Kaldi’s recently sent three of our roasting team members to the annual Coffee Roaster’s Guild Retreat. The CRG Retreat is one of the best opportunities the Specialty Coffee Association offers for professional development, networking, and learning alongside other coffee roasters from companies all over the world. Given our commitment to continual improvement, it’s a must for at least some of our team to attend each year. Specialty coffee has grown up so quickly these past few decades, and there is always much to learn at the retreat.
This year’s retreat was set at Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, WA. As always, the remote setting provides the perfect opportunity to relax, connect, reflect, and workshop outside the usual pressures of production roasting. A variety of roaster manufacturers set up their small (1-5lb) roasters in an outdoor tent, allowing for hands-on roasting to take center stage at the retreat. Eighteen teams composed of roasters from different companies competed in crafting their ideal blend and roast from four different coffees, which were blindly judged by all participants on the final evening. The rest of the time was filled with seminars and classes covering roasting theory and key issues facing the industry such as sustainability practices.
Opportunities to learn from one another were many, and our team came back with no shortage of things to think about and apply here at Kaldi’s. Here’s a look at some of our team’s key takeaways from the retreat.
I was captivated by a discussion led by Kenyan coffee trader and entrepreneur Vava Angwenyi, who spoke on what she called the danger of a single origin story. In essence, she made the argument for the coffee industry, and particularly those on the roasting side of it, to embrace complexity in how we tell the stories of producers and others at origin. Too often we use these stories as a quick, easy way to sell a product, rather than as a means to lift up and empower those who depend on coffee for their livelihoods.
For Angwenyi, who runs Vava Coffee, a Nairobi-based company focused on educating Kenyan farmers, empowering women, and training youth, the time has come to shift for the balance of power more equitably toward producing countries. Only through telling better stories, and even giving producers greater ownership of their own stories, can we create a more sustainable relationship between coffee’s producing and consuming worlds. I was inspired to consider how we can bring these worlds closer together through our own storytelling here at Kaldi’s.
This year’s annual CRGR was by far the best I've attended. It was packed with great information and provoking discussion. One of the workshops I took part in was on Sustainability in the Coffee Industry and faced me with a lot of challenging questions.
We were first introduced to a history of international initiatives developed by the UN and taught about the differing theories of sustainability. Some were way outdated and looked like colonialism or just countries with money taking advantage of poor countries with materials but others were more forward thinking. Those ones looked like Free Market systems with some regulation.
We were told sustainability has three legs - economic, social, and environmental - and they work dependently. Without one, there's potential to create systemic problems or just too small of a benefit. Each group then expressed our personal definitions of sustainability and how we qualified its success. We discussed how we could improve a small system within our company or make an impact on the industry as a whole.
I was enthralled. The group of professionals with whom I was sitting had collectively worked in the coffee industry for well over a half a century. It was dizzying thinking of how much they knew and what information I could glean from them. That, to me, was the point of the class. It was to start a discussion asking, “how can we do what we’re doing but better? - for our planet, for our businesses, and for each other”
Being in the coffee industry the last six years I had heard stories or fables of the best of the best roasters coming together in the secluded wilderness with the objective of spreading their knowledge. Every year I would read all the articles following the weekend dreaming of that one one weekend I could take my own magical journey to the Roasters Guild retreat.
Well . . . a couple of weeks ago Kaldis Coffee granted such a request. And it was everything and much much more then I expected. My favorite thing in the world is coffee and second to that are the people that are in love with coffee. People like me. This retreat brought over 200 extremely passionate roasters from all over the world. One big happy family at the Skamania Lodge in Stevenson Washington.
The days were full of classes and at the end of the weekend I found myself fascinated with the heat transfer class taught by Ian Picco of Topeka Coffee Roasters. Basically we nerded out hard on heat and how heat moves. He described how and which types of heat transfer are adjustable during the roasting process. We learned how to identify different roasting technologies and roaster designs as they related to heat transfer. We were able to visually identify roasting defects caused by excess or insufficient heat transfer and most importantly how to adapt to changes in the roasting environment. From learning how heat transfers through the cellular structure of the bean to what drum material has the greatest heat retention I could not get enough of this class and I learned so so much.
Thank you Kaldi's, thank you to the Roaster Guild, thank you coffee. I hope to be back next year.