I've just returned from three intensive and fun days at the Speciality Coffee Associations Roasters Guild Camp in Evora Portugal. The SCA have guilds for Baristas, Roasters and quite recently Technicians and of course I joined the Roasters guild when I first took up my SCA membership.
The Camp is one of the activities the Guild undertakes with a program over a few days that includes some foundation level certification classes, hands-on workshops covering various aspects of roasting and tasting, cuppings of new crop coffees from the green importers, talks from industry professionals as well as more diverse presentations and discussion panels from academics and scientists. The 'main event' was a team-challenge running over the entire 3 days and last year this was a great way to meet roasters with diverse backgrounds and share a 'team' goal.
One of my biggest take-home's from last year was the networking aspect of attending the camp. The chance to meet different coffee professionals, business owners, roasters from different countries, some micro-roasters I could immediately relate experiences with, and others from large roasting businesses. With a small roasting operation like Crankhouse my time is spent between roasting, packing, delivering and the various administrative tasks of running a business. Seldom do I get an opportunity to meet and discuss ideas and concepts with other roasters. The 2017 camp helped me tremendously in this and it was fun. Plenty reason enough to go again.
Here are some of this years highlights:
Team Challenge: 14 teams with 10 people in each. Our team (No 4) included small business owners, production roasters, an R&D manager and green coffee buyer for a large operation in Greece, someone just about to start their small roasting operation in their house, and someone hugely experienced just about to launch a new brand focused on specialty tea and coffee. We were given 5 small roasted samples of coffee and a brief to use one or more of the coffees to roast and submit 1Kg of a coffee with balanced Sweet and Sour (acidity). ie only 2 of the 6 key elements when assessing coffee (Flavour, Aftertaste, Acidity, Body, Balance, Sweetness). In addition the task was to come up with a poster design of the brand idea highlighting the sweet and sour balance. Overall result would be a combination of the submitted coffee (cupped blind by all the teams on the Saturday morning), and a score of the poster designs.
The coffees supplied by green coffee sponsor Falcon Speciality consisted of a natural El Salvador Bourbon, a washed Nicaraguan Catuai, Kenyan AA washed SL-28/SL-34, Sumatra wet-hulled and a washed Guatemalan. We immediately ruled in the Kenyan for the acidity and ruled out both the Sumatran and Guatemalan since they didn't offer any sweetness or additional acidity. Both the washed Nicarguan and natural El Salvador 'in theory' should have offered sweetness in the cup to balance the Kenyan. Down to 3 and then we were given a 2hr slot from 8-10pm on Day 1 to roast our coffees.
First come first served for the available roasters and the 'easiest' thing to do would have been to have chosen a machine that one of our team was familiar with, in our case a Giesen or Diedrich. There were other machines to use including an IKAWA sample roaster, the new Roest sample roaster, two Jopers, a Stronghold S7 and a 1Kg Loring. Easy isn't always fun or challenging so we opted for some new technology, the Roest and the Stronghold. A digitally controlled 1Kg roaster that has taken the roasting world by storm over the last couple of years due to it's responsive and efficient Halogen and hot air heating systems. Both worlds away from 'traditional' drum roasters.
We split the team up with some roasting small batches on the Roest and me and a few others on the Stronghold. Off we went with an 800g batch of the Nicaraguan and it was a disaster. Not knowing how a machine reacts to power changes and having no feel for the machine just meant it was a matter of trial and error. Batch 1 was always going to be a learning exercise. Straight in the bin. Batch 2 of the Nic was better and we were aiming to match the colour of the roasted sample.Since we we were very time limited we went straight from one batch to the next whilst one of the team measured the roasted samples of the 3 coffees as well as our roasted batches on a Lighttells colour measure, both for whole bean and ground coffee.
Then two batches of the El Salvador and two of the Kenyan. Colour-wise we nailed it. Each of the roasts were within a whisker of the samples. 10pm came quickly and our time was up. Next step was to cup these coffees the following day and work out what we were going to submit ie a blend or 2 or 3 or simply one of the coffees.
We cupped our coffees on Friday at 5-7pm and decided on a blend of the El Salvador and the Kenyan. Various ratios were tried 'wet' and we did the old '1-2-3-point' to get a consensus on the winner. Coffee TICK. Our poster design was only a concept at this point and a beer outside by the pool revealed the answer. A picture montage of two team members, one eating a very sour lemon, the other a large slab of gooey cake.
Not bad.. not great but not bad
Submission at 9am Saturday morning and then cupping and poster scoring at 11.30am just before I caught my lift back to the airport at midday. I found out in the car that we hadn't won and I must admit to not being surprised by the winning team. Team 6's poster entry was a standout. Knowing some of the team members I also had no doubt that their coffee was good too.
Just a tad more inventive than our entry
Another highlight were the presentations on Roasting for brew method by Lauro Fioretti and Alexander Ruas. Lauro is a WBC finals judge and works for Nuovo Simonelli. An incredibly engaging and entertaining speaker, Lauro took us through roasting for Espresso and the essence of balancing flavour attributes through the roast style for this intensive beverage. We then tasted espressos with coffee roasted with short development versus a roast with long development and one in between. His Italian heritage and knowledge of heavily roasted espresso made for a convincing argument for the place of well developed coffee for espresso. He explained that the burnt or ashy flavours many of us associate with 'dark' roasts are roasting errors and can be avoided resulting in a 'bitter' dominant espresso with a big syrupy body that stays on the tongue for hours after you've drunk it: an espresso with positive flavour attributes of sweet tobacco and dark chocolate without any roasting taints. Many of us in specialty coffee might associate bitterness with a poorly roasted or extracted coffee but as Lauro so eloquently stated, who doesn't like a well prepared bitter Negroni ? I know I do.
Lauro handed over to Alexander Ruas, past Swedish barista and brewing champion, coffee consultant and trainer to many a Scandinavian coffee competitor and champion. Alex was on a whirlwind round the world trip advising roasting companies and coffee shops with Melbourne Australia his most recent stop before Roasters Camp. He talked in detail about roasting differences between espresso and espresso served as a base for milk beverages. One coffee shop in Melbourne has 5 espresso grinders on the counter. Two house espresso to be used with milk, one for Espresso, one for a single-origin espresso and one for decaf, serving between 1400 and 1600 coffees per day. Six baristas working the bar, five behind the counter and one in front simply pouring milk and handing the drink to the customer. Incredibly fast and efficient and drinks made with a clear distinction between espresso and milk beverages. At this particular coffee shop the espresso blend was a 50/50 washed and natural Ethiopian, whilst the blend for milk was a 50/50 wet-hulled Sumatran and pulped natural Brazil. The former all sweet and soft stone fruits ands florals, the latter a punchy dark chocolate nutty blend which when textured with perfectly steamed milk would have created a hug in a mug.
We then tasted two roasts that Alex had done as both espresso and then with milk. One delicious floral and fruity, the other a warming and soft choco-nut mousse.
Another highlight was the incredible presentation by Fabiana Carvalho of Oxford University on Multisensory Perception Flavour in Specialty Coffee. How we assume and anticipate flavours and tastes based on cross-modal sensory inputs (sight, smell, sound, colour, texture), and that these various inputs influence how we process and experience flavours. Part of the presentation went into the Kiki-Bouba effect ie. how the visual shape of an object maps to sounds. Which of the two shapes below do you think represents a Kiki sound and which a Bouba sound ?
Her work aims to show that by breaking down our perceptions and expectations through directed sensory input we get a different experience of flavour. ie tasting a coffee whilst holding a piece of sandpaper (Kiki) highlighting the acidity and sharpness of the drink versus holding a piece of velvet (Bouba) highlighting the sweetness and body. Unfortunately I missed her follow-up workshop, which apparently took this concept into some detail with various sensory inputs like sound and colour and shape to alter the perception of flavour.
Incredibly interesting work and you can finds out more by following her Instagram feed.
On the more technical coffee roasting side I attended a workshop by Anne Cooper from Melbourne Australia (roastresscoops). She's a legend in the roasting world having roasted for some of the Australian big-guns like Proud-Mary's. She's now a consultant and trainer and has been working on a project with another roasting legend Rob Hoos on working out if we can actually discern differences in the same coffee roasted on different machines ie. Can you taste the roasting system ?
The generous machine sponsors at the camp this year included IKAWA, Röest, Joper, Stronghold, Giesen, Diedrich and Loring. Anne roasted one coffee on the Joper, Giesen, Diedrich and Loring and matched the physical markers during the roast ie. Yellow, First Crack and Drop times (rather than match the actual recorded profile since that's heavily dependent on probe types and placement). Then we had a triangulation cupping with numerous stations set with a mix of the above and had to decide which of the 3 cups were different, or if they were the same. Results indicated that as a group of 20, we achieved 30% correct answers. Their study, so far, across various countries and roasting machines has yielded 28% correct answers. Considering that at any one station you have a 1 in 4 chance of getting the right answer (25%) then it's certainly appears that that you cannot in fact taste the influence of the roasting machine !
That goes against much of the marketing hype and anecdotal evidence about roasting machines having a certain 'style' or flavour profile. ie. heavy old cast-iron Probats 'apparantely' giving more sweetness and body against a mainly convective stainless steel fixed-drum Loring which is 'thought' to give a cleaner and brighter profile. Bottom line was that we as roasters shouldn't be buying a machine based on the fact it's going to make our coffees taste better. Purchase decisions should be based more around support, ease of use, reliability, environmental impact, and of course cost.
There was so much more including an excellent presentation by Peter Dupont co-owner of The Coffee Collective entitled Beyond Direct Trade, a session on Coffee Fermentation for improved control and quality by Nathalie Sieczkowski and Monika Palova 3FE's head roaster on Roasting for Sweetness with plenty of organic chemistry to keep the juices flowing. Plus all the cupping throughout the three days from some of the industries best green coffee importers including some incredible fermented Panama Geisha coffees Finca Hartmann. Bonkers.
Before leaving I put three of my current coffees in front of two World Champions. Audun Sørbotten and Alexandru Nicolaie 2015 and 2016 World Roasting Champions respectively. I'd met Alex at last years camp then again at the World of Coffee in Amsterdam and he's a massive personaIity in the specialty world: one of the superstars. I asked him if he'd mind tasting my coffee and giving me some feedback which he was happy to do. So, there they were on the table alongside some coffee he'd roasted and one other from another great roaster. I was nervous. Audun was first in and he turned to Alex and said "This guy is a good roaster".
So many smart people, so many sessions and interesting information. It's just not possible to attend everything. Back next year then ? You bet ya.
Oh yeh I almost forgot.. there was a pool party of course.