Profit margins for an ethically driven specialty coffee business are bound to be slim, while the return on a coffee farmer’s investment of labor and finances is substantially slimmer. With these things in mind, the stakes can be high for a green buyer at the cupping table — and yet, to err is human. Mistakes can and will be made, and when they are, they’re not soon forgotten.
At the third annual Golden Bean North America event that took place in Portland, Ore., last month, 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 first question, we asked what people mean when they describe roasting as an art. For the second question, we asked, “What’s the greatest coffee you’ve ever roasted?” Our third question focuses more on bloopers than highlights, as we ask:
What is the biggest mistake you’ve made in sourcing green coffee?
Will: I hadn’t drank much Burundi, I’d never roasted Burundi, it sounded exotic. I looked at the flavor notes that they had on it — blood orange, hibiscus, all these wild notes. We got samples, we cupped it, and my sample roaster is pretty hard to use to get consistent good results. We cupped it, it wasn’t great, but we said, ‘It’s just probably not a good sample roast; I think it’s going to be a good coffee.’ We went for it. We got four or five bags of it; I just couldn’t get anything great out of it. It just wasn’t a great coffee. I went out on a whim; I thought it was going to be good. We couldn’t sell much of it, so we couldn’t really roast much of it and dial it in. It wasn’t around too long, it wasn’t great; no one loved it.
Steve: Mislabeling — being too caffeinated and disorganized… The hardest thing is labeling your green samples. We do dry-erase pens on lids, and then all of a sudden it gets wet and disappears. I’m setting up cupping and I’m so caffeinated that I can’t concentrate, and then I go, wait, was that sample one? Sample two? I love sample two, but I don’t know which one it was, and we’re about to embark on buying a ton of bags. Then you have to scrap it and start over again.
Rhys: Expecting a bean from a certain region to taste like a bean from that region. Everybody thinks that each region is going to give you one type of flavor profile.
Mike: Going with a group where it was almost like a tour, and not really a sourcing trip. My best sourcing trips are with myself or maybe just one or two friends, keeping it small so we can really do what we want, buy what we want… My biggest mistake was going in a larger group where I kinda got stuck sitting on a bus, going with people that all want to take a picture because they’ve never seen a coffee tree before. They’ve got to start somewhere, and it gets them excited and then they eventually go out on their own. But I like to do my own thing, and do as much cupping as I can.
Stacey: I got that one really good sample and I rolled with it, and then when I got all my bags, it was a little too funky, a little too fermenty. It couldn’t stand up to what I had planned for it. I had to find another venue for it. I should have had more samples; I was still new at everything, and I jumped on it like, ‘Yeah, this is great!’ And then it just kind of died… I didn’t know all the questions I should be asking.