Saturday, March 6, 2010

International Coffee Lab Coffee School

Coffee School

Pour Over Brewing

When I was in the process of deciding if I really wanted to start a coffee roasting business I knew I needed to find a way to test my coffee and roasting knowledge, and to learn as much as possible about commercial roasters.  I was sitting at home reading Roast Magazine and saw an ad for a Coffee Roasting School in Waterbury Vermont at International Coffee Lab.   I called the number in the ad and talked to a very nice lady.  She told me that the next class was the following week and that there still was a space available.  My wife was away due to a family issue so I had to get the time off work and find someone to house and dog sit.  I spoke with my wife and she told me to go ahead  if I wanted to go.  I spoke with my boss and took a week of vacation and tracked down our nephew and he agreed to house sit.  I was in business so I booked my spot and made a reservation at a Old Stagecoach Bed and Breakfast for the week.   

Probat Coffee Roaster

Sunday arrived and I packed up and headed to Vermont. It was a beautiful early May day. I pulled into Waterbury and located the B&B.  It is an old Inn with a lot of character.   My room was on the third floor so I hauled my stuff up the stairs and settled in.  I was very excited and could not wait for Monday morning.

In the morning I had a fantastic breakfast and drove off to start my coffee education.  I arrived to find I was one of seven in the class and the only American.  The others were from Australia, Puerto Rico, Thailand, and Canada.  International Coffee Labs is owned and operated by Mane Aves.  Mane is an internationally known coffee expert.  His lab does testing and research for coffee businesses around the world.  He also operates Vermont Artisan Coffee, a small coffee roasting business.  This gives his students the exposure to many different aspects of the coffee business.

The first morning was spent learning about green coffee beans and their physical properties.  We studied bean size, density, moisture levels, and defects.  This is a very important aspect of roasting.  Without the best green coffee you can't  have the best roasted coffee.  In the afternoon we began talking about Roasters and the different technologies used in commercial roasters.  We also talked about sample roasters and how they work, and roasted coffee samples.  It was a great first day and only a taste of things to come.

Tuesday started with learning cupping and cupping procedures and protocols.  We cupped the samples we had roasted the day before, and spent time discussing the cuppings and the different flavors and other  aspects of cupping.  We then spent the rest of the morning covering the evaluation of roasted coffees. 
In the afternoon we returned to roasting and roasting technology.  We talked about developing roasting profiles.  A profile covers the temperature and times involved in the roast.  A profile must be develooped for each coffee in order to bring out the best flavor, and can change from year to year for the same coffee or coffee lot. 
We then had the chance to roast.  We used two roasters while we were there, a Diedrich IR-3 (3 kilo)and a Probat that roasts 8 pounds at a time.  Though these roasters are similar in size they are very different in the way they roast and in how the roast is controlled.

Cupping in the cupping lab

Day three started with roaster manitenance and cleaning. We then returned to the cupping lab and cupped the coffees that we roasted on Tuesday.    The experience gained cupping was as important as the roasting experience.  The chance to cup with people who do this on a daily basis was fantastic.  It allowed me to practice cupping and define my pallet in a way I had never been able to.  In the afternoon we again roasted and learned about taste characeristics of coffees from different origins as well as roasting to bring out the best flavors in coffees from all origins.

Coffee Lab

Thursday started with more cupping of the previous days roasted coffees.  We then were given green coffees and had to determine the best way to roast these coffees.  We then had to explain and justify our choices.  After lunch we talked about blending and how to develop blends and roast for blends.  We then worked on roasting coffees we had problems with and worked at correcting these problems.

Friday was a bittersweet day.  I had become close with my classmates and had enjoyed the experience and learned so much.  We again cupped and roasted and talked and laughed.  We ended the day by receiving our diplomas and sadly said goodbye.  It had been a fantastic week.

60 Kilo Roaster

My week at Coffee School was a huge benefit when it came to starting my company.  It improved my roasting dramatically.  It gave me the skills to ensure I was buying good coffee.  It gave me contacts that have been a valuable asset in developing my business.  Spending a week with Mane Aves and his staff was an amazing experience.  The depth of their knowledge and willingness to share that knowledge and to help us develop our skills was the key to the success I have had to this point.  I plan on returning to Waterbury within the next few months to spend a week taking a cupping course.  If I complete this course successfully I will be a certified SCAA Cupping Judge.   What ever happens this class will be another  huge benefit to my coffee business.

In future posts I plan to expand on some of the areas I talked about in this entry.


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