Roasters Rock

Roasters Rock Monthly Column

Even though you have had your head in a roaster, you probably know there is a great trade show coming next month in Seattle. SCAA calls it ‘The Event’, which is a bit egotistical but factually accurate. There are other coffee trade shows and competitions you can go to, but as a roaster this would have to be considered ‘The Event.’ Even the Roasters Guild Retreat, while being way more fun and totally focused on roasting, does not rise to the possibilities that ‘The Event’ provides.

There is more to being a roaster than roasting
One can argue that the best job in the world is being able to wake up in the morning, fire up a roaster, grab a nice cup of something while the roaster warms and then experience the Zen of roasting until it is time to go home. Unfortunately being a roaster involves a lot more depth and diversity. And so it is with this trade show.

Let’s examine what a full portfolio of skills would be for a roaster:

•    Roasting Proficiency
—    At the show you should sign up for whatever classes you can get into that will allow you to put your hands on a roaster or deepen your understanding of the roasting process. These classes fill up quickly so stop reading this for a bit and go sign up NOW! I think there are two significant take-aways from these classes. The first is the quality of the people teaching. These are roasters just like you that may have a few extra years at the controls, but they are volunteering to share their knowledge and really WANT you to become a better roaster. Second is the ability to work on a roaster you don’t normally work on daily. You will deepen your understanding of roasting when you understand the philosophy of heat transfer in other manufacturers’ designs.

•    Cupping / Sensory Acuity
—    If you don’t cup coffees using the SCAA system, then START! Regardless of your feelings about the usefulness of the form in your daily activities, you need to be talking the same language as the rest of us. Take a cupping class or two, and some sensory classes so you dip your toe into the world of calibrated tastings and grading. This is very intimidating if you are new. Once you start learning, you forget to be intimidated. Soon you will be craving to learn even more. When you become more proficient, you might sign up for a full Q-Grader Class.

•    Extraction
—    The only way you will know if you are doing a good job as a roaster is to taste the end product. Knowing what that entails and the dynamics at play gives you the tools to analyze that end product. An experienced roaster will then make roasting decisions based on extraction method. The key things you should know are brewing fundamentals which then scale to whatever extraction method you are using.

•    Green Coffee Evaluation and Purchasing
—    Take the opportunity to learn about the economics of the supply chain and the hedging of coffee. Learn about defects in green coffee and how those alter taste. There are usually classes offered in this field. [Authors note: I am teaching a green grading class on Sunday. Sign up for that one and tell me that you read this article. You will get extra credit!]

ON the Show Floor / OFF the Show Floor / IN the Classroom
So far this article has mentioned things you can learn IN the classroom at The Event. But there is SO much more to do and learn. It would be advisable to go into the show with a strategy and an event calendar.

You will be signing up for classes in the classroom when you register for the show (like right now, if you have not done so already.) It is therefore easy to block out class times. The event organizers are kind enough to schedule almost all classes before the show floor opens. This allows industry experts that have a booth to be able to teach and not have to abandon their responsibilities at the booth.

It also allows you to not miss anything on the show floor. Use the mobile scheduling tool from SCAA and the show guide to pick out the MUST SEE booths that are important to you and get those done first. Then wander the aisles looking for new ideas that will improve what you do.

You might find you will learn the most at a show when you are OFF the Show Floor. There are cupping rooms, town halls, event lunches, and breakfasts… All of these are opportunities to network with peers in a casual environment. All of the conversations you have will tend to revolve around coffee and the new projects and products.

The most important Event of ‘The Event’ for a Roaster
Get to the Roasters Guild annual meeting and then the party following it. You will be surrounded by people just like you who just want to get better at their craft. You will build lifelong friendships and a support base that you can have between ‘The Events.’ [Author’s note #2: Come see me pay up on my bet to Rob Stephen. WHY did the Seahawks throw a pass?!?!]

Rocky Rhodes is an 18 year coffee veteran, roaster, and Q-Grader Instructor, and his mission now is to transform the coffee supply chain and make sweeping differences in the lives of those that produce the green coffee. Rocky can be reached at [email protected]

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