Roasters Rock – Roasters Guild Retreat: Then and Now

I don’t remember getting old. I don’t remember getting smarter, wiser and more experienced. (Many of my friends are thinking that I couldn’t have noticed because I only got older… not the other things!) This year at the Roasters Guild Retreat in Buford GA. I felt old, smart, wise, and experienced. Mostly old, but the other things too!

When the assembled roasters were asked, “How many of you are at your first retreat?” the majority of hands went up. It was very exciting to see so many new people following the dream of roasting. It also made me think of the time I raised my hand back in 2004 in Keystone CO. It seems both like ancient history and like it just happened yesterday. I remember the gut feeling I had that if I raised my hand, everyone would know that I was just a newbie that did not know anything.

As it turned out I was in about the middle of the pack on my team that year. I had been roasting for about 7-8 years but never had a chance to take any classes because they did not exist yet. I was amazed at what other people knew and was surprised at how much value I brought to the group.

Rosters Guild now is a little different. The newbies are different. They come with the same passion I remember, but they come with something else: Information and education. From what I gathered in conversations, these newbies have already been in coffee for a while in some other role and are now going to start roasting. When they made the decision they went to the internet and learned the basic concepts of roasting. They took SCA certification classes and even the Q-Grader class. For them, retreat was a way to quickly advance their skills and take it to the next level.

In 2004, formal Guild classes were just starting to be written. These eventually became the Roaster certification classes given today by SCA. 1000’s of volunteer hours by subject matter experts and curriculum writers were put into these first classes. Every time we were able to check one off the list as complete we were ecstatic.

There are some other instances of change from then to now.

Code of conduct form 

We now have to sign a code of conduct form when registering to ensure that we will behave like civilized humans and also to relieve some liability from SCA.  I can remember why we started that but some stories should remain buried. In the highly sensitive times we live in, this is not a bad idea. As I understand it, this code had to be enforced a couple of times this year. That is cool because everyone should feel the love of attendance at retreat.


Back in the day, there were very large pits, a couple cords of firewood and the occasional flammable liquid. The last few retreats I have attended give an honorable nod to the tradition with flame heaters and Chimineas but we no longer have the risk of someone deciding to have a Firewalker Experience. I’ll be honest, I liked this better the old way, but I don’t have to carry the liability insurance.

Roasting Tent 

This needs to be said about the roasting machine manufacturers – There would be no guild without them! It has been amazing how much donated time, money and sweat these companies put in each year to get an environment where we can roast. I can remember roasting while standing in water and also trying to get water off the tarps covering the roasting area so the machines would not get drenched.  Over the years some amazing people have designed gas and exhaust systems so we can keep adding more and more roasters. I don’t know if it was a record this year, but I never saw so many machines under the roasting tent before.

Roasting Technology and Advancements 

In full disclosure, I have Diedrich Roasters as a significant client. They have tech advances but so do so many others. What is wonderful about our group is that we want to show off our stuff even to our COMPETTITORS! No other industry does this. I got to roast on a Loring, Dan let me put my head inside the US Roaster Corp machine so I could see the burners, and Willem explained the drum pressure reading on the Giessen. All fascinating geeky stuff!

Mutually Assured Success 

If the whole world did business the way we are able to do it, everyone would win. I may be idealistic but that this concept of mutually assured success exists in our industry makes me proud.  I am sure it has contributed more than anything else to my personal growth in Specialty Coffee. We all just seem to understand that if I can make you better at what you do, we all will have more success than if we worked against each other. Do we compete? ABSOLUTELY! And I love to win over some of my friends so I can brag about it at the next retreat. I would not however do anything to subvert or damage my competitor because together we will make the industry bigger and better. I am extremely happy to see that this is one thing that has NOT changed over the years. I even heard it espoused by different RGEC members at various events and lectures.

Social Media 

Yeah… I’m old. I think I have been bypassed on the caring what other people are eating on a daily basis. But I will say that I was shocked at how fast the cool stuff that was going on at the retreat was going out to the rest of the world. I was hearing about some things via a phone call from someone back on the West Coast that happened within 50 yards of where I was standing. I do believe that if we had this type of speed of information when the guild started, it would either be massive by now or embroiled in lawsuits. (See Code of Conduct form above!)

So congrats on another year of retreat! I am so happy that the tradition and spirit survives. We continue to make the Specialty Coffee Industry better and better. (I won’t say “Make Coffee Great Again” because that could be construed as a micro-aggression and violate the new code of conduct!)

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 rocky@INTLcoffeeConsulting.com

Roasters Rock – Roasters Guild Retreat: Then and Now
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