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This weekend I got to experience the annual Roasters Guild Retreat for the first time. The event is a gathering of roasters from all over to spend a weekend of learning, discussion, “networking” and drinking (I think the networking and drinking might be the same thing.)
Roasting is being recognized as a craft more than ever and it’s amazing to be able to spend time and share ideas with so many people who do the same things I do every day. I just wanted to share some of the highlights from the trip.
This is a project carried out at Beneficio El Manzano in Santa Ana, El Salvador. Emilio Lopez Diaz of Quatro M Single Origin Coffees presented the current experiment they are working on in the area of coffee processing. After a presentation about the ongoing projects at El Manzano, we got to taste samples of a coffee that was grown at the same altitude, on the same farm, and harvested all on the same day—but processed with four different methods: Fully washed in traditional fermentation tank methods, machine washed, semi-washed or pulped natural, and full natural. It was a presentation that provided information on how processing really affects the end product, with really precise controls in place and excellent record keeping.
One of the other experiments I thought was great (which we didn’t get to taste) was the varietal experiment. Five years ago, Emilio planted a plot of land with new plantings of different varietals, at the same elevation on the same farm in the same little plot of land. Keeping all the variables in check is really the only way to gather valuable information.
The projects are a collaboration between Cuatro M, Sweet Maria’s/Shrub and Atlas Coffee. I’m pretty excited about this research—it takes a lot of dedication and resources to carry out this type of experimentation at origin, and hopefully this research will provide a great source of information for other producers. Keep up with and find out what they’ve already done, check out Cuatro M’s website.
GREEN DEFECT CUPPING
I got to cup a lot of bad coffee this weekend! In this class, we got to taste some of the defects found in green coffee—but at levels much higher than I’m used to. These were all defects I’ve tasted before in the process of green buying, but never at these levels. Gross! It was great to experience those off flavors though, because they’re even more clearly in my mind and palate.
ROASTING TENT/ROASTING CHALLENGE
While the competition this year didn’t allow for too much extra roasting (limited green coffee), it was great to try out different equipment. This is an amazing set up that the guild does at retreat as well as the annual Specialty Coffee Association of America conference. The exhaust system for all these roasters is donated by Probat, which is incredibly generous.
Our team (which we named the Luwak Liberation Front, free the kitties!) placed fourth in the roasting competition. We chose from 6 different Honduran coffees which we cupped the first day of the retreat, and were to roast for a press pot, pour over and to match the judges sample score. It was really interesting to talk in our group what our different theories were—what it came down to was that we were going to choose the methods based on the coffee, not necessarily on how we roasted it. We only had a couple of tries with each coffee on equipment we’d never roasted on before, so most of our profiles were just miserable looking and tasting. I guess pretty much all of the coffees from the roasting competition that weekend were—but most of us are roasting on equipment much bigger than these roasters and in very different environments. If anything—it’s a good reminder that profiles are completely relative to each roaster’s unique situation, and that nothing is easily transferred. While it was super fun to try out all the new equipment, I loved coming home to my G25.
Coffee events just wouldn’t be complete without excessive amounts of alcohol consumption and little sleep. The annual bonfire was pretty fun, the hotel staff had to finally kick out the few of us left sitting on the grass around 4am. Strange Coffee Company was the sponsor, and there was actually a latte art competition. I thought this was pretty awesome because it’s another indicator of how the roasters and barista guild are growing closer, and that the separation between the roasting side of coffee and the serving and preparation side is getting smaller. Needless to say, most of the lattes were pretty horrible looking, but many roasters have been baristas in the past, so all was not lost.
The roasters in attendance were pretty varied. People from giant companies were there, very small companies, importers etc. Some people had been roasting for 40 years, and some people less than 6 months. I thought it was really interesting how many different approaches and theories there were amongst the group, some of which I adamantly disagreed with, and some more-like minded to my own theories, and some people who presented new ideas that I really liked. Overall, it was a great experience and I hope to attend again in the future. The world of craft roasting is growing and getting more in depth all the time!
*All pictures by Neal Wilson of Wilson's Coffee & Tea except the one of me with the trophy on my head which I think was taken by Tom Owen with my cell phone.
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