Learning to roast is a continuous process. Any experienced roaster will tell you that there is always room for improvement, whether it’s smoothing out the roast curve or getting to grips with the latest software.
While there is a plethora of resources available to finesse your skills, one of the best ways to become a better roaster is to sign up to a roasting course.
Roasting courses not only offer unique insight into the inner workings of a roastery, but also give you the opportunity to gain hands-on experience, all with the guidance of a teacher.
In this way, you can pick up useful tips, learn from your mistakes in real time, and ask questions that have been bugging you. You can also try out equipment to which you may not otherwise have access, such as commercial-scale roasters.
To find out more about the benefits of roasting courses and how to find the right one for you, I spoke with the owner of Sumo Coffee Roasters, Daniel Horbat.
Why are roasting courses important?
Learning to roast coffee is a long, arduous, yet highly rewarding, process. It can take years to master and, even then, there will likely still be gaps in your knowledge.
Although many roasters learn their craft during apprenticeships, typically under the guidance of an experienced roaster, there are certain aspects to roasting that inevitably need to be studied in greater detail.
These range from cupping and Q grading to understanding software and the composition of coffee beans.
An effective way of improving your roasting skills, whether a beginner or a seasoned professional, is through roasting courses.
Catering to a wide range of abilities, they offer participants the opportunity to experiment with roasters under the watchful eye of a teacher.
As well as creating an environment in which to practise on equipment, courses provide insight into the latest approaches to roasting.
“The coffee industry is one that’s always changing and moving forward,” says Daniel, who, after being crowned World Cup Tasters champion in 2019, embarked on a series of roasting courses as part of his plan to open a roastery in Dublin.
“Roasting courses have great benefits as coffee roasting is a continuous learning process – and they adapt to what’s new in the industry.”
For example, prior to the emergence of a third wave in coffee culture, the preference was for medium-to-dark roast profiles. Today, more and more roasters are opting for light roasts, dropping the beans just after first crack.
A roasting course can also introduce participants to a number of other important areas involved in being a roaster, such as menu building, machine selection, marketing tactics, and green coffee buying.
Even senior and highly experienced roasters already operating their own roastery could benefit from attending courses. For example, certain courses teach ways of improving efficiency and becoming more sustainable.
The rise of virtual learning
As working professionals, roasters often juggle a range of responsibilities. Consequently, some forgo courses, assuming they do not have the time to spare.
Yet in recent years, particularly since the outbreak of Covid-19, education has changed in a way that may encourage more roasters to attend courses than ever before. Specifically, many courses have moved their lessons online.
As a result, tools such as video conferencing and virtual tutoring have proliferated, which in turn, have made courses more flexible, convenient, and time-efficient.
And while some claim they don’t offer the same benefits, research shows online learning can improve knowledge retention as it allows people to study at their own pace, skip what they know, or repeat something until they understand it.
Many online course providers also allow roasters to “build a box” and select their own modules to create a customised learning plan.
These courses also include beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels, further ensuring that roasters don’t experience a one-size-fits-all approach to their education.
Despite being virtual, courses can still facilitate practical learning, often inviting discussion or feedback from other roasters attending the course.
Daniel says that depending on the course and its focus, roasters can be presented with common scenarios they can expect to encounter in today’s ever-changing industry and learn how to deal with them.
Finding a course that matches your needs
To ensure the roasting course of choice will benefit your knowledge, skills, and ambitions, it’s best to choose one provided by an accredited institution.
As a general rule, the SCA’s foundational, intermediate, or professional roasting modules are ideal for building roasting skills. Offered in multiple languages, they cater to an international audience and are some of the most accessible roasting courses available.
When choosing a course, Daniel says to look for ones offered by roasters with a style similar to yours.
If you’re wondering how you can evaluate a potential course for quality, check you’re being taught without bias and the people teaching you or developing your curriculum are recognised in their field.
One way you can do this is by ensuring the course provider hasn’t received any commissions to recommend specific equipment or coffee. You can also ask the course provider if the course’s content is based on scientific research or their own opinion.
As roasting knowledge is constantly developing, you’ll also want to choose a course that regularly updates its curriculum. This will ensure you’re not learning anything that most roasters no longer practise or believe.
Signing up to roasting course is a good way of not only improving your skills as a roaster, but becoming a more astute business owner. Whether coming at as a complete novice or a seasoned veteran, it is sure to benefit you in some shape or form.
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