What we learned from Coffee Roaster Camp…

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As members of the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) Roaster’s Guild, amamus were invited to join the 2019 Roaster’s Camp event in a hotel high above beautiful Lake Annecy in the French Alps.

This event brought together professionals involved in Specialty coffee roasting from across the world in an intensive four day effort to learn, share and promote best practise in the coffee industry. Our purpose for attending was to build our expert network and bring back new knowledge to ensure we’re in the vanguard, roasting the very best coffee for our clients.

The SCA event team along with the sponsors and volunteers achieved the seemingly-impossible; installing at least ten coffee roasting machines from the world’s very-best manufacturers in a marquee located in the hotel carpark. A huge container-sized generator, a bank of gas bottles and network of computers powered up these enormous machines. This extraordinary resource enabled the c.150 attendees to take new knowledge from the classrooms straight onto the roasting machines with team challenges and experimental practical opportunities. Plus we got to try out the latest technology including the beautiful Roest and the brilliantly compact Ikawa Professional sample roasters.

A slick programme of science-led lectures and education ran across three days peppered with opportunities to fine-tune my slurping / cupping skills with sample coffees from some of the best European Specialty Coffee distributors including the brilliant UK-based Falcon Coffee team.

Coffee cupping

For me this event was an intense deep-dive into the world of Specialty coffee and I’ve returned with far more knowledge and understanding of the coffee sector. The standout qualities of the event was the shared determination amongst the eclectic, multi-cultural group for seeking improved coffee quality and excitement. Plus a strong desire to improve the dignity and value for our farmer and producer partners based in developing countries. Aside from a fairer distribution of money through the supply chain there was a refreshing absence of discussions around improved profitability or self-serving financial gains; unusual for a trade event! The clear message I took away was that a focus on taste & quality, evolving customer needs, fair ways of working and a commitment to ethical standards will ensure a sustainable industry for us and future generations to enjoy great coffee.

Also, who knew there were so many coffee-focused scientists working in labs across the world on objective taste and sensory studies, who are happy to share their useful data.

Tim Wookey at roaster

Here’s a brief summary from each of the lectures I attended:

Cupping calibration – water tainted with different quantities of lemon juice and sugar ensured we were all working to the same sensory standards

Swiss Water Decaf: Pioneers in the natural method of caffeine removal explained their process and demonstrated that Specialty coffee without caffeine needn’t be a taste compromise. Indeed this is the fastest growing segment in Specialty coffee as Millenials and Generation Z like to spend many hours drinking coffee without feeling the effects of too much caffeine.

An introduction to Q-Grading: There are around 6,000 Q-Graders globally who are individuals accredited by the Coffee Quality Institute and have passed difficult exams that demonstrate their ability to both detect defects in coffee and objectively evaluate its taste qualities. We learned how to go about getting accredited. Not one for amamus now but maybe in the future…

The science of coffee freshness: A scientist took us through the research that demonstrated how coffee stales over time and how we might prevent this. Freshly roasted coffee lasts best in aluminium lined bags, although this must be balanced against an environmental agenda. Freezing coffee just after roasting massively improves freshness and longevity, provided the bag hasn’t been opened to air and moisture. This lecture only served to support our model fresh coffee being delivered regularly in whole-bean format and ground just prior to extraction.

Green coffee bean purchase planning: The holy grail for most Specialty roasters is to purchase beans direct from origin farms. However it’s a cautionary tale in that the lead-time to order direct from a farm the other side of the world can result in lead-times of around 6-months from order to taking delivery. Careful planning and a super-efficient logistics partner is essential to ensure you get what you ordered.

Zero Waste in Specialty Coffee: We had a panel discussion where we discussed how our industry could reduce our waste. My take-out from this event was that everyone was similarly committed to reducing our environmental impact and there were many new ideas that could be adopted in everyone’s business

Roast profiling for acidity and sweetness: In great coffee we are seeking the perfect balance of acidity and sweetness and this lecture explained how the adjustment of temperature over time can help emphasise cup quality in the roasted coffee. We got the chance to take our new knowledge into the roasting marquee and roast coffee for sweetness and acidity. A tasting cupping session afterwards allowed us to explore the results in real-time. A fascinating experimental session where we got to push boundaries not usually undertaken in our busy commercial environment.

Coffee blending: Another coffee scientist took us through a research project that reviewed the effect of pre-blending single varietal coffees before the roast Vs roasting single varietal coffees alone then blending afterwards. It’s clear that the best results come from roasting single varietals by themselves to bring out the very best qualities of each individual batch, then blending. This is fundamentally opposed to the bulk factory roaster approach and further supports a more careful hand-roasting method for Specialty coffee.

Effects of brewing parameters on coffee sensory quality: This was when we really started to get into the nuts and bolts of the Camp purpose. Another scientist had undertaken a huge study of coffee experts and coffee consumers to understand how we brew coffee affects enjoyment. It was clear that brewing temperature had little affect, but total dissolved solids (TDS) and roast colour was most influential. Not everyone likes the enjoys the same taste or roast profile so it’s important to have a range of coffees available to meet different customer segments’ needs.

The coffee price crisis: This is well documented in the press – many farmers are moving away from coffee cultivation as the price paid in the commodity markets just doesn’t cover production costs. When climate change, increasing prevalence of pests and disease and increasing costs are overlaid, the industry is indeed in a crisis. The SCA has set-up an advisory panel and team to galvanise action. Their plan will shortly be announced and we’ll be supporting their recommendations and ideas.

Multi-sensory flavour perception in Specialty coffee: A Brazilian scientist shared the Bouba / Kiki research study that demonstrated how the human brain somehow attaches abstract meanings to the shapes and sounds in a consistent way. This study of human brains’ hard-wiring could be applied to coffee packaging to set expectations around taste profiles.

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