If you were to tell most business people that there is an industry where competitors come together, take off their own company logo and help each other grow and be successful, they would probably laugh at the idea. They would say it was crazy, or collusion. And ya’ know what? It is actually a little of both with roasters! Welcome to the Roasters Guild Retreat!
When roasters get together, strange things happen. When you add the resources of the SCAA and the wisdom and volunteer hours of the Roasters Guild Executive Council (RGEC) on the task of creating a roast event, you change the world a bit! If quality is truly a sustainable business model, and it is, then businesses strengthen each year at retreat.
Who goes to retreat? The focus of the event is on the person that actually does the roasting. The Guild is built around making that person’s craft better. That person is often also the shop owner and or a barista, and or a green coffee buyer. Also present are roaster manufacturers, trainers, allied product representatives and of course new coffee industry folks that may not even know what they want to be when they get into the world of coffee. Everyone finds something to learn at this event to make them better.
Never been to retreat? Prepare to get blown away! Here is what you can expect when you go:
1) You find out you are not alone! When you roast, you are often in your own bubble. The only feedback you get about your roasting is your customers telling you how great you are. Once you travel outside that sphere of influence, uncertainty and doubt creep in. “Am I really that good? How do I know? How can I improve? Who can teach me?” When you walk into retreat you may be a little intimidated by the volume of people that all claim to do what you do. You quickly find that you are among peers with the same anxieties and desire to improve. The difference is in the years of experience.
2) You will make lifelong friendships. Before you arrive you are put on a team of roasters. These are not just random teams. They are designed to give a wide array of experiences and talents to each team. You will have 20+ year veterans of the industry as well as folks just getting delivery of their roaster. You will have people that roast on 1 kilo sample / small shop roasters to those that have continuous roasters. You will have green coffee buyers and trainers as well. As a team, you come up with a name and are given a common task to bond you together: Roast better than the other teams! EVERYONE on the team, including the ‘new guys’ bring experiences of value to the team. Here is where your core group of friends is made.
3) You will learn fascinating things. The coffee industry has dozens of niches that are all important. Many of them you may not even know about yet. The education programs are set up to give you both practical knowledge and theoretical insights. You may never trade coffee futures on the exchange to hedge your coffee prices, but it certainly is important to know about it and how that exchange affects your bottom line. In addition to the scheduled classes, you will learn just as much over a beer at the bonfire talking with your new friends. It is important as well that you share your experiences, because there is also someone who needs to learn from you.
4) You will supercharge your batteries! Every retreat does something to every attendee. Gets them excited about the industry. Even though it can be an exhausting weekend, you will crave getting back to work on Monday so you can start to apply what you learned. Owners start to put in control systems for quality like scheduled cuppings and reporting of cup characteristics. Roasters start to create profiles for each varietal and blend and teach others how to hit the profile. Green buyers ask about contracting forward on some important coffee for their blends. Baristas will appreciate the role of the roaster a little better and roasters will do the same.
Above all, there are two things that will carry you through the year until the next retreat – friendships, and a quest for being better at what you do. You will realize that you are never done learning. There is also a desire to be as good as you expect your other teammates to be. You will want to report to them on your progress as well as hear from them about their successes.
Highlights of 2012 retreat:
• Beautiful Skamania Lodge
• Sold Out House
• Best Roasting tent EVER
• Diversity of Classes
• Multiple Keg sponsors
• Over 60% new attendees – 40% devoted return students
• Savan and Tim as representatives of the ‘every single retreat’ club. (Kevin too!)
Make you plans for next year. It will sell out again. You might even consider volunteering some hours to help the already maxed out RGEC and SCAA staff that work all year to put it together. If you attended this year, stop reading this article and email your teammates right now and start making plans for next year!
Authors Personal Note: There was only one event missing this year and I would hope to see it in future retreats: The Snipe Hunt. I know there were some concerns about whether catch and release is really kind to the Snipe and I hold it is just like fishing. Please consider a committee to put this on. I will even volunteer to help!