Bartlett Tree Experts. In that job, Dingley consulted with landowners on plant health. These interactions—talking with people about problems and solutions—was something that he found satisfying. He’s found that same spark working with McCarty on a project to help female forest landowners connect with resources for their land.

“I really wanted to work with people and landowners—having that social science aspect but also having that applied science there,” he said. “And, (McCarty) has let me dabble in plant stuff—I’ve taken plant taxonomy, for example—as long as I was getting my work done and focusing on plants and people.”

As he approaches graduation, Dingley isn’t sure what his next steps will be. But the routine of roasting coffee will continue to be a part of it.

He’s experimented more recently with kombucha—some batches are better than others—and also forages for teas to make infusions. But it’s the process of roasting—from sourcing the beans to watching them brown to sipping a warm cup of subtle fruit flavors—that has him hooked.

He sources his green coffee beans from an importer in Pennsylvania that also offers roasting tips. From there, he cooks up about 350 grams at a time—enough for about a week of fresh-ground coffee. While it’s time-intensive, he said he enjoys the process and feels the end product is much better for the money you spend.

Not bad for an $8 bread machine and a few other tools that can fit in a cabinet in your kitchen.

“It’s interesting—I’ve learned so much more about coffee by doing this, as well as my preferences,” he said.


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