by Dan Paggi - Roaster
In mid August 2012, I attended my first Roaster’s Guild Retreat put on by the Specialty Coffee Association of America. The retreat was held at Skamania Lodge in Southern Washington overlooking the picturesque Colombia River Gorge. Admittedly, I was a bit nervous as the event approached because this was my first time attending a large scale specialty coffee event. However, those nerves faded quickly when I arrived at the lodge. I swiftly settled in to the laid back atmosphere and was delighted to learn about the broad range of roasting experience between the attendees. This varied from never roasting coffee to decades of experience. My two years of roasting experience was somewhere in the middle and I came to the conclusion that I was in the right place.
The Roaster’s Guild event kept me busy and I learned an incredible amount over the four days I attended. Where else can you take specific classes about roast profiles, green inventory management and the science behind coffee staling? It was easily apparent that every attendee wanted to be there and wanted to learn and this created an exceptional learning environment. In addition to the classes, I also learned a great deal from the retreat’s attendees. I talked with roasters from Allegro, Alterra, Beansmith, Ladro, Nossa Familia, Ritual, Stumptown and countless others. This was an incredibly talented bunch. Many of these attendees had traveled the world and had decades of roasting experience. Together we shared our philosophies and experiences roasting and it was an honor being able to learn from them.
Arguably the best part of the convention was having the opportunity to try out different brands of roasters. Being relatively new to this industry, I had only roasted on a handful of machines and I had heard this was one of the best features of the retreat. A dozen roasters were set up in the parking lot of the lodge under a giant canopy tent in 100 degree heat. Throughout the week roasters from all of the country convened under this tent to try out different machines and learn from each other. I roasted coffee on Geisen, Proaster, Probat, and Victory machines. Representatives from each manufacture were on-hand to answer specific questions about each one and get a feel for how they all roasted coffee. I immediately recognized the Probat sample roaster because it was the exact same roaster we have back at the Equator warehouse. I spoke to the Probat representatives for quite some time about the machine and they gave me a few great tips on how to increase the airflow through the machine. The Geisen representative was also very helpful and knowledgeable. She did a great job answering my questions and in the end, the Geisen was my favorite roaster that week.
The single most eye opening part of the Roaster’s Guild Retreat was meeting so many amazing people from all over the world. One minute you would be talking with an importer from Ethiopia, the next a roaster in Nicaragua, then a scientist from California and on and on. The comradery was infectious and irresistible. There we were, in one of the most inspiring places in the country, talking shop and perfecting our craft. Together we shared the goal of growing the specialty coffee industry and I relished the chance to speak with so many people on the forefront of the movement. As the sun began to set we would gather for dinner on the front lawn of the lodge and reflect on the day and all that we learned. During my time at the Roaster’s Guild Retreat I received a significant education and I felt privileged to be apart of it all.