- Associated Press - Thursday, February 20, 2014

MONMOUTH, Ill. (AP) - When Rae Conolly opened Olivia’s Cookie Jar & Kitchen three and a half years ago, she had an image of what the perfect cup of coffee should look and taste like.

“I grew up on really strong coffee,” said the Monmouth business owner. “I wanted that bold coffee taste without it being bitter - something that would wake you up in the morning - and that’s exactly what we have today.”

In line with the reputed quality of the baked goods, the freshness of Scots Roast coffee at Olivia’s comes as no surprise to patrons, Conolly said. What does, however, is the coffee’s origin.

The Monmouth Coffee Project is comprised of Monmouth students interested in subjects from chemistry to business to design.

They, with the help of their faculty adviser Brad Sturgeon, spend gaps between classes and free time to produce and sell their own coffee - an interdisciplinary project that helps integrate chemistry, business, and the students who major in those subjects.

On Feb. 1, the group shared their meticulously-concocted morning beverage with the public at Olivia’s, which is located at 112 S. First St., Monmouth.

It is the only Monmouth establishment to serve the coffee outside the college campus, so the shop was full of coffee-curious people. Sturgeon, a professor of chemistry, explained that the project came about in 2010 when the topic piqued a chemistry student’s interest, and it has since involved around 15 students overall. He also went through the various ways the team roasts its creations in one of the Monmouth lab spaces.

Sturgeon demonstrated how coffee is brewed from a percolator, a French press, an espresso machine and the standard coffee maker, as students passed out samples for guests to taste.

Monmouth student Ellen Hanes, 21, said she wasn’t much of a coffee drinker, but she thoroughly enjoyed the product and the event nonetheless.

“I think it’s all really interesting,” Hanes said, “especially the way the business students get the experience of being part of the process.”

One of those students was Matt Smith, a junior majoring in business and economy. Though he knew it merited no pay - the sale money goes back into the program’s equipment and experimentation - Smith took on the role of account representative for Olivia’s, purely for experience. He commits a couple days a week to visit the shop and check to see that their business partnership is in order.

“I’d come, take inventory, relay information to the roaster, then I’d package it up and deliver it,” he said. “But as time went on, I also started getting into the roasting and science side of it.”

Which is precisely the purpose of the small operation.

“The collaboration between science and business is somewhat unique,” said Sturgeon, who’s able to invest his time while on sabbatical, “partially because we have different languages and objectives, and generally, science students don’t get a chance to talk academically with business students.”

That’s a barrier the coffee project has broken - at least for Smith and chemistry student Chris Knutson, who transferred from Carl Sandburg College last year.

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