April 24, 2023

Coffee roasters: Where do you go after being a head roaster?


Career progression is important for any working professional, and the same goes for those in the specialty coffee sector. For many in the industry, opportunities to develop their skills are invaluable.

This includes head roasters, who often spend years honing their craft. However, after years of running a roasting team, there also comes a time when head roasters want to look for new career pathways in the coffee sector.

So, what does career progression look like for head roasters? To find out, I spoke to Cleia Junqueira, a coffee professional and consultant based in Dubai. Read on to find out what she had to say.

You may also like our article on why the barista-to-roaster career step may not be as logical as it seems.

Coffee roasters assess the progress of roasting coffee.

What does a head roaster do?

Although exact duties can differ depending on the size of a roastery (as well as the volume of coffee it sells), the primary responsibilities of a head roaster are relatively similar across the sector. These often, but don’t always, include:

  • Managing and leading quality control processes
  • Profiling and cupping coffees
  • Green and roasted coffee stock management
  • Managing production roasting team
  • Dispatching orders

“A head roaster mainly oversees and maintains quality control procedures for roasting coffee,” Cleia tells me. “They can also oversee the composition and development of blends.”

Moreover, a head roaster usually manages production roasters and roasting assistants, and also reports to the Director of Coffee or a similar senior position. 

Day-to-day tasks

For many head roasters, their working day starts by turning on machines and scheduling batches to be roasted. This is largely dictated by the orders which need to be fulfilled for the day.

Cupping is also a key part of the day for most head roasters. As well as cupping roasted coffee from the previous day, they may also be asked to cup samples or new lots.

Once any adjustments are made, a head roaster informs production roasters of the required changes before any batches of coffee are roasted that day.

Throughout the day, head roasters need to support roastery staff. They largely do this by ensuring progress stays on track to meet both quality and volume goals. This is an essential part of a head roaster’s role. They must ensure that the roastery remains ahead of schedule, while also maintaining quality standards. 

Moreover, a head roaster also needs to make sure operations remain efficient and cost effective.

A head coffee roaster examines roasting coffee.

What skills do head roasters need?

As with many other professions in the coffee industry, a head roaster needs to have a number of key skills to succeed in their role. First and foremost, any good head roaster will understandably need extensive knowledge of coffee roasting.

Knowing how to best roast different kinds of coffee – including different origins, processing methods, and varieties – is crucial.

Similarly, head roasters should also be easily able to roast to standard “light”, “medium”, and “dark” profiles based on a number of measurements. These include AgTron or temperature. Moreover, they need to have a thorough understanding of the variables which impact green coffee quality, such as:

  • Terroir (environmental factors which affect coffee quality and flavour profile, like soil health, exposure to sunlight, and temperature)
  • Region where coffee is grown
  • Farming practices
  • Variety
  • Processing method

Ultimately, roasters must have sound knowledge of these variables to be able to successfully tweak roast profiles. This ensures they get the best out of each coffee.

Ideally, they need to be comfortable working with different types of equipment and software, as well as being able to quickly learn new roasting techniques.

When it comes to equipment, head roasters may also need to know how to work with a range of machines in a roastery. This can range from different types of roasters (drum, fluid bed, gas, electric) to weigh-fill, packing, and sealing machines.

A head coffee roaster samples roasted coffee.

Considering next career steps

Out of all positions at a roastery, a head roaster role is one of the most senior and highly skilled. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t avenues for head roasters to progress even further in their careers.

“Within a roastery, a head roaster can go on to become a head of coffee, roast master, or product development manager,” Cleia tells me. 

A head of coffee (or director of coffee) often has similar responsibilities to a head roaster position. Some of these include blend and roast profile development, quality control, and cupping coffees. 

However, at the same time, a director of coffee is usually also in charge of sourcing and purchasing green coffee, as well as staff training and team leadership.

Another similar role to this is production manager. This position involves overseeing roastery operations, budget and finances, and overall coffee quality goals. Hiring and scheduling staff would also be priorities.

When it comes to product development positions, this can be a suitable career step for head roasters who are looking to be more creative and innovative.

Head roasters can also consider green coffee buying, which primarily focuses on sourcing and buying green coffee. Green coffee buyers are required to source from particular origins, or buy coffees of a certain level of quality or sensory profile. Sometimes this involves travelling to coffee farms to meet producers and build relationships with them.

There is also the option to transition into a wholesale manager or roastery sales representative. Typically, these roles require candidates to attract new wholesale customers, maintain relationships with existing wholesale clients, assist partners in choosing new equipment, and handle invoicing and accounting.

Jobs outside of a roastery

There are several job opportunities available within a roastery, however, career progression in the wider coffee industry is also possible.

A head roaster could work at a green coffee importer or exporter. These companies deal with the logistics of transporting coffee around the world, while also ensuring that green coffee stays fresh and free from contamination.

As part of growing demand for more transparency and traceability, green coffee importers and exporters should provide as much information as possible to roasters about their coffees. This includes farming practices, varieties, and processing methods, as well as information about the producer or co-operative.

“Head roasters can also explore career options in marketing and coffee education,” Cleia says. And considering the growing focus on education in the coffee sector, this could be a viable option for many roasting professionals.

Furthermore, if they have the finances and support to do so, head roasters might even consider opening their own roastery.

However, it can be daunting looking for new job opportunities which are in line with both experience level and career aspirations.

A good place to start is by looking at industry-specific job boards, such as PDG Jobs, which hosts listings from some of the most established names in the specialty coffee sector. This job board posts listings for a wide range of positions in the coffee industry, from production manager to green coffee buyer and anything in between.

Moreover, listings on PDG Jobs are regularly updated so that head roasters and other coffee professionals from around the world can keep up to date with new available positions in the industry.

Sacks of green coffee are stored in a coffee roastery.

Why is career progression so important for head roasters?

Many coffee professionals are looking for new ways to develop their skills and knowledge with new career opportunities. In fact, a 2022 Global Workforce of the Future study from Adecco Group found that 16% of people surveyed were more likely to remain in their current job because of opportunities to progress within the company

“Like in any other industry, career development and growth are important to keep employees motivated and looking for ways to improve themselves,” Cleia tells me.

Ultimately, given the opportunity to challenge themselves and gain new skills, staff are more likely to fully engage with their work. Moreover, the risk of career stagnation and job dissatisfaction is also likely to decrease. 

Within the specialty coffee sector, career progression can also open other doors for head roasters. Entering high-level competitions such as the World Roasting Championships can allow roasters to leverage their expertise and better establish themselves in the global coffee sector.

In turn, they could be better positioned to open their own coffee business in time, whether this is a roastery or something else completely.

The interior of a coffee shop and coffee roastery.

In short, there is no right or wrong way for head roasters to progress in their careers. Ultimately, it largely depends on their own interests and needs. 

But finding these job opportunities can be challenging at the best of times. Platforms like PDG Jobs, however, are always a good place to start – both for head roasters and other job seekers in the coffee sector.

Looking for new positions in the coffee industry? Check out PDG Jobs here.

Perfect Daily Grind

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