For me, Day Three was filled up with teaching classes. In the morning, I arrived to the roasting tent at 7:00, to warm up the roasters and get a practice batch in the can, so that I could familiarize myself with the equipment on which I would be instructing. This morning’s class was RP112: Introduction To Roasting Concepts, where we would discuss the various parts of a coffee roaster and how we, as roasters (humans), can affect the final cup result based on some of the decisions we make during the roasting process. It all sounds well and good, and everyone should know that, but during the class, students get some time on a roaster — looking for visual cues, smelling the changes in the coffee as the Maillard Reaction begins the browning process — or as first crack occurs, giving off a distinctive aroma of acetic acid — and making the correlation between what’s going on inside the coffee/roaster and what’s observable. After executing three batches, we moved on to the cupping area and tasted the coffees to note any differences in the samples based on what decisions were made during the roasting process.
In the afternoon, I settled into my role as a station instructor for GE151: Green Coffee Grading. During this class, students learned to correctly identify green coffee defects and some of the factors that may cause those defects to occur. Each student was given a sample of green coffee that had been “spiked” with defects and was instructed to sort through them and identify them correctly. Truth be told, this was an extremely dry class. But it’s an important step in being a coffee buyer and can help one’s ability to offer feedback to both growers and importers.
After the green grading class, I was summoned to help judge the coffee submissions for the roasting competition. In previous years, the competition coffees were evaluated using the traditional cupping method and standard SCAA green coffee evaluation form. This year we had a little bit of help from technology and the newly released RG Roasted Coffee Evaluation Form. Present to brew all of the submissions on a Curtis Seraphim brewer was none other than Brant Curtis himself. He worked long and hard, brewing samples for the judges, ensuring that each coffee tasted as best as it could, and generally making the process go very smoothly.
We also enlisted our friends at Cropster to help us with data collection and score accumulation. The new RG Roasted Coffee Evaluation Form was uploaded to Cropster, and we were able to score digitally and get instant results and averages (without any additional, unsightly spreadsheets or math being done on our part). The new evaluation sheet was developed so that roast would be the evaluation’s main focus — not the green coffee. After almost three hours of tasting samples and comparing notes (both ours as judges and those submitted by competitors to describe their coffee), we finally decided upon a winner: Team #6, The Maillards.
The evening concluded with the announcement of the winning team and the traditional Roasters Guild Retreat Bonfire, set out near the lake. It was a time for everyone to cut loose and enjoy themselves. The moment afforded me an opportunity to reflect upon my place in the industry. I thought about all of the old friends and colleagues whom I see at these events every year, how much I enjoy their experience and knowledge, and how much I’ve learned from them. I reflected upon all of the new people who I met this year and how much hope and passion is being brought to the future coffee generation. And I considered how important a sense of community and information sharing is to moving the coffee industry forward while still staying firmly rooted in the traditions of the past.
There is still a lot to learn, both from the past and moving forward. Events like these are special. Where else will you find roasting-industry veterans offering up priceless advice, based on 20-plus years of experience, to folks who have been in the coffee industry for maybe a year or less? When can you find roasters from major players, like Peet’s and Starbucks, sharing their best practices for the sake of making someone better at what they do (even if they’re a competitor)?
This is the spirit that first drew me into the Roasters Guild almost ten years ago and continues to motivate me. It’s the reason I’ve committed my time and resources as a member of the Roasters Guild Executive Council. Hopefully, I will be able to help move the understanding of coffee roasting forward while underscoring the importance of community, shared learning, and upholding traditions. Every time I return from the Roasters Guild Retreat, it’s with new friends, a deeper connection to old friends, and a renewed passion for the craft of roasting coffee. That’s something to be thankful for.