November 23, 2016

Should More Roasters Do International Apprenticeships?


I’m currently working in a roastery in Medellin, Colombia. But I’m not from Medellin, nor am I planning to stay here. You see, I’m here for the first stage of my three-year roasting apprenticeship.

Unlike many apprenticeships, I won’t learn at school. I’ll learn on the job. It will send me from Colombia to Belgium and even to Atlanta so that I can learn all there is to know about coffee. I’ll experience roasteries, farms, and events. I’ll even give coffee tours.

My employer and I believe I may be the first Belgian coffee roaster apprentice since 1956. But while my apprenticeship is unusual, it’s invaluable.

SEE ALSO: Rural Roaster: Can You Learn How to Roast Coffee ONLINE?

expoespeciales bogota

At Expoespeciales in Bogotá, Colombia. Credit: Cafe Velvet 

How I Entered the Specialty Industry

My name is Willem Strick. I’m eighteen years old, and I was born and raised in the beautiful capital of Belgium, Brussels. But my involvement in specialty coffee started over 5,000 miles away in Medellin, Colombia, two years before I became an apprentice.

Ilse Geyskens is the  founder of Café Velvet, which in 2014 was driving the specialty coffee scene in Medellin. She took me to experience Medellin. That was where I learned about the world of baristas.

It was also where I learned about the difference between specialty and commodity coffee. Thomas Labath, owner of Café Labath in Medellin, took the time to explain it to me. And when we visited a coffee plantation just a few days later, I immediately understood how much effort it took for farmers to create coffee – and that this knowledge would change my life.

coffee production learning

Learning about coffee production. Credit: Cafe Velvet

Practical Knowhow: Boot Camps & Essays

My next step was to obtain practical knowledge about coffee – to learn what it means to work behind a bar, serving customers. I first signed up for a Barista Boot Camp run by Damien Warm at the BARistaBARBAR Barista School and London Coffee Lab.

Then last year, in my final year of high school, I took the opportunity to do an investigation into the coffee industry. I examined the personality types that are more likely to visit a specialty coffee bar, focused on OR in Brussels.

coffee cupping

Preparing to cup coffees  Credit: Cafe Velvet

My Apprenticeship

I’d studied the theory. I’d studied some of the skillsets I’d need. And an apprenticeship would expand my knowledge base while giving me experience on the job.

Ilse Geyskens gave me that opportunity. In September 2016, two months ago, my apprenticeship started under her devoted supervision. The program is three years long, and extremely flexible. I can spend my time as I wish, wherever I wish in the world, just so long as it involves working with coffee.

I’m thrilled to tell you that I am spending the first five months in Medellin. I will work for four months in total in Cafe Velvet’s roastery, and also spend one month on a coffee plantation. I will lead coffee tours, helping to make people aware of the beauty of coffee. I went to Expoespeciales in Bogotá.

Next year, I will return to Brussels to work in Café Velvet’s new Belgian establishment. I will also attend the SCAA Expo 2017 in Seattle in April. And for the remaining two and a half years of my apprenticeship? I’m still to decide.

roasting coffee

Becoming confident on the roaster at Café Velvet. Credit: Cafe Velvet

Why Become an Apprentice?

There are many ways to learn about the coffee industry, and about roasting in particular. I’ve experienced many of them. But for me, this apprenticeship introduces me to all aspects of the industry. It allows me to meet lots of new, passionate people. It enables me to discover exciting places and immerse myself even more in the world of coffee.

If I hadn’t visited Colombia in 2014, I wouldn’t be so passionate about specialty now. I don’t know where my experiences over the course of this apprenticeship will take me, but I am looking forward to them.

Interested in doing an international internship? Check out our Coffee Jobs listings.

Perfect Daily Grind is not affiliated with any of the individuals or bodies mentioned in this article, and cannot directly endorse them.

Want to read more articles like this? Sign up to our newsletter!