by Christopher Schooley, SCAA / Coffee Shrub
Roasters lift, and carry the weight. Roasters wait, and they wait. Production may be patience and repetition, but that doesn’t mean for a second that it’s not soulful. In fact, it is incredibly enriching if you allow yourself to be open to it. Production roasting is meditative and physical, it’s an act of creation at volume. Roasters are the actualizers, the realizers, the potentiators.
In any craft, the skills and knowledge of the tools and raw materials that will be used are passed down through training and tradition. That training can come from a school, an apprenticeship, or involvement in a trade guild. In my opinion, a community like that of a guild can truly provide the exchange of knowledge and experience which advances a craft. It’s not as simple as just joining a guild, however. What you put into your membership is what you’re going to get out of it.
The formation of the Roasters Guild sent ripples throughout specialty coffee. It has fed and continues to feed the hunger within our industry for a focus on craft and on the coffee. What started as an attempt to certify coffee roasters became the genesis of SCAA’s constantly expanding professional development certificate programs. Cupping is now a regular practice at all levels of the industry largely because of the Roasters Guild. The Roasters Guild also paved the way for the formation of the Barista Guild of America. And the dedicated craftspeople who pushed for the creation of the Roasters Guild, and served as its early Executive Council, have almost all gone on to serve as members, officers, and presidents of SCAA’s Board of Directors.
Finding a connection which opens dialogue with other roasters is key. It could be about mechanics, or tasting together, or maybe it even comes from another artistic passion or shared interest. Most of the truly passionate craftspeople I’ve met are passionate about more than their craft. They are able to incorporate those interests into their crafts in a way that allows them to express their individual identities and characters, as well as the characteristics of their raw materials.
Celebrating the character and quality of your goods, but also putting your own stamp on it, is an important part of craftsmanship. This idea is key when it comes to how a craft guild community, a community not made up only of individuals, but also representing businesses, approaches how they share their knowledge. Even if another person has the same model of roaster, and buys the same green coffee, and even if the profile is fairly similar, there will be something in that coffee that is still unique.
There are many decisions in roasting, but it is the final one that makes the roaster who and what they are. It’s the decision to stop roasting. When do they finish that roast? There are gauges and timers and all sorts of numbers telling you this and that about your roast, but it is your intimacy with the development of the coffee that is the true indicator.
Pulling that small sample out in your trier, breathing it in, closely examining the surface, listening to all those pops and cracks or the silence between them. This is the place where the repetition and monotony of the production day completely evaporates, and you are fully engaged in the moment. And it is a with a great rush of heat and energy that you make your decision, the beans charging out into the cooling tray with its rotating arms and roaring blower. It’s an event. It’s a reason. It’s the realization of everything you’ve learned to that point, and it tastes just as you intended it to.
Christopher Schooley is a coffee roaster who works for Sweet Maria’s and Coffee Shrub and has served as the chair of the Roasters Guild Executive Council. He is also the coffee design and experience coordinator for the SCAA. Schooley believes that the surest path towards a deeper understanding of one’s craft is through the sharing of knowledge and open conversation, as well as challenging yourself to work outside of your immediate experience.