Honours project in coffee fermentation

This collaborative project involving the Australian Wine Research Institute would suit a student who is interested in analytical or flavour chemistry, microbiology, and sensory effects of fermentation. 

Coffee cherries

Image: Gaurav Dhwaj Khadka

Investigation will centre on the microbiology of coffee cherry fermentation and the effects this has on chemical composition and sensory properties of brewed coffee. Overall, we aim to understand and harness fermentation as a way of increasing the distinctiveness of Australian coffee while investigating the potential existence of unique microbiota. 

The global ultra-premium coffee growing industry is estimated to be worth $30-40 billion in the coming years. Most ultra-premium coffee undergoes a natural fermentation process involving the coffee cherry mucilage, then the coffee bean is removed, dried and roasted. Fermented coffee beans display similar ‘fruity’ odour nuances to fermented beverages such as wine and are regarded as a high value product. Coffee bean fermentation is spontaneous and lacks formalised processing methodology, however, even in the well-known growing regions.

GS-MS Instrument used to perform this research

Australia has a small but emerging coffee growing industry that could benefit from research in relation to fermentation. Currently, coffee bean fermentation is not generally conducted in Australia, with coffee beans simply being washed and mechanically cleaned. Australian grown coffee beans therefore tend to have less distinct flavour profiles and most are sold overseas at low prices relative to quality beans from Africa, for example. Given Australia’s vibrant coffee culture, there is a great opportunity to provide Australian specialty roasters and premium coffee shops with high-quality local produce that has resulted from scientific understanding of an optimum fermentation process.

The broader cross-disciplinary project will evaluate the microbial population dynamics in spontaneous coffee fermentations using metagenomic approaches and compare the chemical composition and sensory profile of coffees produced by traditional washed processing and spontaneous fermentation. Microbial strains will be isolated from spontaneous fermentations and characterised to identify microorganisms that can be inoculated during coffee bean fermentation ensuring reliable and consistent flavour profiles. The Honours student will primarily be responsible for chemical analyses but will obtain understanding of the molecular and sensory tools used to obtain a complex dataset.

A generous scholarship is available to the successful applicant.

Further information

Please contact david.jeffery@adelaide.edu.au if you have any questions.


Associate Professor David Jeffery
In association with: Cristian Varela
Recommended honours enrolment: Honours in Wine Science

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