Honing Our Craft at The Roasters Guild Retreat


Honing Our Craft at The Roasters Guild Retreat

Posted on Thursday, September 19, 2013 - 10:00am By Michael Harwood

I love to cook, so I find it useful to keep a sharpened set of knives. Over the past couple of months, I noticed the most-used knives becoming quite dull and ineffective. I set to honing and found my next dinner easier to prepare with better results (fewer onion-related tears, for one). This sense of staying sharp seemed appropriate as four of us from Ceremony recently attended The Roasters Guild’s annual retreat at the Stonewall Resort in West Virginia. Ceremony roasters Caleb and Jin were seeking to hone their bean-browning craft, while Ronnie and I were generously sponsored by Espresso Supply to attend and prepare a dynamic range of coffees for the attendees.

What is Roasters Guild, you ask? Let’s go to the source, which says that the “Roasters Guild is an official trade guild of the Specialty Coffee Association of America that consists of specialty roasters dedicated to the craft of roasting quality coffee and promotes quality as the principle standard for success.” (roastersguild.org) Once a year, the RG finds scenic accommodations somewhere in the US, then invites roasters and coffee professionals from across the country and world to attend to participate in focused classes, team challenges, and to enjoy positive connections with other roasters. The retreat is a great place to share ideas, improve roasting craft, and deepen one’s world-view on coffee. I know that Ronnie and I gained great insight on current roasting styles by serving multiple roasters’ coffees. We had the pleasure of brewing Ceremony’s Ethiopia Wazzala and Ethiopia Azmera Espressos, then rotated though a variety of other roasts and origins. Some were single origin, some were blends, some were lighter, and some were darker, but all provided useful perspective on what we do here in Annapolis. Ronnie and I were making drinks all weekend, so I wanted to find out how the classes went for our roasters. I asked Ceremony’s Head Roaster and all-around great guy Caleb Podhaczky for his thoughts on his experience at Roasters Guild Retreat:

Michael: What did you take away from attending the Roasters Guild Retreat?

Caleb: For me being new to the Specialty scene in the US, I was excited to meet some people in the industry and network a bit, which I did. Hopefully, RGR was the start of some good relationships over the coming years. There were a few things I took away from RGR, the first being that it's always a good thing to see the industry, roasting styles, etc of other people and companies. I think it's important to have an open mind. For me, that's the best way to learn: filtering all of the info and taking what I think is valuable. It was also refreshing to refocus on the fundamentals of roasting. I think it’s hard for a roaster without a strong foundation of basic knowledge to progress because there's so much information and knowledge to take in and the industry is evolving so quickly.

Michael: How does this translate to what you do at Ceremony?

Caleb: I think having an open mind to learn is key here. It's a little bit of a different market from what I'm used to; and no doubt my roasting style is morphing from what I had been doing to what we are doing now at Ceremony. To be confident in making these changes and learning on the fly, you have to have these fundamentals and solid knowledge locked in. I'm also looking forward to hopefully sourcing some great coffees from some of the great people we met.

Michael As demonstrated at RGR, you are pretty dominant at ping-pong. Is it your hand-eye coordination that makes your roasts taste so good?

Caleb: I'm actually a pretty uncoordinated guy! Haha, I can barely pat my head and rub my tummy! But I am competitive by nature, so if you give me something to do, I'll usually find a way of trying to win. Haha! I suppose that comes into play with Ping-Pong (It was nice to whoop Ronnie!), but I'm not too sure how you can win at roasting?? Ha!

Michael: I don’t know, I think our coffee has been winning! You have a lot of roasting experience, but as a recent Aussie expat, you are having a lot of American firsts. Our RGR trip was your first time visiting the Appalachians. How did you find it?

Caleb: It was so pretty out there. So green and lush, nice and cool. I'll definitely go back.

Michael: Finally, what is your overall philosophy on roasting coffee?

Caleb: I think some of my answers overlap here a little, but to put it simply, my philosophy is to bring out the best that coffee has to offer without leaving my mark on it. So, no roastiness! I knew Ceremony was a great fit for me when I found out that it's the same philosophy here. If the green coffee is good enough, it'll speak for itself in the cup! Also, don't be scared to take some risks and try new things. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but that's what I love about roasting and the Specialty coffee industry. It's never boring! And lastly, taste, taste, and taste some more. Ultimately, we are drinking coffee to enjoy it, so it has to taste amazing!! I think that's about it. Haha!

Michael: Awesome! Thanks, Caleb!

It may have only been an extended weekend, but our time at Roasters Guild Retreat definitely sharpened our coffee craft and mind. This dedication and intention towards understanding and growth is one of the main reasons Ceremony is some of the best coffee you’ll find anywhere. Come hone your tasting and brewing skills with us soon!