Roasters Guild Retreat Diary

The Specialty Coffee Association is a non-profit that strives to host and organize coffee-related parties, classes, and educational camps. Equator empowers their baristas and roasters to participate in these events and even sponsors a few to attend every year. This year, we sent our coffee roaster Seth Duncan to the annual Roasters Guild Retreat in Buford, Georgia. Here is his diary from the weekend.


The Roasters Guild Retreat is an annual event that brings roasters and others from the coffee industry together to focus on education and key issues surrounding coffee. It is also an opportunity to meet with like-minded individuals and make connections and friendships. I recently had the opportunity to represent Equator at the 2017 retreat. The retreat includes participation in a team coffee roasting competition, attending classes on various topics related to coffee, team cuppings and calibration, and spending time using over a dozen different coffee roasters. 

The event opened with representatives from ten of the industry's best coffee roasting manufacturers, who shared information on their companies and equipment. This was a great opportunity to hear about what is on the horizon for companies like San Franciscan, Loring, and other roaster manufacturers we use at Equator. After dinner, I was introduced to my teammates. We all headed back to the massive conference rooms that would be our cupping headquarters for the next four days. Each team was given four roasted coffees to evaluate; a Guatemala, Kenya, Rwanda, and a very distinctive coffee from Myanmar. We had to use at least two of the four coffees we were given, and couldn't use more than three. There were also two rounds of judging that included a cupping and brewed evaluation of our blends. Teams could either enter two different blends or use the same blend for the cupping and brewing. My team decided to go for two different blends. We quickly pushed aside the Rwanda as it had too much of a dry finish and not enough sparkle. The Kenya was fantastic and the Guatemala did a great job at giving the body we needed. The Myanmar had some very distinct melon and citrus flavors that rounded out our blend. Eventually, we settled on 40% Guatemala, 40% Kenya, and 20% Myanmar for our drip evaluation. The cupping blend consisted of 50% Kenya, 30% Guatemala, and 20% Myanmar. We thought both blends had a great balance of citrus, tropical fruit, and body.


The next day was the first round of classes, which for me was an all-day course called Sensory Foundation. This was a great class that covered a lot of information I had already been exposed to but in much further depth. We participated in several different sensory exercises involving the Le Nez du Cafe kit which is designed for assessment of aromas in coffee, as well as different food-related assessments. After this class, my team reunited to turn our green coffee brown. In the roasting tent, each team was assigned a different roaster. The roaster we got to use was a 1.5-kilogram Proaster, which is manufactured in South Korea. This was a cool machine with the unique design aesthetic of having the trier sitting in the middle of the drum spindle. The roaster used a gas burner and significant conductive heat to bring the beans to roasting temperature. After using a little more than a pound of our green coffee to do some test batches, we decided to just jump right into it. There was a total of 4 kilos of coffee to roast with, and we needed a minimum of 2 kilos of roasted coffee to submit. We decided the most efficient way to accomplish this would be to roast each component individually and post blend the coffee. After a few less than desirable batches, we hit the sweet spot and powered through roasting all our components. After finishing, it was time for our team and coffee to get some rest.


The next day we rotated classes, and teams had a final chance to adjust their blends. My morning started with a class on degassing coffee, followed by a class on water activity. Both classes were fantastic and could have an entire day dedicated to each of them. Then it was time for the Roaster Passport section, the chance to roast on any roaster in the tent. This was one of the highlights of the retreat, and I really wish I could have had more time to spend on each machine. This portion, however, was cut short as my team decided it was best to dedicate the time to make final changes to our blend. Once everything was in place, we turned in our blends, and took a shuttle bus around the lake, to a beautiful outdoor dining area. At dinner, the winners were announced for the best overall score, averaging cupping and brewed evaluation. Unfortunately, my team didn’t bring home the gold but, out of 20 teams we placed 6th overall, which isn’t too bad. The real win came from having the opportunity to attend this amazing event, make friends with people from all over the country, and be immersed in the world of specialty coffee.

Seth Duncan
Associate Roaster
Equator Coffees & Teas