Skip to main content

Six Roasters, Six Questions: Innovations Today, and Advice for Aspiring Roasters

Specialty coffee is, in so many ways, a moving target.

Consider the most pivotal new technology to invest in; the most presently engaging messages to convey to the public; the most urgent issues besetting farmers at various origins; the balance of variables for optimal extraction as roasted beans age off roast, or even the sweet spot in a roast profile as a single crop rests in a warehouse — virtually every aspect of coffee is in a constant state of flux.

With this, the industry is also continually evolving, with new and exciting ideas and solutions constantly popping up.

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 coffee roasting professionals, asking six general questions 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 focused more on bloopers than highlights related to green coffee sourcing. Next, we asked what are some of the most common misconceptions people have about the roasting profession.

Today, we share the answers to the final two questions in this series, beginning with:

Where is the most exciting development happening in coffee right now?

Will: There’s this huge push to get incredible coffees on the growing side, on the processing side. We’re seeing these incredible coffees from Mexico, when we didn’t usually see that. We’re getting specialty-grade from China… Sumatra, Indonesian islands, they’re starting to play with cleaner processing methods to see what they can get, and I’ve tried some great Indonesian coffees lately. African countries are getting cleaner, getting better… Starting at the very top of the chain it’s getting better, which only makes it better all around, all the way down to the cup, which is really exciting. It’s only going to get better as time goes on.

Steve:  I am completely excited about what George Howell is doing. Being able to keep coffees around, have them frozen in green bean and then bust out a 2014 a few years later… There are a couple people that I know, like Dani Goot working with Bellwether, making small systems. If you pair them up with what George Howell’s doing, you can have vintage frozen green coffee and your little home roaster that’s automated… I think vintage coffee will be more accessible to the consumer. Hopefully in the future you’ll be able to buy some frozen coffee and throw it into your automated thing that’s already set with roast profiles from coffee professionals, and have yourself a 2014 Vintage Kenya.

Rhys: The brewing techniques. There are so many fun machines out there that are giving you so many options. Like what started with the Aeropress and now all the attachments that can go with it, different ways you can add pressure in order to get closer to that standard espresso. There’s a lot of innovation on the brewing product end, which is a lot excitement because at the end of the day it’s about tasting the bean, and what matters a lot of the time is how you’ve brewed it.

Mike: All the experiments in processing that are going on — and in the barista competitions; they’re really pushing the bounds. [Berg Wu], who won the World last year, actually used an ice-cold portafilter, because it highlighted the floral notes of that geisha. Before that, the carbonic maceration, modified processing type thing. To see all the different tweaks they’re doing on the processing, to see what they can do, how to experiment and what they can bring out of it — that’s all developing what we can taste, so I like that.

Rio: Origin, origin, origin. That’s where the fourth wave is going to be, that’s where the wave is coming from. We’ve got a wave of people really upping their game in very small ways that make big impacts. Ben Weiner is one of those people.

Stacey: For me what’s super exciting, being in the Canadian coffee industry, is that we’re actually getting our own chapter of SCA. We’ve always had to piggyback with the States, and now we’re developing a real coffee community in Canada. We have our own chapter in the SCA, we’re starting to compete in Brewers Cup, Taster’s Cup… It’s giving us more opportunities to showcase what we’re doing, and that we’re here… [We’re] getting more out there, and just developing our own community in the global spectrum.

Of course all of this can be a lot to keep track of, particularly for newcomers, for whom the craft alone can present its own daunting set of challenges. For our sixth and final question, we therefore asked: What’s the most important thing that an aspiring roaster should know?

Mike: How to cup. At the end of the day, the artistry is in developing the profile. Once you have a profile, it’s almost like a machine operator; you duplicate it again and again and again. So how do you create that profile? You create it at the cupping table. Anybody that wants to get into roasting, spend more time cupping, because that’s how you’re going to get better.

Rio: If you think you’ve got it figured out, humble yourself down. Just keep looking.

Will: Be patient. I have so many people approaching me, telling me they want to roast, and borderline harassing me. You need to be patient, you need to meet with your roaster, you need to teach yourself while you’re waiting. You need to make progress even when you think you’re not making progress.

Steve: Be humble. Know that you’re always learning, everything’s always changing, what you know now isn’t what you’ll know tomorrow. Ask questions.

Rhys: Ask as many questions as possible. Be curious at all times, and just soak in all the knowledge you can find, because there’s so many things out there. The industry is changing so fast, there are so many different techniques that happen, and it’s great to know what everybody’s doing so you can have a nice baseline of knowledge to springboard off of.

Stacey: It takes time. You’re going to screw up, and you might not even know it. Always keep notes, keep going through it. You might not know what you did wrong, but as long as you’re always recording it — keep notes, pay attention to those roast curves, pay attention to those minute details that might change something completely. Keep doing it.