A Roaster's Ramblings #1: The Journey from Cook to Home Roaster to Running a Roastery

A Roaster's Ramblings

I have been falling into the specialty coffee rabbit hole since about 2009, although my interest in good food and drink and a desire to share these experiences have been with me since I was a child. My love of food and joy of sharing the experience of it led me eventually to Paris to study cooking for 9 months. I worked in France and Italy and then returned to the USA and worked in restaurants and catering for about 6 years. 

There were a number of twists and turns and without going into it too deeply, I ended up as a computer programmer, but even there my love of food and desire to share the experience would shine through and I would be known as "the chef" or for the last ten years more often then not as "the Coffee guy".

So back now to the year 2009: there were a couple of events that really got me hooked on roasting and with wanting to know more about specialty coffee. A friend roasted coffee at home but couldn't take his roaster (a popcorn popper) with him when he was moving so he gave me a kilo of green beans and the popper. Being an analytical type, I set up a temperature probe and started recording temperatures in Roastmaster on my phone to understand the roasting process better. I also went to a coffee festival where I got to try David Haugaard's geisha from La Esmeralda brewed by him. It was amazing, it had a delicate rose aroma and a sweet light fruitiness that I had never tasted before (or since for that matter) and there was no looking back.

In the spring of 2015, when I found out that the world championships in roasting were going to take place near where I lived, I immediately signed up as a volunteer to be able to go watch in better-than-front-row seats. The World of Coffee Event had so much going on and there were so many coffee people! I loved it! I also became inspired to enter the national contest in Sweden. This meant I should probably get some time on a real roaster, instead of just my popcorn machine, so I started looking for a reasonably priced "real roaster" that had a proper drum with gas and airflow controls. I was set on buying a Huky 500, since it was reasonably priced compared to a professional roaster and it had a great user community where one could get help and tips. I bought a used one and I needed to fix some things and I also wanted to add digital thermocouples to be able to see and record data from the roast. In the end, I only had 14 roasts on it during the last 4 weeks before the contest. In down times between waiting for the delivery of a part or two,  I also read a number of books, including Scott Rao's "Roaster's Companion", Chris Hendon and Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood's "Water for Coffee" and my absolute favorite Rob Hoos' "Modulating the Flavor Profile of Coffee". 

I was a bit nervous going up against seasoned professionals, but I figured I would just go and enjoy the whole experience and do the best that I could. I ended up surprising everyone, including myself, and won the silver medal. I had taken some controversial risks when roasting the single origin. I did a melange which is blending two different profiles of the same bean to create more complexity and highlight more of the potential of the bean. This led to higher aroma scores than the others and helped pop me up to second place.

After getting the Silver medal at the 2016 Swedish Coffee Roasting Championship, I got the opportunity to buy the green beans which were left over from the contest. "Michel's Silver Medal Blend" was my first little project when I started The Beautiful Bean, a small batch very local to Uppsala specialty coffee roastery. In Sweden, roasting positions are far and few between, so the only way I could see pursuing a roasting career here in Sweden was to start my own business. I have used a Lean Start up approach, where I try to get feedback from customers as quickly as possible with as little investment as possible. For instance, I rent time on a roaster instead of investing a large amount in buying a roaster and needing to put it somewhere. I have slowly been growing the business while maintaining my day job as a computer programmer.

We will have to wait to see what happens next...

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