Dare to Differentiate: SCAA Certification Programs

By Ellie Hudson Matuszak

Differentiation. It is a word that many of us, as specialty coffee professionals, use and occasionally even overuse. It is a word and a concept that some love and others loathe. It is highly specific in meaning but can also be used as a catch-all to describe the ultimate goals and purpose of the specialty coffee industry and our vision of what success looks and tastes like.

We have hundreds of ways of differentiating coffee, from the basic (“I like this one but not that one”) to the highly orchestrated, such as the Q-grader and Q-certification program (see Craig Holt’s article, “Q Up,” in this issue) and the Golden Cup Award (see scaa.org for more information). Once a coffee is differentiated, as an industry we can classify it according to grade, price, and other quality standards, which allows all participants to be rewarded for genuine efforts to promote and develop quality.

Differentiation is also important in classifying professional skills—but first we must ask: how can we go about differentiating the person who roasts or prepares coffee? What about the person who trains these people to roast and to prepare coffee? How can the industry differentiate and recognize true skilled professionals? Furthermore, how can we use these classifications to encourage consumers to differentiate where to, how often, and from whom to buy coffee?

The specialty coffee industry should, and does, ask these questions of ourselves regularly. And while differentiation in coffee is based on the straightforward concept of its taste, there hasn’t been a similar metric for skilled coffee professionals for most of our industry’s existence, until now.

The SCAA is thrilled to draw attention to our three professional certification programs for people, all relatively new: Roaster Certification, Barista Certification, and Instructor Certification.

Roaster Certification

The Basics:

The earliest of these three programs, SCAA’s Roaster Certification, was developed by and continues to be managed by the Roasters Guild. Three levels of Certification are available, Apprentice, Journeyman, and Master.

Availability:

Coursework in Apprentice and Journeyman level certifications is available at The Event and Roasters Guild Retreat annually. Depending on availability, some coursework is also available at various SCAA Skill Building Workshops (SBW). Participation in a Roasters Guild Origin Trip meets some requirements for Apprentice Level.

How it works:

Participants attend courses at SCAA events, most courses are 2–3 hours and can be hands-on or lecture/classroom based. An open-book test follows most courses as a necessary component of obtaining credit. Participants who visit scaa.org to complete their profile will have their coursework and certification credits tracked automatically. Apprentice Level Certification must be completed before Journeyman Level Certification can be awarded, although current working Roasters can pursue coursework in Apprentice Level and Journeyman Level simultaneously. Participants cannot apply work experience towards credit (except for requirements of documentation of hours, as in the 100-hours of roasting required for Apprentice level), but course instructors have the option to apply service as an instructor toward their own certification.

Timing:

The Roaster Certification program is not intended to be completed in an instant. In essence, the program reflects the professional realities of the craft of roasting—a career that is not learned easily or quickly, and one which requires a tremendous time commitment to learn even the basic skills. Most participants can expect to complete requirements for the Apprentice level certification in less than three years. Journeyman Certification will require approximately a five-year commitment to complete all requirements. The Master-level coursework is still in development but will be available to coincide with need, based on progress and completion of Journeyman level Certification among our members.

Who is impacted by this Certification?

Professional roasters, aspiring roasters, and those who seek to differentiate their skills with a program that is recognized and maintained by the Roasters Guild and the SCAA Professional Development Committee are the best candidates to pursue roaster Certification. For retailers, when looking for a supplier, searching for a company that employs Certified Roasters is a great way to find a supplier that invests in training of their employees and pursues high quality. For roasting companies, when recruiting to fill a position for a roaster, seeking candidates with Certification credentials is an efficient and effective way to address a business task that can otherwise be cumbersome and time-consuming.

Barista Certification

The Basics:

Three levels of Certification are available: Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3, with plans to develop additional Levels concurrent with demand.

Availability:

Coursework for Level 1 and Level 2 Certification is available at SCAA’s Annual Symposium and Exposition, The Event and at all SCAA Skill Building Workshops regionally throughout the year. Some coursework may be available at each annual Roasters Guild Retreat. Tests can be given anytime by one of 20 current BGA Credentialed Examiners anywhere that meets equipment requirements other than the candidate’s own café or home base. Please email elliem@scaa.org to find a BGA Examiner in your area. Additionally, participation in a Roasters Guild Origin Trip meets some requirements for Level 2 Certification and some courses may be available for download as an online webinar.

How it works:

Participants attend courses at SCAA events, most courses are 2–3 hours and can be hands-on or lecture/classroom based. Each level includes an exit exam. For Level 1 certification, the exit exam is split into two parts: written and practical/hands-on.  Participants who have created a profile on SCAA’s website (scaa.org) will have coursework and certification credits tracked automatically. Experienced baristas can apply work experience towards credit for up to four of the five courses required for Level 1 Certification, but must attend one specific course (CP103) and pass both tests. The coursework and tests can be taken out of order. Instructors in courses can apply their service as instructor to their own certification (lead instructor or assistant instructor/station instructor) if so desired. Level 1 and Level 2 Certification can be pursued simultaneously, but that is only recommended for very experienced baristas.

Timing:

For those new to the barista craft, Level 1 certification is intended to take approximately one year to complete. Level 2 certification will require a 1–2 year commitment. Level 3 coursework will be available soon, please check scaa.org for the latest updates.

Who is impacted by this Certification?

Professional baristas, aspiring baristas, retailers, and those who seek to differentiate their skills with a program that is recognized and maintained by the Barista Guild of America and the SCAA Professional Development Committee are the best candidates to pursue Barista Certification. For retailers, when recruiting to fill a position for a barista, seeking Certification credentials is an efficient and effective way to address a task in which differentiation of candidates can be difficult. In the future, it is hoped that consumers will seek to have their coffee prepared by a Certified Barista.

Instructor Certification

The Basics:

The SCAA Lead Instructor Credential is available to those who participate in the SCAA Instructor Development Program (IDP) Part 1. The SCAA Lead Instructor Credential is valid forever and is a professional recognition of instructor skills that are also valuable in many coffee companies, particularly for those professionals who are responsible for a training function in their companies. All SCAA Lead Instructors and Assistant Instructors (Station Instructors and Table Leads) must hold the SCAA Lead Instructor Credential prior to teaching at SCAA Events.

IDP Part 2 is an optional addition for those who also wish to participate in the SCAA Professional Development Committee, which is a year-long commitment to continue developing coursework that is initiated at each annual offering of IDP Part 2. For more information about the SCAA Professional Development Committee, please visit scaa.org. Please note, Part 1 must be completed to attend Part 2, and service to the SCAA Professional Development Committee is limited to SCAA members and availability of open positions.

Availability:

The IDP Parts 1 and 2 are conducted at the SCAA Leadership Summit, which takes place every year in the fall in the city of each annual upcoming Event. In 2010, the SCAA Leadership Summit will be in Houston, TX, October 1–2. Additionally, IDP Part 1 is also offered regionally throughout the year—check scaa.org for upcoming sessions.

How it works:

Participants who register for and attend IDP Part 1 qualify for the SCAA Lead Instructor Credential, which entitles consideration to become a Lead Instructor or Assistant Instructor at SCAA events. Furthermore, the Lead Instructor Credential is an extremely useful skill set for those professionals with training responsibilities in their companies. There is no obligation to teach at SCAA events upon achieving the SCAA Lead Instructor Credential. Look for those instructors wearing the gold pins at SCAA events to recognize those who have completed the requirements for the credential.

Timing:

IDP Part 1 is a one-day course. IDP Part 2 is a one-day course that is available only at the SCAA Leadership Summit.

Who is impacted by this Certification?

Attendees of SCAA’s skill-building courses at The Event, Roasters Guild Retreat, and Regional SBWs have the opportunity to be trained by skilled professionals who not only have coffee skills, but also skills in managing classrooms, designing and leading PowerPoint presentations, and applying principles of adult learning and instructional design. This brings tremendous value to SCAA courses. Conversely, attendees of the IDP have the opportunity for immediate impact in their own companies. The SCAA Lead Instructor Credential brings professionalism to any trainer’s qualifications, but also provides real skills that are of benefit to any business.

Conclusion

Overall, the theme of differentiation has to do with cultivating skills but also with investing in programs that support business initiatives. SCAA is thrilled to bring benefits like these to our members and have an impact on our members’ abilities and opportunities to do business with one another. Accordingly, the organization is committed to developing and proliferating certification programs that call attention to differentiated skills and the classification as true skilled professionals. Ultimately, we are convinced that a future of consumers seeking and finding a coffee that is prepared by a certified barista, was roasted by a certified roaster, and is itself differentiated and certified, will lead to an outstanding coffee experience and repeat business, further differentiating the whole foundation of what Specialty Coffee is and is about.

Ellie Hudson Matuszak is director of professional development for SCAA. Her experience as a leader and training director for SCAA member companies Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea and Coffee Solutions, as well as service to SCAA’s Board of Directors and Professional Development Committees, allow Ellie to serve the membership by managing SCAA’s ever-evolving educational programs and opportunities.

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