March 8, 2016

5 Reasons Why Baristas Should Shadow a Roaster


If you like coffee, then you need to hang out with a coffee roaster. Because they really like coffee. And as a result, you’ll learn a lot, have a ton of fun, and become even more passionate about your favourite drink.

On my first day as a barista, I was lucky enough to meet Rory and Marcella, the owners of The Coffee Officina, a small-batch coffee roastery just outside London. These friendly, helpful guys supplied the café’s coffee – and they also left an open invitation to anyone who wanted to check out their roastery.

When I got around to taking them up on the offer, I’d spent just enough time as a professional barista to realise how little I actually knew. But I’d caught the bug. I had a craving to learn more, and Rory and Marcella were able to take my naive enthusiasm and guide me into gaining some seriously useful knowledge.

Spanish Version: 5 Razones por las que un Barista Debe Estar Cerca de un Tostador

Green bean sacks

At The Coffee Officina roastery. Credit: The Coffee Officina

1. You’ll Want to Make Better Coffee

Working in a busy cafe takes a lot of motivation. Not only to do all the jobs need doing, but they need doing well – and sometimes, you might just be tempted to take a couple of shortcuts.

Think about when you’re dialling in. Sometimes, the shots start coming out a few grams over or under. But, because there’s a queue out the door, it’s tempting to think, “Meh, close enough – it’s only a few grams!”

However, it becomes much harder to serve substandard coffee after seeing first-hand how much effort has gone into the roasting. Watching Rory intently examine every single bean coming out the roaster really brought home that this coffee has had a lot of love, experience, and painstaking work put into it.

After that, you can’t let anything damage the beautiful espresso you’re pulling every day. You make sure you get all the grime out of the group when cleaning, you make sure you’re weighing out shots accurately, and you make sure your tamping is spot on. You want to do the coffee justice.

And all this makes you a better barista. You become someone who is prouder of every single drink you serve.

holding a portafilter with tamped coffee

Every step of the barista experience gains importance once you’ve seen a roaster in action. Credit: The Coffee Officina

2. You’ll Talk About Coffee Better

Anyone can read the tasting notes off a bag of single origin. Convincing a customer that your coffee is something special, however, isn’t quite as easy to pull off. It can be really tricky to find the right words to describe the subtle flavours of a good coffee, leaving your exceptional single origin sounding a little bit… bland.

However, spending some time with people who know what they are talking about gives you a chance to work out what’s going on in your mouth. And there’s no better person for this than your roaster, who has put some serious thought into getting your coffee to taste the way it does.

Doing a proper cupping for the first time with Rory and Marcella took my appreciation of coffee’s complexity to another level. When someone who really knows their product gives you a cup and shows you exactly how it should taste – well, you can’t beat that experience.

Not to mention, roasters really understand the science of coffee. And while science can’t currently give us the full chemical breakdown of every molecule, it goes pretty far in helping you explain the profile of your coffee.

In short, if you want to talk about the coffees you serve in a more informed, passionate way, you just have to speak to your roaster. Do this and, the next time someone asks about your house blend or single origin, you’ll be able to really break it down for them.

Cupping coffee at the coffee officina

Cup coffees with the roasters, and you’ll really know your stuff. Credit: The Coffee Officina

3. You’ll Understand the Science

I’d read up on the science of roasting before visiting The Coffee Officina, but the theory didn’t help nearly as much as Rory firing up the roaster and showing me the sights, sounds, and smells that guide him in his craft.

The thing is, knowing the difference between a Maillard Reaction and a Strecker Degredation is useful only if it can help you understand what’s going on in the coffee. But if you do understand that, it’s seriously useful.

Experiencing how these processes create different chemical compounds during roasting can guide you in extracting the right balance of flavours when making a drink. Understanding where a specific flavour comes from on a chemical level is a step towards creating the flavour profile that you want.

Don’t worry, you don’t need a degree in chemistry. Even a basic understanding of the underlying chemical processes can massively improve your coffee making.

different stages of roasting coffee beans

Colour spectrum of coffee beans during the roasting process. Credit: The Coffee Officina

SEE ALSO: 5 Things You Learn from Shadowing a Barista that AREN’T about Coffee

4. You’ll Meet More Coffee-Lovers

Roasters know everyone there is to know in the coffee industry. They’ll be able to introduce you to a wide variety of coffee-lovers and entrepreneurs, from coffee importers to espresso machine manufacturers and baristas at other cafés to home coffee enthusiasts.

And that’s important because the specialty coffee industry is dependant on people being friendly, interesting, and innovative. By supporting each other, sharing ideas, and helping each other to grow, our industry thrives.

cupping event at the coffee officina

Roasters always know the best networking events in town – and often host them too. Credit: The Coffee Officina

5. You’ll Become Like the Pros

Is there anything more inspirational to a barista than a Barista World Champion?

Barista champions always work with a coffee roaster (and even the grower if they can). They do this simply because the more you understand where your coffee comes from and how it was created, the more you can get out of it.

Specialty coffee isn’t about following tradition or what other people are doing. It’s about searching for the best way to make exciting coffee. When you start out as a barista, there are many things that you just seem to do “because that’s how it’s done”.

But in this case, you really should do as the champions do. Not because it’s what barista champions do, but because it’s the best way to make your coffee better.

coffee officina packaging

The Coffee Officina’s Fiori Espresso Blend next to four of their single origins. Credit: Morse Studio

Roasters are experts on their coffee, and they’ll help you to gain the same knowledge, passion, and sense of meticulousness that they have. By collaborating with one, you’ll serve better coffees and communicate better with consumers – in other words, you’ll be a better barista.

Feature Photo Credit: Anta Mai.

Perfect Daily Grind.

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