The Original Brew Crew

Reflections on the early days of SCAA and its Golden Cup Brewing Standards and Labs

By Michael R. Pelchar

It used to be that we could count on the big guys to do a poor job when it came to coffee. Now, the reality is they’re doing okay. A by-product of our success as an industry is that poor coffee rose to okay and okay became good. Now, good has to get better and better needs to be the best.

As an industry, we’re advancing and need innovation, and the good news is that many of the fundamentals are already in place. It’s important not to lose sight of what got us here in the first place, and the Golden Cup Award is one of those programs.

Based on the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s (SCAA) brewing standards and implemented through certified brew technicians, the Golden Cup Award recognizes excellence in brewing. It’s achieved through proper equipment maintenance, strict adherence to protocols and consistent brewing performance. The net result is a cup that hits a defined target of taste, a window shown to be preferred by coffee drinkers. And even though customers will taste the difference, there’s nothing like an award to tell them you’re doing it right.

My earliest recollection of the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s (SCAA) brewing instruction started at an SCAA conference back in San Francisco some many many years ago. It was when I sat in on a lecture by Ted Smithers on coffee brewing. I must say, I was enlightened. And, I immediately got caught up in the excitement of the early years of SCAA. I had recently put on the first SCAA off-site espresso lab in my home state of Vermont, back when each lab was a eight-hour event. Theresa Maguire audited that Lab for the SCAA, and her encouragement was enough for me to keep it going even though the work was exhausting.

The original brewing lab was an all day affair. Karalynn McDermott was kind enough to come to Vermont to help when we did the first one. I do need to thank Winston Rost from Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, who stayed up with me all night prior to the first Brewing Lab class to help write it. From that one Karalynn and I together did several brew trainings, constantly refining it. Chuck Bosworth from Dallis Coffee and Danny Hebert from Community Coffee joined us and, with their expertise and many volunteer hours, we were able to create SCAA’s Trainers’ Guide for Specialty Coffee Brewing Lab handbook. It was a team that worked well together. Our goal was to show others in the industry just how important the information in Ted Lingle’s The Coffee Brewing Handbook was to brewing a perfect cup. Not only show them but have them taste it as well.

As the SCAA Training Committee expanded the espresso labs and brewing labs became separate subsets of the committee. The four of us involved with the brewing eventually took over the Brewing the Golden Cup Lab, which Carl Staub started. This was a much needed class in understanding and objectively evaluating the amount of extraction in a brewed cup of coffee. Thanks to Danny Hebert and Chuck Bosworth for helping to refine these classes.

Eventually, Danny and Chuck moved on and Alan Brewer from Bunnomatic and Diane Gaeke from Community Coffee took their place. We named ourselves “The Brew Crew.” Alan, Diane, Karalynn and I really had great chemistry. With Alan’s and Diane’s brewing and training experience, we certainly kicked it into high gear. We were a group that spent many hours refining the classes and figuring out how to address the comments from the students with the goal of making the classes better all the time. We were both driven and committed to teaching the basics of brewing and Golden Cup.  Dago Castro and Matt Gray joined us, and we added an advanced brewing class with the help of Mike Thompkins, Randy Pope and Skip Finley.

Being a member of the Brew Crew has been one of my highlights of working in the coffee industry. They spend a lot of time reviewing all of the feedback from every class and redesigning the next classes to make each one better than the last one. It has been an extremely rewarding experience to work with such a dedicated crew…a “Brew Crew.”

SCAA’s Training Committee is now called the SCAA Professional Development Committee. Anyone who wishes to get involved should e-mail Ellie Matuszak, director of professional development, at elliem@scaa.org.

Michael R. Pelchar is the national service manager for the specialty coffee business unit of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters in Vermont. He’s a past member of the SCAA Training Committee and he was also an instructor for the SCAA Brewing and Golden Cup Labs, and he co-authored the SCAA Trainers’ Guide to Specialty Coffee Brewing Lab. He can be reached at mike.pelchar@gmcr.com.

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