I've just returned from a four-day retreat with the Roaster's Guild, an official trade guild of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, or SCAA, and man was I blown away by the amount and quality of information and access to experts and seasoned pros in the industry!
One of the underlying themes of this retreat was how time and temperature affect roast development so we had several exercises that explored that relationship.
I took five classes that count towards a level 1 certification with the guild (six classes to go). And while all the classes were great, the one event I found most fascinating was the follow-up to the SCAA Symposium by Kim Elena Ionescu. She did a study titled "Mo’ Money, Mo’ Quality, and Other Myths About Micro Lots," where she and a colleague went to coffee farms in Central America and surveyed farmers about micro-lots and how the premiums paid for micro-lots affected the farmer's livelihood.
For a quick primer; a micro-lot is a specific selection of a farmer's coffee lot that represents the very best coffee from that larger lot — basically it's the cream pulled off the top. Part of the problem, however, is that by removing the best of the beans, you reduce the overall value of the larger lot, so any premium paid for a micro-lot has to not only offset the loss of quality to the larger lot, it also has to reward the farmer well enough that he can (hopefully) use that money to improve his production output in future years.
The question that remains unanswered is if the premium paid for micro-lots does just that. Some farmers surveyed responded resoundingly 'no' and others, including one who is a member of the SCAA Executive Committee and who was present, responded 'yes, micro-lots are viable and indeed valuable.'
Another great aspect of the retreat was the hands-on experience we had on a wide range of roasters. There were over a dozen different roasters in the main roasting tent (seen pictured above) and each roaster was built with a different roasting philosophy in mind. Having access to those machines and learning to run them was an invaluable experience.
Lastly, the opportunity to meet so many people in the industry and talk to them about what works and what doesn't and what affects their customers, etc, was also invaluable. I'm continually impressed with how friendly and open the specialty coffee industry is!
You can see more pictures on our Facebook page.