Roasters Rock

Back in the day… (All old roaster stories start like that) there were no, none, nada, zero classes for the professional roaster. Everybody was on their own.

Large companies had internal ‘roaster operator’ classes that moved people up the ranks of production to run the roasting machine. The first goal of these classes; don’t burn down the building. The second goal; produce exactly the same coffee over and over again as efficiently as possible.

Back in the day… If you wanted to be an ‘artisan’ roaster you had two choices for learning the trade. The first was to find a mentor that would share industry secrets and allow you to apprentice with them for a while. The second was to figure it out for yourself by just getting started and hope for the best.

The first approach is only as good as your mentor. A mentor that probably taught himself. The second approach was fun, like being in the Wild West, but was probably an expensive learning curve and VERY time consuming.

Luckily for the rest of you youngsters, (Another thing old roasters say) you don’t have to take either of the above paths. You owe a lot of the availability of knowledge to an industrious group of volunteers that formed the Roasters Guild.

These professionals thought it would be a great to be able to teach the newbies as well as experienced roasters alike. This would be a knowledge transfer of the things that go into creating and improving their roasting craft. They combined their collective experiences with research from SCAA and others to create the first roasting classes.

Over the years, SCAA has been able to add professional educators to staff and really focus on being able to deliver consistent, professional material. The roasters guild members are still called upon as subject-matter experts and their knowledge is fit into a teaching structure that is repeatable.

Back in MY days as a young(er) roaster I took my first roasting class at the SCAA show in Anaheim. I was VERY intimidated to say the least. I had a mentor that taught me everything he knew. I had about 5 years of roasting under my belt. I was supposed to know what I was doing. As it turned out I was doing the best job I knew how, and that job was just a wild guess as to how it generated the results I wanted.

I took a roasting level 1 course. I remember thinking “Holy Cow! That is what’s going on inside the bean?!?” My table lead, Kathi Zollman made me feel so great about learning that I forgot about being embarrassed. I became a devout student of the craft and tried where I could to add to the content of classes being formed.

So where is the value in taking roasting classes? If you shell out a couple thousand dollars to get your Roaster Level 1 certification will it result in more revenue for your company? Will you be able to get a raise? A promotion? Will you gain a skillset that makes you more valuable to your employer?

The answer is yes to all of the above! Roasting classes, especially those that have been created by multiple experts in the field as opposed to a single source, squish tons of good info into them. The combined knowledge and skills make these classes really come alive. Imagine the decades of experience that went into Roasting 101. Even if you have been roasting for a while, you will benefit from the insights of others.

Taking a class can have two levels of value. First is the knowledge you acquire. Just remember, you can learn a lot of this stuff by yourself by just doing it. But every good businessman will tell you that if you can pay to learn something it will always be a better value than trying to learn it on your own.

The second level of value is the opportunity for growth, the improvement of your product or the savings in expenses that you can achieve after learning the content of the class.

Every roaster I know has told me that they have benefitted in their business and personal growth by taking the classes far above and beyond what they paid for the class.

So back in the day, I would have gladly paid to learn what I learned the hard way. Take advantage of the classes available to you. You will always learn something that will help you.

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

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