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6 Roasters, 6 Questions: What is the ‘Art’ in Roasting?

Only a few times each year will scores of talented specialty coffee roasters gather in a single room on U.S. soil. Among those opportunities, the Golden Bean North America roasters competition and conference is unique, in that it centers not only on an intense focus on the quality of products produced by roasters from throughout the U.S. and Canada, but also incorporates opportunities for learning, socializing and networking — a fit moment if ever there was one to reflect upon a roaster’s experience and the industry overall.

At the third annual Golden Bean North America event that took place in Portland, Ore., last week, Daily Coffee News took the opportunity to gather a six-by-six snapshot of the life and times of a roasting professional — six general questions asked of six randomly selected roasters in attendance.

We were fortunate enough to chat with:

  • Rio Prince of Corvallis Coffee Works, based out of Corvallis, Ore., winner of several bronze and silver medals in various categories both this year and last.
  • Golden Bean pourover/filter coffee Bronze Medal roaster Stacey Lynden, who’s been at it on Vancouver, BC-based Pallet Coffee‘s 15-kilo Joper for almost four years.
  • Mike Perry of Klatch Coffee, whose 21 years of roasting have culminated lately in a three-time Golden Bean top prize streak, among other distinctions.
  • Rhys Gilyeat, who’s rounding his first year roasting for Groundwork Coffee and used the company’s 2-kilo Primo sample roaster to snag multiple medals this year.
  • Will Andrews, roaster for Press Coffee out of Phoenix, Ariz., a Golden Bean gold medalist this year in the coveted Straight Espresso category.
  • Last but not least, 2017 US Cup Tasters Champion Steve Cuevas, the head roaster for Ukiah, Calif.’s Black Oak Coffee Roasters who has been manning a 15-kilo Probat and took home the title for Overall Champion Roaster at this year’s Golden Bean.

For our opening question, we asked:

What do you think people mean when they describe roasting coffee as an art?

Will: It’s this process of feeling the coffee out while it’s in the roaster, smelling it before, smelling it after. It feels more personal watching the coffee develop, watching it roast and smelling it rather than just watching lines go on Cropster. I like to start out with feeling it out as an art, and then once I feel like I know that coffee, then you delve into the science of it, why it tastes the way it does.

Mike: It’s a culinary art like cooking, because it’s about taste. That’s what you’re really trying to develop… You’re trying to find that taste, and taste is where the artistry comes in.

Rhys: There are factors that you want to hit at a certain point, but it really is up to the roaster to craft it and shape it and move it along the way. It’s just like being a painter; you have a certain image in mind, and then you fill in the blanks with your own strokes, while following your own trajectory. The artistry comes from you playing around with your machine and becoming intimate with it.

Steve: That’s my favorite aspect about it. I’ve done a lot of different jobs — landscaping, carpentry. A lot of it I love because it’s unseen who does the work. You do landscaping, you move rock and earth to create something beautiful but you don’t see a signature on something. It’s the same thing with coffee, where I get to develop the flavor, you get to set the point of what it’s going to taste like, you get to help a team of people create a flavor, but you don’t have an ego about it. You don’t say, ‘This is my coffee.'”

Stacey: I think it’s that we’re putting effort into our craft; we’re not just trying to manipulate something. We’re trying to bring out the best qualities of that region, that bean, and you want to express the way that you feel about it as well, and share that with your consumer or your wholesale client or whoever else is coming along.

Rio: I think it’s the ability to taste a potential flavor aspect or aspects in the coffee that you can derive as a roaster just from experience… When you start getting a feel for, ‘What do I want out of this coffee? What are my choices?’ And then if you can pick, then you’ve got a pallet, and you’re painting a picture.


1 Comment

Matias Zeledon

Excellent interview. I can attest of Rio Prince’s abilities, he has given us 4 medals in two years, i call him not a roaster but a sorcerer! 🙂

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