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Exploring the Inner Workings of the Coffee Technicians Guild

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Disassembled Peak grinder at the recent CTG Summit in Los Angeles. Daily Coffee News photo / Lily Kubota.

When the Coffee Technicians Guild (CTG) officially launched in the fall of 2016, the group’s then chairperson and now immediate past chair Shad Baiz penned a letter to the coffee community, inviting other coffee-focused technicians to consider joining in pursuit of networking, education and certification opportunities.

Baiz, a longtime equipment tech who works with La Marzocco USA, told Daily Coffee News that the idea had been kicked around in the community many times over the years before he and his cohort formally presented the idea to the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) in 2015.

A short time later the guild began to take shape with support from SCA staff, including SCA Director of Experience Mansi Chokshi, whom Baiz credits for helping make the dream a reality.

[Editor’s note: The CTG recently held its fourth major summit in Los Angeles. See DCN’s coverage of that event.]

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CTG volunteer Maria Cleveland at Coffee Technicians Booth at World of Coffee Amsterdam. Photo courtesy of SCA.

Since that time, the CTG membership has grown to just under 200 individual coffee technicians, has hosted four CTG Summits in the United States and and Europe, and has hosted mixers at industry trade shows such as the Specialty Coffee Expo, World of Coffee, and Host Milano. The group also maintains an active blog with resources and perspectives from industry pros, it offers a Slack channel for CTG members, and it is diligently working on the formation and creation of a Certified Coffee Technicians educational course within the SCA Coffee Skills Program.

“The response has been very positive,” said Second Vice Chair of the CTG Leadership Council Hylan Joseph of Minneapolis-based Espresso Partners. “As a group, our worldwide base is excited to be moving forward. Our members range from North Dakota to Vietnam to Perth, Australia.”

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Attendees, CTG leadership, and SCA staff at the European Coffee Technicians Guild Summit 2017. Photo courtesy of SCA.

Joseph says the guild is for coffee technicians of any level, from those looking to change careers in coffee to established professionals who want to expand their network. Said Joseph, “The primary mandate when we founded the guild was we wanted a place where we could ensure that tech was getting the best training, and experienced techs had a community resource where they could participate and have access to the recently trained technicians.”

Although a wider network for technicians could potentially result in new business relationships, CTG Chair Jason Jones of Italian espresso machine manufacturer Astoria says that this is not the guild’s primary goal. Ultimately, the CTG is about improving the quality of engineers worldwide.

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Jason Jones presenting at the European Coffee Technicians Guild Summit in 2017. Photo courtesy of SCA.

And while the membership of any trade guild is naturally composed of people representing different, often competing companies, the CTG has been able to navigate any potential issues by generalizing all of the content within its programs.

“We are well represented by many competing companies and it was a concern at first, but it’s proven to not be an issue at all,” said Jones. “It has actually resulted in real progress for the industry — techs see it as a benefit in their workplace, not a threat.”

According to CTG sources, the Leadership Council is making a concerted effort to ensure that guild activities and education are balanced, not leaning toward one specific manufacturer or favoring any specific types of equipment.

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Members of the Coffee Technicians Guild Leadership Council. Photo courtesy of SCA.

For Baiz, a formal training program was critical for the technician community, and something that has been lacking in this segment. He said that even within the larger companies that have a team of techs, skills are largely developed on the job through shadowing and trial and error.

“Here’s your job: Try to learn how to do it as fast as you possibly can, and don’t hurt yourself,” Baiz said of typical tech training experiences. “This is oftentimes how people get going. Then they struggle through it, and use tech support as training platforms.”

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Coffee technicians cupping at the first U.S. CTG Summit in 2016. Photo courtesy of SCA.

The CTG leadership envisions the certification program as a way for techs and service companies to differentiate themselves, providing a clear way to show that they are investing in training and professional development to build on their skill set and knowledge base of coffee beyond the wrench.

“We want to train techs on Gold Cup coffee standards,” said Jones. “We’re trying to create an understanding that the quality of the cup is as important as the machine that was just repaired.”

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European Coffee Technicians Guild Summit in 2017.

While the certification program is still in development, the CTG has also hosted a series of Gearhead Events, local get-togethers organized by CTG members, typically covering a single topic or piece of equipment. These smaller-scale events are designed to serve as both social gatherings and training opportunities, and can provide a great entry point into the coffee technicians community.

Said Joseph, “With this guild, we want to be able to create more opportunities for the baristas, roasters, and staff people out there who are driven by their love for the coffee industry and want to find a career that will keep them in it.”

To keep abreast of the CTG’s latest happenings, you can sign up for the group’s e-newsletter here.

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