How to become a specialty coffee roaster

Peter Lancashire
July 27, 2021
specialty coffee roaster

While roasting coffee is a passion for many around the world, becoming a full-time specialty roaster can be a daunting prospect. Not only can it be a challenge to produce consistency good coffee, it can also be difficult to turn a profit in what is typically a heavily saturated market.

However, with the right knowledge and foresight, becoming a specialty roaster can be a truly rewarding and profitable venture, giving those who are passionate about coffee the opportunity to share their enthusiasm and expertise.

That being said, whether you’re moving up the ladder or opening your own business, there are certain boxes aspirant coffee roaster needs to tick. To find out more, I spoke with barista, roaster, trainer, and WBC-certified judge, Danilo Lodi.

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Becoming a specialty coffee roaster can be both challenging and highly rewarding

Different paths to the same destination

Many people end up as coffee roasters by chance, and many others build their way to the position from the bottom of the coffee industry ladder.

Roasting is one facet of coffee production that is always changing. Aspiring roasters need to adapt to new technology, and will potentially need to be able to operate multiple different roasting machines at the same time.

Some companies require their roasters to hold Q grading qualifications, but more often than not, roasters are hired from within the company. Ultimately, working your way up from being a barista is the way to go.

Danilo Lodi is a barista, roaster, trainer, and WBC-certified judge from São Paulo, Brazil. In his case, it was purely through chance and his personal network that he ended up working as a coffee roaster.

He says: “I started in coffee by accident. In 2004, I was looking for some extra gigs to make a little bit of money, and someone I knew at that time put me to work in a catering event that was organised by the first Brazilian Barista Champion.”

“I started in coffee by accident.”

Once he had his foot in the door, Danilo began to learn the intricacies of roasting coffee and how different ways of roasting the same bean can result in varying flavour profiles.

“My interest in roasting started a couple of years after that,” he says, “when I started to get involved with competitions, finding that coffees from the same farm would totally change depending on who roasted them.

“At the beginning, I was only doing extraction and would get frustrated that some lots from the same roaster were coming with certain flavours, and the next order would taste completely different.

“After that, I was hooked, and I began to study different theories, techniques, equipment, and the influence of altitude, water, and so on.”

Not only do roasters need to have sufficient roasting expertise, they also need to have the right personality

What skills do you need to have?

The core skills of a coffee roaster can be quite easily learned over time. Becoming familiar with the workflow and roast profiles that are used in a company is as simple as following instructions.

When it comes to tasting and fine tuning roasts, however, it comes down to skill, talent, and experience.

Danilo says: “Sensory skills are a must. Today we have a lot of technology to help us create a great roast profile, but only by tasting the coffee can you achieve what you or your customers desire.”

Tasting samples from batch after batch of roasts that go through your machine can become quite tiresome, dulling your senses. You will often be tasting the very same coffee sampled at different roast times in order to check for consistency.

Many of the tasks required for a coffee roaster can become quite repetitive, so it really does take a certain type of person to become successful as a coffee roaster. 

“The process of roasting the same coffee, over and over again, requires patience.”

There are many courses out there that could get you started on your journey to becoming a head roaster. Many established roasters offer their own programmes that can get you familiar with the basics of roasting before you start looking for work.

Just because someone is interested in becoming a coffee roaster, it doesn’t necessarily mean their personality is a perfect match for the job. From the outside, a coffee roaster’s day-to-day may seem very serene and casual, but the attention to detail required is much more than you may think.

For Danilo, the right personality would be someone with a curious mind and an interest in science, who appreciates quality and thrives for consistency. 

He adds: “But there’s a catch: you need to have patience. There’s tonnes of knowledge out there, but the process of roasting the same coffee, over and over again, requires patience.”

The joy of the job is in the tasting, he says, but there’s a lot of hard work to be done before you get to that point.

Shared roasting spaces allow roasters to keep down costs while honing their skills

Starting your own business

Taking the leap into a passion project can come with plenty of uncertainty. The initial cost of starting a roastery is already a massive roadblock to success. However, there are options available that can ease some of the risks of starting out on your own.

One way to cut costs is to make use of co-op roasting spaces. These spaces give you the opportunity to learn from other roasters, while simultaneously cutting your expenses by as much as half.

There’s arguably no better place to learn the trade. Shared roast spaces bring inexperienced, aspirant roasters together for a common purpose, and the end result is a rich culture of sharing knowledge and resources.

When you consider that roasting equipment can set you back tens of thousands of US dollars, it makes sense to collaborate.

Becoming a specialty coffee roaster takes skill, determination, and, if you’re starting your own business, a bit of capital.

Learning the basics by experimenting with a home roasting device can be a good introduction, but moving towards the professional level will require focus, training, and dedication.

It is often the smaller details of a roastery that help a business to grow. If you are starting your own roastery, you will need to find ways to stand out from the crowd. 

At MTPak Coffee, we offer professional design services that can set your coffee packaging apart. Our recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable options in addition to recyclable degassing valves and resealable zippers will ensure your packaging is as sustainable as possible.

For information about our sustainable coffee packaging, contact our team.

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