The Roaster’s Guild, a group within the Specialty Coffee Association (SCAA), held their annual retreat in West Virginia for the second time this year. This is the closest it comes to Michigan, and a nice contingent of our state’s roasters made the trek. The Guild is a large group, and about 150 people attended. Three full days of roasting, cupping and classroom workshops make up the bulk of the retreat, during which, twelve teams of ten compete to see who can roast, blend and brew a winning cup.
A remarkably humble group, roasters of all stripes worked together, listening to each other, and deferring to whoever seemed to have the best plan for roasting, cupping, and brewing. Roasting coffee is an accomplished craft, and the community continues to probe and learn. Gauges to measure temperature and time are a must, helping the roaster’s senses of smell and sight. Experience in interpreting the various inputs finishes the job.
What my attendance at these retreats enables us to do here, at Coffee Express, is learn even more about the coffees we purchase, and processes we use to roast them. Each coffee has different attributes that need to be understood in advance of the final roast, in order to bring out the best of what that bean type has to offer. There were probably 30 workshops, classes, and other skill-building events – too many to list. But here are some of the ones I took part in:
Profile Roasting Practices: We went over coffee bean characteristics, then set out roasting. We chose a Giesen, and tried to learn to control the variable airflow. This particular roaster allows for more control than most. Hard machine to tame.
Calibration Cupping of Challenge Cup Coffees: We divided into our pre-arranged groups (we named ourselves the Arabicats), and spent Friday morning roasting four five-pound bags of coffee, in order to find what might work best.
Two long sessions followed. The first – on microlots, quality, and sustainability – was led by the coffee buyer at Counter Culture. The second was a detailed look at how the physical makeup of the beans affects the manner in which you roast. Lots of science in this one.
Organic Acids and the Chemistry of Coffee, and Introduction to Roasting Concepts were on my agenda for Saturday. The concepts course took us, once again, back to the roasters. We did three roasts on the same coffee, stretching development times, and logging the effects made to the cup. In the chemistry course, we learned that if growers and roasters better understand the various acids – formic, acetic, glycolic and lactic, for example- we can better adjust roast profiles to bring out some and mute others.