Over the past weekend more than two hundred roasters descended on the Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, Washington for the tenth annual Roasters Guild Retreat. There were a variety of activities that took place including peer tasting calibrations, grind and particle size analysis and round table discussions on issues related to the need for Fair Trade certification within the specialty coffee community and the importance of so-called relationship coffees in a time of high market prices. The greatest enthusiasm however seemed to be focused on the Challenge Cup competition, sponsored this year by Anacafe, the Guatemalan National Coffee Association. The attendees were split up into small groups and provided six distinct coffees from various growing regions within Guatemala. With these coffees, each group was challenged to roast, cup and create a blend that was judged by a designated panel of cuppers with the winners announced during the retreat’s closing ceremonies.
Four roaster manufacturing companies — Probat, Diedrich, Ambex and US Roaster Corp — provided roasters for the event. Each team was given the opportunity to roast on at least two different machines to come up with a team blend. It was an educational experience to be thrown on a machine you may not have had any experience with and each group seemed to muddling through the process with a fair degree of success. From my perspective as a RoastLog founder, I personally found it a little frustrating that the groups were given paper, pencils and stop watches to track roast profiles. As with roasting at the production level, the learning process could have been so much more productive and the blends, arguably, much better if a tool such as RoastLog was provided to facilitate ease of data collection. The analysis of the data and the artisanship each roaster brings to the task would have remained exactly the same, only the blend development process would be accelerated and hopefully the quality of the finished products would have been improved. My hope for future retreats and group roasting exercises such as this one is to raise the bar in regard to the complexity of discourse and embracing new technology to make the lives of roasters easier. Of course I feel that RoastLog should be a part of this process going forward. To that end, we at RoastLog have been discussing the idea of hosting just such an event – a salon for roasters to discuss quality improvement and determine ways that technology can help in the process. In the coming months check back here for information on this event… If it’s successful, we’ll consider taking the show on the road.