Batali brings a unique perspective to the agricultural industry because she grew up in a “foodie family” where she was most comfortable in a kitchen, the Seattle restaurant scene, or on stage for open mic night and karaoke. Ever since she was young, she expected to be a writer or an actress. That dream was derailed once she took her first high school chemistry class. “I discovered a knack and love for the subject.”
Coming into science with a background in theatre, improvisational comedy, and creative writing, she decided to keep the arts as a hobby and pursued a degree in chemistry, focusing on organic synthesis at Lewis and Clark College. After completing her undergrad degree, Batali worked as a research and development synthesis chemist at Emerald Kalama Chemical where she synthesized flavor and fragrance products. This job gave her the freedom to revamp their internal fragrance analysis program and inspired her to pursue a graduate degree in food science at the University of California-Davis. “This gave me the opportunity to work at the forefront of coffee sensory research on a product I’ve loved for years.”
Each day in the lab is different for Batali, but her excitement and passion for her research remains the same. She is currently working with the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) on research to update and expand their classic Coffee Brewing Control Chart in hopes of including more rigorous sensory descriptive data to guide brewing. Ultimately, the goal is to quantify how flavor profiles change with different variables in different brewing methods to create a more specific and scientifically based chart.
“My research at the UC-Davis Coffee Center is done with industry partners, funded by the SCA with the intent to disseminate information to all members in the coffee industry. This is not a purely scientific community. It is a community of farmers, roasters, cafe owners, and baristas coming from all backgrounds with a shared passion for coffee. Quality science communication allows our research to immediately and effectively reach all interested and enthusiastic members of the community– improving their business and their craft with data-backed evidence.” Batali shares that there is little academic research done in the coffee industry and as UC-Davis gains financial and research traction, she expects much of academia to follow, allowing the near future of coffee to be filled with new innovation and an influx of academic interests.
Improved science communication is another avenue of opportunity in her area of study. “I have a desire to make chemistry communications more accessible and more appealing to a wider audience instead of gate-keeping for education with high-level, dry jargon.” She shares how it is incredibly easy for poor communication to result in misinformation that ends up in pop science articles all over social media. “In my research, the biggest opportunity for science communication is attending industry events and disseminating research to coffee industry professionals. There is a challenge of breaking the academia barrier to encourage understanding between industry practices and traditions, versus what science seems to show as best practice for coffee brewing.”
Aside from cooking and fueling her caffeine addiction, you can often find Batali rock climbing, writing, or hiking. Upon completion of her degree, she hopes to continue into industry doing sensory work either in coffee or other food and beverage products. It has been a pleasure getting to know her and we look forward to working with her in the future.
Click here to watch Mackenzie Batali’s video on why science communication is important to her research.
By: Kylie Peterson