Tag Archive for: Roasters Guild

by Rocky Rhodes

Roasters Rock

Categories: 2015, SeptemberTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

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

Roasters Rock

Categories: 2015, AprilTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

There is a dra­matic dif­fer­ence in what roast­ers in Asia are doing and what is done in the United States. It all has to do with the per­cep­tion of the term Production Roasting. A dis­cus­sion with roast­ers on either side of the Pacific yields very dif­fer­ent results.

In the United States, cof­fee roast­ing evolved into mas­sive com­mer­cial roast­ers spew­ing forth brown water called cof­fee. For gen­er­a­tions we accepted this as the way cof­fee was sup­posed to be. It was con­sis­tent, cheap, and we had it every day. After all, it was so cheap that our bosses gave it to us for free in the office.

What is inter­est­ing about this ‘evo­lu­tion’ is that it was not always that way. Coffee was roasted at home in the 1800’s, and in small shops in the early 1900’s. It was the mid 1900’s that saw the demise of the lit­tle shops roast­ing their own. So in the late 1900’s the cof­fee indus­try ‘devolved’, in a man­ner of speak­ing, into an addi­tional mar­ket seg­ment called Specialty Coffee. This move­ment cre­ated the micro-roaster and small batch craftsmen.

The move­ment came alive when the Roasters Guild formed and started the prop­a­ga­tion of roast­ing edu­ca­tion and best prac­tices. People that enjoyed the craft also enjoyed each other’s pas­sion and will­ing­ness to share trade secrets. Sadly, there was some­thing miss­ing: the barista. In the early part of this cen­tury, the barista really took what the roaster was doing and pre­sented the pub­lic with true dif­fer­en­ti­ated tastes. The art of shot pulling and hand craft­ing cof­fees took off and the roaster’s craft con­tin­ued to improve with sin­gle ori­gin offer­ings and espresso blending.

One of the busi­ness real­i­ties of roast­ing cof­fee in the US is that if you are roast­ing for just one shop then you are prob­a­bly hav­ing a hard time mak­ing a go of it and feed­ing your fam­ily. This is where the roaster starts look­ing for other cof­fee shops, restau­rants, and offices that want to improve their cof­fee offer­ing. There is a whole­sale com­po­nent to most US roaster busi­nesses that facil­i­tate the cash flow needed for survival.

Blending for con­sis­tency through­out the year has become just as impor­tant a skill as find­ing the sweet spot in a lot of Geisha. Although we WANT to only roast the beau­ti­ful stuff, we pay the bills with the bulk roast­ing and blends.

This is NOT what is hap­pen­ing in Asian countries.

This author has vis­ited shops in Indonesia, Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, and Hong Kong. Everywhere they served cof­fee, it was kick-ass unbe­liev­able crafts­man­ship and stun­ning pre­sen­ta­tion. Not only is the cof­fee spec­tac­u­lar, but the pre­sen­ta­tion and the knowl­edge of the barista is like a cof­fee person’s dream come true.

Overstatement? Not really. You see, the cof­fee indus­try evolved dif­fer­ently in Asia. Where we went from com­mer­cial to craft, they went from tea to craft. As a mat­ter of fact, you couldn’t get (until just recently) a ‘take away’ cof­fee, much less find a cof­fee shop open before noon.

Coffee in Asia, as with tea, is meant to be a shared expe­ri­ence among friends or busi­ness asso­ciates. It is not the secret elixir of pro­duc­tiv­ity. The thought of a ‘Venti’ almost causes heart pal­pi­ta­tions to most baris­tas in Asia. The sav­ing grace as a trav­eler is the Americano where at least you can get a full cup of some­thing hot.

At a recent teach­ing of the SCAA roast­ing Level 1 classes in Taiwan, the dif­fer­ence in roast­ing styles became shock­ingly clear. When asked what machine they used to roast, the LARGEST one was a 1 kilo roaster. (or 2.2 pounds!) The other real­ity is that almost EVERY cof­fee house roasts their own. This means that every day they roast the Kilo or two of Grade 1, 90+ cof­fee they have in stock to pro­vide their clients with the best cof­fee fla­vor pos­si­ble. They hap­pen to often serve in what amounts to a shot glass and the cus­tomers LOVE it. They sip, savor, and dis­cuss the coffee.

The ‘third wave’ expe­ri­ence in Asia is EVERYWHERE. Of course that is a gross over­state­ment, but it is eas­ier to find great cof­fee in Asia than in the US. The chal­lenge they face is the short­age of true 90+ cof­fees. They are par­tic­i­pat­ing fairly fully in the direct rela­tion­ship model by fly­ing from coun­try to coun­try look­ing for good sources of beans. They pay top dol­lar and they get rewarded for it at the cof­fee counter.

What this envi­ron­ment has pro­duced, how­ever, is a gen­er­a­tion of Asian roast­ers who have yet to find the sec­ond crack! You are more likely than not to be drink­ing sam­ple roast cof­fee so as not to dimin­ish any of the enzy­matic byprod­ucts while push­ing up the sugar brown­ing. They are exper­i­ment­ing with dif­fer­ent burn­ers in their 1 kilos and get­ting fan­tas­tic con­trol over their roasts.

Translation is often a dif­fi­cult thing. When try­ing to explain the need and desire for cof­fee roasted into the sec­ond crack, it was as if you were explain­ing quan­tum physics to kinder­gart­ners. They knew some­thing was being explained, but it made no sense what­so­ever. They just don’t whole­sale there. They have no need for shelf life, con­sis­tency of blend fla­vor and find that any hint of car­bon is just an admit­tance that you could not find the good stuff in the beans.

They have truly taken the best prac­tices of the third wave and improved upon them. They are artists both at the roaster, the pour over sta­tion, and the espresso machine. But when you try to explain how the rest of the world roasts, you are met with, “Wait! WHAT? There is a SECOND CRACK?!?”

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

The Borer And The Never Boring: The 2013 Coffee Review

Categories: 2013, DecemberTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

The Great Durante was fond of say­ing, “Everybody wants ta get inta the act!,” The act is K-cups®, and it was the dom­i­nant fea­ture of the US indus­try in 2013. There remains a mad scram­ble to get into the sin­gle serve busi­ness, with just about every roaster aspir­ing to pro­duce them, and most inde­pen­dent multi-store oper­a­tors eager to have their own pri­vate label Keurig® com­pat­i­ble line of cof­fee. Every hot served liq­uid food, from apple cider to soup, is now being brewed in a Keurig®. If the tech­nol­ogy con­tin­ues to extend its plat­form in American kitchens and work­sta­tions, foods pre­pared from por­tion con­trol cups of dry ingre­di­ents, may brew long term change in American food prepa­ra­tion habits in the home and workplace.

At ori­gin, there are gen­eral con­cerns about cli­mate change, and spe­cific ones that are con­sid­ered, in part, the result of cli­mate change as cof­fee rust in Central America (attrib­uted to lower rain­fall), where “roya” may, accord­ing to the ICO (as reported by Reuters in March) reduce cof­fee out­put in affected areas by 20 per­cent. But, losses will not be even, and some coun­tries such as El Salvador are expect­ing to be hurt dis­pro­por­tion­ately (35 per­cent), while oth­ers as Costa Rica may only suf­fer a “man­age­able” loss (13 percen). Hypothenemus ham­pei, the cof­fee borer, is also a seri­ous con­cern. It is being fought, with vary­ing degrees of suc­cess this year, in Brazil and Hawaii.

The Arabica mar­ket con­tin­ued to drift down­ward dur­ing 2013, with only the very best grades hold­ing a value of 50 per­cent or bet­ter above the New York “C”. The bet­ter Robusta grades, on the other hand, held value against the Arabicas, such that by year end grades, as Vietnam GR1, SC16, Wet Polished, were being offered in New York at prices com­pa­ra­ble to “C” grade Arabica beans. These Robusta cof­fees from Vietnam, and other ori­gins offer­ing neu­tral cup and bold bean style, have found favor in recent years in the espresso brands of American roast­ers, some of whom would not have con­sid­ered the ingre­di­ent only a few years ago. Uganda, the 4th largest Robusta cof­fee pro­ducer, is plant­ing 300 mil­lion addi­tional Robusta cof­fee trees in a large eco­nomic wager, that in the West, the espresso mar­ket will con­tinue to bal­loon, and that in the East and in the Southern hemi­sphere, a grow­ing world mid­dle class will choose to be cof­fee drinkers.

To the grat­i­fi­ca­tion and relief of small inde­pen­dent roast­ers, and prob­a­bly the big roast­ers too, the stran­gling effects of the his­tor­i­cally high cof­fee mar­kets of recent years, fade into mem­ory as money flows back into their pock­ets and out of their inven­tory val­ues. In June, Starbucks raised prices into the teeth of con­sumer aware­ness of a falling mar­ket. They’ve got grit.

Usually, we would expect that reduced exports from Central American, and pos­si­bly some Brazilian regions, would echo through the mar­ket putting upward pres­sure on cof­fee prices; with increased rev­enues per pound help­ing to defray a por­tion of the loss to blights and bugs. That may not be the case this year as there may be an abun­dance in Arabica cof­fee sup­plies, as the ICO expects sup­ply to out­strip demand by 4-million bags, or roughly equal to the cof­fee crop of Mexico. If this comes to pass, there will be added eco­nomic pres­sure on sub­sis­tence coffee-farm fam­i­lies brought about by the double-whammy of hav­ing less cof­fee to sell, while receiv­ing a lower price per pound for that which remains. The answer, of course, is to pro­duce cof­fee at such a high level of excel­lence that its value breaks free of the “C” con­tract. Sadly, becom­ing as La Esmiralda, Clifton Mount Estate, or La Minita is not an attain­able goal, but only an aspi­ra­tion for most farmers.

Espresso has changed cof­fee in America. Espresso machines are found in every man­ner of food ser­vice oper­a­tion today, and Nespresso® and Keurig® are work­ing hard to bring easy-access espresso bev­er­ages into upper-middle class homes and apart­ments. Simultaneously, Italian cof­fee brands as Illy, Lavazza®, Danesi®, and Segafredo® con­tinue to pour into the American cup sat­is­fy­ing the insa­tiable American taste for the exotic, and seem­ingly upscale taste for that which is European.

It has been a long time since Lauren Bacall pitched Instant Maxwell House cof­fee, and once again celebri­ties are being iden­ti­fied with cof­fee. In Australia, Al Puccino hawks Vittoria Coffee. Hugh Jackman and Leonardo DiCaprio sup­port Laughing Man brand, and David Hasselhoff pushed Farmhouse Blend Iced Coffee. Rarely does a celebrity enter the indus­try as a strictly busi­ness ven­ture, but that’s what Patrick Dempsey appeared to do this past year, tak­ing an own­er­ship stake in the Tully’s® chain of 48 retail out­lets dur­ing bank­ruptcy pro­ceed­ings in January. Mr. Dempsey was evi­dently burned by the expe­ri­ence, though accord­ing to the Associated Press, he never invested money in the chain, as by August, Dempsey had divested him­self of his hold­ings in the cof­fee retailer. In other celebrity cof­fee news, Marley’s Coffee, who went pub­lic in 2011, (JAMN) is still los­ing money, though sales are gyrat­ing. 12 OZ Marley’s® cof­fee was spot­ted not long ago at a Long Island T.J. Maxx out­let for $4.99.

The year saw the re-launch of a grand old name in the trade, Martinson®. A top brand in New York in the first half of the last cen­tury, it had been brought low (to the price/value level) by a suc­ces­sion of own­ers who did not appre­ci­ate what they had. Joe Martinson’s brand is now owned by Mother Parker®, and the re-positioning in the mar­ket includes sin­gle serve, soft bags, and fiber cans. The blend selec­tion is mid-line with names such as Joe’s Light Latin, Joe’s Donut Shop, and Joe’s Rich African Brew. It’s nice to see Mr. Martinson’s brand out there again.

Another old New York brand, an A&P orig­i­nal, 8’Oclock® cof­fee, now a Tata com­pany, rebranded itself in 2013 with strik­ing new red 11 OZ pack­ag­ing fea­tur­ing infor­ma­tional strips on the right shoulder…and of course, a sin­gle serve line.

No one with access to iTunes needs to go through the day with­out a decent cuppa. The Find Me Coffee app can find you a cof­fee shop around the cor­ner or around the globe, give you direc­tions to get there, and can even place an order. The iPhone’s cof­fee­hunter app has a col­lec­tion of 7,000 inde­pen­dent cof­fee places.

In the age before mechan­i­cally bot­tled beer, the bev­er­age was car­ried in tin pails. They were known as Growlers, which may be related to the sound made by the slosh­ing of beer, and the release of car­bon diox­ide caused by that action in the pails as they were car­ried. Later, the pails were replaced with bot­tles, but the name stuck. The Growler was returned to the tav­ern as desired, where it would be refilled with fresh beer at mod­est cost. Today, a Growler is a refill­able con­tainer (usu­ally 64oz) and an affec­ta­tion used by Cold Brew Coffee entre­pre­neurs as a descrip­tion of the pack­age in which they mar­ket their wares.

Cold Brew Iced Coffee began to take hold in the sum­mer of 2013, with amber glass bot­tles of iced brew found in trendy cof­fee bars and upscale mar­kets, where local iced brew­ers are located. Among Brooklyn, New York’s entries is Grady’s New Orleans-Style. Others around the coun­try, include Slingshot 16oz read to drink Iced Coffee, Raleigh, NC, Installation Coffee Co’ Cold Brew, Los Angeles, CA, Jittery John’s Cold Brew, San Francisco, CA, and Chameleon Cold Brew, Austin, TX. Gorilla Coffee, Brooklyn, NY renowned for their prod­uct mar­ket­ing graph­ics has, per­haps, the most strik­ing pack­age for their Cold Brew cof­fee. You can see it here.

Some cafés have declared war on WiFi squat­ters this year, and oth­ers con­tinue to make a point of adver­tis­ing free WiFi. The tug of war between pro­vid­ing added value to your cup, ver­sus the loss of seat­ing when some patrons take unfair advan­tage of the ser­vice by sit­ting for hours over a sin­gle cup of cof­fee depriv­ing the shop of open seat­ing for newly enter­ing cus­tomers, is becom­ing some­thing that is heard more fre­quently in con­ver­sa­tion between oper­a­tors. Along with the belief that WiFi squat­ters cre­ate a squalid atmos­phere that chases away a bet­ter qual­ity clientele.

Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Fountain, Reiney’s Soda Fountain in Denison, Iowa, and Vincent’s Drug Store and Soda Fountain, John’s Island South Carolina aside, the old fash­ioned soda foun­tain, a fix­ture on Main Street in the first half of the last cen­tury, that as an indus­try, did not sur­vive the post WWII era, may be about to make a come­back with Starbucks in the van­guard. Stephan Wermuth reported in a Reuter’s piece that Starbucks, using Soda stream-like car­bon­a­tion machines is mak­ing old-fashioned soda foun­tain style sodas, by adding car­bon­a­tion to its juice, tea, and cof­fee bev­er­ages in an exper­i­ment in selected stores in Atlanta, GA, Austin, TX, and Asia.

During the Summer, while we were all drink­ing from Growlers and dream­ing of soda foun­tains of yore, SCAA Lifetime Achievement Laureate, Dan Cox, was spilling the beans on cof­fee spills with the pub­li­ca­tion of Handling Hot Coffee: Preventing spills, Burns, and Lawsuits. It is filled and over­flow­ing with help­ful infor­ma­tion on keep­ing hot cof­fee bev­er­age safe for the oper­a­tor, wait staff, and consumer.

The need for this thin vol­ume (98 Pages) pub­lished by Red Barn Books, ISBN-10: 1935922246, ISBN-13: 978–1935922247 should be obvi­ous to all in the trade, as law­suits over spilled hot cof­fee have been a reg­u­lar occur­rence since the ill-famed judg­ment in the 1994, California Liebeck v. McDonald’s case. Until Dan’s help­ful, orga­nized, anno­tated, illus­trated, and indexed sin­gle source book, oper­a­tors and attor­neys were forced to find answers from many dif­fer­ent resources. The trade owes the SCAA Past President, Cox, a thanks for help­ing his fel­low man (and mem­bers of WIC, too) with this use­ful tool.

McDonalds®, who upgraded the qual­ity of their cof­fee pro­gram some years ago, has seen the light, and is switch­ing to paper cups from poly­styrene. Big Mac® should be thanked for mak­ing this change, which will cost them money as the two mate­ri­als are not com­pa­ra­ble in price. McCafe® will taste bet­ter, and the envi­ron­ment will not have to con­tinue try­ing to ingest 10-million Styrofoam cups each day. Thank you, McDonalds®.

Joh. A. Benckiser, the new owner of Peet’s® and Caribou® cof­fee chains, has the two now-sister com­pa­nies play­ing dosey-doe your part­ner. Minnesotta based Caribou will become a regional North-Midwestern brand, with addi­tional out­lets in neigh­bor­ing Iowa, the Dakotas, Wisconsin, Kansas, and Colorado. They will also retain out­liers in North Carolina. Caribou® stores in the rest of the coun­try will be con­verted to Peet’s®.

At the end of October, Kraft® announced that they would begin test mar­ket­ing McDonald’s® McCafe® brand cof­fee in selected mar­kets. In November, an arbi­tra­tor deter­mined that Starbucks must pay 2.76-billion dol­lars for walk­ing away from their pack­aged cof­fee deal with Kraft® to dis­trib­ute Starbucks®. One went in and the other went out.

Ron Popeil, move over, for as the year ground down, Keurig® infomer­cials were becom­ing omnipresent on cable TV.

In the Coals-to-Newcastle depart­ment, The Wall Street Journal reported that Starbucks®, whose stated goal is 20,000 retail stores by the close of 2014, plans to open its first retail shop in Bogota, Colombia in the com­ing months. This pilot store is hoped to be the first of 50 Starbucks stores in Colombian cities, to be opened over the next 5 years. So you see, with all that tran­spired in 2013, we still have things to which we can look for­ward to in the New Year, such as 50 more Starbucks®.

Distinguished roaster/cupper Donald Schoenholt is cof­fee­man at cel­e­brated Gillies Coffee Co., Brooklyn NY, now begin­ning its 175th year. Don, a found­ing father of both SCAA and Roasters Guild, doesn’t look 175, but he says there are days when he feels as he, and not the firm, is America’s Oldest Coffee Merchant. Mr. Schoenholt can be reached at

Roasting in Korea – Stepping up to the quality challenge

Categories: 2012, AugustTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

Walk­ing down the streets of Seoul, Bussan, and other cities in Korea, one is amazed at the num­ber of cof­fee shops. On one city block in Seoul you might pass more than 10 if you are look­ing. In Seoul the retail stores are at street level, base­ment level and often the sec­ond story of the build­ing. The other thing you might be shocked to see is the num­ber of shops that have 1kilo or smaller roast­ers in their shops and roast­ing every day. The ques­tion is, “Are they doing a good job roasting?”

At an event some years back, Ric Reinhart, Executive Director of the SCAA, spoke to a group of indus­try pro­fes­sion­als that had gath­ered to do the good work of the asso­ci­a­tion. He said (and this is NOT an exact quote) “If some­one get­ting into the indus­try asked me what they should do when open­ing a cof­fee shop I would tell them to open a roaster-retail store.” The roast­ers in the room were not amused by this as they made a liv­ing roast­ing and whole­sal­ing to new cof­fee shops. Was he try­ing to kill that business!?!

Upon reflec­tion one could see the sub­tlety of what he was say­ing, and fig­ure out that what has always been true in the indus­try; there is enough busi­ness for every­body as long as we make qual­ity a pri­or­ity. If new shops open and roast, they will drive more and more con­sumers to qual­ity cof­fee and away from the mediocre cof­fee. If there are more cus­tomers demand­ing it, there will be more cus­tomers for qual­ity whole­sale cof­fee as those that don’t roast try to upgrade.

The true chal­lenge is this: Just because a com­pany is roast­ing their own cof­fee does not mean it is a supe­rior prod­uct. If you are not pro­vid­ing qual­ity cof­fee it will con­fuse con­sumers even more and could send them back to reli­able and pre­dictable coffee.

So there are sev­eral chal­lenges to this new phase of in shop roast­ing. A great case study is to look at what is hap­pen­ing in Korea and learn­ing from their suc­cesses and fail­ures. Let’s take a quick look back before we look forward.

United States: We roasted cof­fee in our homes in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. We moved away from that expe­ri­ence in the mid 1900’s with the indus­trial rev­o­lu­tion putting cof­fee in a con­ve­nient can on the gro­cery store shelf. In the 1960’s and mov­ing for­ward, some cof­fee extrem­ists found qual­ity in a cup by small batch roast­ing and started the spe­cialty cof­fee mar­ket. People and shops were resis­tant to roast­ing their own and were happy to have an indus­try pro­fes­sional do it for them and deliver fresh roasted cof­fee each week. Consumers now enjoy cof­fee all day but it is dom­i­nated by our grab and go ‘need cof­fee’ men­tal­ity instead of an ‘enjoy cof­fee’ one.

Korea: Drank tea for 6000 years, and got infil­trated by the West’s craze for cof­fee about ten years ago; Deciding to imi­tate and improve on our prod­uct. Coffee houses sprang up every­where pro­vid­ing a social place to enjoy each other’s com­pany over a deli­cious cup. Coffee is con­sumed as a means to gather. Seldom are shops open at 6:00am for the com­muter but more often until 11:00pm for the late night meeting.

Challenges for the small roast­ing oper­a­tions are sim­i­lar between our two coun­tries, but addressed differently.

Challenge 1: Roasting in the City and Putting Out Smoke.
In the United States most shop roast­ers are above 5 kilos (likely 12 kilos and up). Depending on where the store is sit­u­ated it is often required to put on after­burn­ers or sweep­ers. This adds instal­la­tion costs, pro­duc­tion costs, per­mits and inspec­tions and often square footage costs.

In Korea the roast­ers are often 2 kilos or less. Cheap vent pipes exhaust the smoke and neigh­bors think it smells great.

Challenge 2: Training and Labor for Roasting staff.
In the US there is a com­mu­nity of roast­ers that help each other. If you are just start­ing out you can join the Roasters Guild and access the tal­ents and skills of other roast­ers. There are also con­sul­tants out there that will help write pro­ce­dure manuals.

In Korea it is tougher to find a men­tor group. There are labs pop­ping up every­where that you can go and buy knowl­edge, although a lot of it is ques­tion­able. The SCAA licenses Roasters Guild classes to part­ners in Korea so they can actu­ally get cer­ti­fied with the SCAA.

Challenge 3: Supply of Quality Green Coffee
In the US many of the roast­ers offer a range of cof­fee. They will offer ‘the house blend’ for the grab and go cus­tomers. They also offer ‘high end’ cof­fees for those cus­tomers that will sit and enjoy it or that want a pound for home. Many also whole­sale blends to other restau­rants and cof­fee shops. This means that US roast­ers buy grades 1–3 and carry more inventory.

In Korea the small shops roast to order for their shops and cus­tomers. They are all com­pet­ing to buy the new 90+ cof­fees and to cel­e­brate them as sin­gle serve drinks. At Square Garden Café, Sung Hui Park will even hand roast cof­fee over the open flame of the stove while you wait. This puts pres­sure on importers to hunt for, and con­tract for, grade 1 cof­fee that scores high. Not a lot of cof­fee is con­sumed in the home as it is a social drink rather than the morn­ing fuel.

Challenge 4: The Big Chains
In the US, spe­cialty cof­fee is dri­ven by the chains. They are often seen as the mar­ket­ing depart­ments of the small roast­ing shops. The best thing that the chains do is to move peo­ple from the gro­cery store canned cof­fees to a bet­ter cup. Then a sub­set of those peo­ple go on to demand great cof­fee and find the local roaster.

In Korea, the chains are attempt­ing to be large ver­sions of the small shops and tend to still offer hand pours and focus on roast­ing their own as a sell­ing point. They tend to be much more direct com­pe­ti­tion for the ‘lit­tle guy’.

Challenge 5: Differentiation in a Saturated Market
In the US you can still dif­fer­en­ti­ate just by the fact you are roast­ing. The next thing you can do is sin­gle serve or hand drip the coffee.

In Korea since they already roast and hand drip, dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion comes with inte­rior design and food pair­ing. The chains don’t do this very well so the small shop still can have a com­pet­i­tive advantage.

Challenge 6: REALLY Understanding Quality
In the US we get together, share ideas, train each other and try to make the indus­try stronger. We inno­vate things like the SCAA scor­ing sys­tem and the CQI Q-Grader cer­ti­fi­ca­tion so we can improve the entire sup­ply chain. The US also believes in the value of prac­ti­cal expe­ri­ence and trial and error.

In Korea, if imi­ta­tion is the best form of flat­tery, then the US should be VERY flat­tered. Koreans are com­mit­ted to con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion but gen­er­ally try not to share ideas amongst them­selves. They look for for­mal school­ing and cer­ti­fi­ca­tions like those offered through SCAA and CQI. This is why Korea has about 4 times as many Q-Graders as the US. First year baris­tas are get­ting cer­ti­fied. They want to know how to do things right up front, the first time.

There are some absolutely stun­ning exam­ples of qual­ity in both coun­tries. In the US how­ever there is a higher like­li­hood that a new roaster is going to pro­duce a high qual­ity prod­uct as the indus­try will make sure they have they knowl­edge to do so. In Korea there is ‘book learn­ing’ but some­times the per­son that wrote the book was not a cof­fee pro­fes­sional. As the SCAA con­tin­ues to spread the knowl­edge around the world, coun­tries like Korea will con­tinue to improve. In Korea there is also a desire to be BETTER than the com­pe­ti­tion, and a resis­tance to shar­ing infor­ma­tion. This desire com­pen­sates for the cul­tural dif­fer­ence of non-collaboration.

The bot­tom line: Both coun­tries are com­mit­ted to qual­ity. Neither coun­try will tol­er­ate small roast­ers doing a bad job. In the US we will edu­cate them and make them bet­ter. In Korea the poor roaster will solve the prob­lem by going out of busi­ness. Either way, the qual­ity will hope­fully stay high and drive more cus­tomers to desire great coffee.

Rocky can be reached at

AHA! Moments in Coffee">The AHA! Moments in Coffee

Categories: 2011, NovemberTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

No mat­ter what your expe­ri­ence level is in our indus­try, you should always try to stretch your­self fur­ther. When you do this you are often met with an AHA! moment. In the begin­ning, they come more often. Later in your career, they are fewer, but are often shak­ing your belief system.

An AHA! moment is that instant when clar­ity occurs. Sometimes, like with chil­dren learn­ing a new math con­cept, just fig­ur­ing it out for the first time can be an AHA! moment. Other times you will find some­one says some­thing that ties together loose ends like “The rea­son your back is hurt­ing is due to your strained knee which is mak­ing you stand awk­wardly. Fix your knee and you fix your back.” Still oth­ers are the ‘real­ity movers’ that undo a known fact. Examples here might be when your daugh­ter dis­cov­ers that Mickey Mouse at Disneyland is just a guy in a suit. (Yeah it’s true!)

The AHA! moment is impor­tant for the cof­fee indus­try for two main rea­sons. The first is per­sonal; it proves you are still grow­ing and learn­ing. The sec­ond is finan­cial; shar­ing these expe­ri­ences and pro­vid­ing your clients with their own AHA! moments builds a bond. You are an expert will­ing to give away your expe­ri­ence. A deeper bond with clients means more loy­alty and more word of mouth advertising.

Where you are in the sup­ply chain also effects your AHA! moments. Listed below are moments that peo­ple shared for this arti­cle. The moments will be clas­si­fied in seg­ments of the sup­ply chain. Some are ‘entry level’ that we all have had. Some much deeper.

AHA! Moments in the Coffee House
If you want to cre­ate loy­alty with your retail cus­tomers, do this: Brew a nat­ural process Ethiopian, an earthy Sumatran and a flo­ral, bal­anced Guatemalan and put them on a self-serve table in your shop. Put down some forms and ask your cus­tomer to vote for their favorite. Here are the AHA! moments you will be pro­vid­ing for your customer:

  • Not all cof­fee tastes the same. In fact they can be VERY different!
  • I can taste the dif­fer­ence! Maybe I am bet­ter at tast­ing than I thought!
  • I NEVER drink cof­fee with­out stuff in it. Maybe I hide the taste when I do that!
  • If these taste dif­fer­ent, what do OTHER cof­fees taste like?
Maybe cof­fee can be enjoyed rather than just consumed.
  • I really like this taste and not that one. Are there more that taste like this one?

Here is another good one you can do. Get a sequen­tial pic­ture array in the fol­low­ing order: Coffee tree with flow­ers, green cher­ries, yel­low cher­ries, red cher­ries, cof­fee being picked, cof­fee being car­ried to the mill, cof­fee being pre sorted, cof­fee in hold­ing tank, pulp­ing cof­fee, fer­men­ta­tion tank, dry­ing patio, rak­ing, dry stor­age, hulling, screen sort­ing, grav­ity sort­ing, defect sort­ing, cup­ping table, green cof­fee in bag, bags in con­tainer, con­tainer on ship, cof­fee in ware­house, cof­fee near roaster, green bean, yel­low bean, three more roast lev­els, cup­ping table, brewed cof­fee in a cup with a bis­cotti. The customer’s head usu­ally starts spin­ning at this point! Here are some moments:

  • Coffee is grown on trees!
  • It’s not a bean, it’s a pit!
  • It’s green not brown!
  • It can be dif­fer­ent shades of brown!
It’s roasted!
  • SO MANY HANDS! SO MANY STEPS! What if one per­son screws it up!

Assuming a pic­ture is worth a thou­sand words, that is about 30,000 words with­out your staff say­ing any­thing! If you do this for your cus­tomers, you ele­vate the con­ver­sa­tion beyond cost and focus on qual­ity con­trol points. This solid­i­fies a cus­tomer for life! This is a cus­tomer that will want to share this infor­ma­tion with oth­ers and thereby be ‘the expert’ to their friends. That’s more cus­tomers for you!

AHA! Moments at the Roasting Facility
Whenever you are dis­cussing cof­fee with a prospect, put out a dis­play with four dif­fer­ent roast styles of a sin­gle ori­gin cof­fee on it. Also pre­pare four pots of cof­fee made from the beans of the dis­play. Ask the prospect to pick their favorite. Also show a roast pro­file spread­sheet and graph for each one. This is what is going through their mind:

  • You can roast the same cof­fee dif­fer­ent ways!
  • There is a dra­matic taste dif­fer­ence due to roast!
  • Roasting is an art AND a science.
  • The skill of the roaster adds value to the product.
  • Which roast style is right for my customers?

You can do the same thing with blends. Take a prospect through an actual cup­ping. You get a spe­cial bond when they try this for the first time and:

  • I learned a new skill to eval­u­ate cof­fee I never knew existed.
  • I am smarter than my friends about cof­fee because I know how to cup.
  • Is there a com­mon lan­guage between cof­fee pro­fes­sion­als that use this tool?
  • I can speak this lan­guage with prac­tice but it is not an easy skill.

AHA! Moments with the Exporter / Importer
Different com­pa­nies do dif­fer­ent things to pre­pare, move, buy, track and ware­house cof­fee. The aver­age roaster really does not under­stand the logis­tics involved, let alone the com­plex­ity of a com­modi­ties exchange and inter­na­tional con­tracts. There are things you can do to have the roaster appre­ci­ate your role even more. Start with a descrip­tive break out of a con­tract describ­ing the main points: type, quan­tity, place, and qual­ity. For the first time your roast­ers will be thinking:

  • Risk man­age­ment is crucial.
  • There are more than only ‘ship­ping costs’ involved in this.
  • Maritime insur­ance? Who knew?
  • Price fluc­tu­a­tions against 37,500 pounds of cof­fee are SIGNIFICANT!
  • That is why my spot price changes!
  • Price fix­ing has sta­bil­ity AND risk associated.

Once that con­ver­sa­tion ensues you can move to a con­ver­sa­tion about hedg­ing, mul­ti­year con­tract ben­e­fits / pit­falls, and dis­pute res­o­lu­tion. Your cus­tomer should walk away with this:

  • I will not attempt this on my own unless I have pro­fes­sional help. I love that I do not have to deal with this!

AHA! Moments at Origin
As a farmer you know that what you do requires sci­ence, expe­ri­ence, finan­cial risk, luck of nature and the kind­ness of God. The aver­age roaster or retailer can con­cep­tu­al­ize what you do but do not feel it like you do.
Some of the things they will expe­ri­ence are:

  • 5 years until the 1st crop!
  • Off sea­son work to pre­pare the trees is immense.
  • Organic is only as good as the polic­ing being done.
  • This can be freak­ing hard work.
  • Mills go 24 –7 dur­ing har­vest. Coffee is raked every 15–30 min­utes for the first 24 hours.
  • Defect sort­ing is a mas­sive under­tak­ing done by skilled people.

The first ori­gin trip when they see your total process (from the farm through the mill) they get one of the most impor­tant AHA! moments in the industry:

  • It is amaz­ing that a great prod­uct makes it to me at all. I have an oblig­a­tion to honor all the work that has come before me and do my best to pro­duce the best drink I can!

If some of the above AHA! moments were new to you, you might have just dis­cov­ered a new one:

  • If you are not hav­ing AHA! moments you should prob­a­bly be expand­ing your search for knowl­edge in the industry!

Talk to the other peo­ple in the sup­ply chain to bet­ter under­stand what they do. Ask your cus­tomers what they think about you, your prod­uct, and the indus­try as a whole. Whatever you learn will be a ben­e­fit to you in the long run. You can also self-direct some of your learn­ing by find­ing classes through SCAA, Roasters Guild, Barista Guild and CQI to name a few. The more you know, the more you can share with oth­ers. If you take the time and effort, the whole indus­try benefits.

This is box title
Here are some of the authors per­sonal AHA!’s:

  • By read­ing Tim Castle’s book, ‘A Perfect Cup’ I learned you could roast cof­fee at home in a pop­corn pop­per. This started me in the industry.
  • There is no such place as Mandehling on the Island of Sumatra. It is a peo­ple not a place.
  • The caged Luwak seems per­fectly con­tent to eat cof­fee cher­ries, then poop them out in solitude.
  • Not all experts are right.
  • Dark roasted cof­fee has a higher per­cent­age of caf­feine than a medium roast. (Lost money on this bet)
  • Fire can be an excel­lent cleaner for your roaster. (Not a sug­ges­tion by the way)
  • The rea­son that high alti­tude cof­fee tends to be bet­ter is the slower mat­u­ra­tion cycle.
  • There is more Arabica pro­duced than Robusta. (Lost money on this bet)
  • Betting is not the smartest way to prove you are right.

Rocky can be reached at

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