Our Roast Master Seth Shares his ‘Coffee Boot Camp’ Experience

Seth 2The city is Mill Valley, California. In which, there lies an unsuspecting garage that has been converted into a coffee roaster’s paradise. As Roast Master for Water Street Coffee Roaster, I traveled here to explore the art and science of coffee roasting over an intensive, hands-on course titled: “Advanced Roasting Techniques”. Over the next 3 days at ‘Boot Camp Coffee’ I explored a variety of concepts to fine-tune my skills as a professional coffee roaster.

I arrived to my first class on Monday, lugging around a black leather duffel bag containing nearly 20 pounds of coffee, most of which was unroasted, in its raw form. I walked through the wooden gate and into the garage-turned-roastery. The setting was cozy, and fortunately the class size was small. I shared this space with 3 other students; a coffee roaster from Vail Mountain, Colorado, a professional barista from Perth, Australia, and a phenomenologist who was there to observe how coffee professionals roast and taste coffees and develop terminology to describe the coffees. After making their acquaintance, the instructor walked in.

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Willem Boot founded Boot Coffee in 1998 with the fundamental objective to improve coffee quality standards. Since then, he has worked with over 400 companies in the U.S. and abroad, managed long-term development projects for national coffee organizations in Ethiopia, Panama, and El Salvador, conducted studies for USAID, the Inter American Development Bank, and for other NGOs specializing in sustainability issues. Willem roasted his first batch of coffee at age 14, and later obtained a masters degree in business economics at the University of Amsterdam. As a quality and strategic marketing consultant, Willem has written over 30 articles and essays for international coffee publications. His most recent project involves developing coffee farms in Panama, where more than 35,000 Geisha trees are planted.

The educational course content was extensive and varied. We discussed matters such as coffee density and its relation to elevation, moisture content, different processing styles and their effect on the final cup, drying practices of coffee farmers, and how all this information can help a roaster decide how to treat each coffee once it is inside of the roaster. Next we dove into our first cupping, which consisted of 8 different coffees. Our goal was to choose the coffees we wanted to experiment with during our class, as well as devise strategies on how to roast each coffee. We selected:

Colombia Cerro Azul Enano

A unique coffee of an unidentified varietal planted between two rows of Geisha trees. This coffee had an appealing, smooth body, mild acidity, alongside notes of caramel, peanuts, vanilla, and citrus. Cucumber and orange were also picked out of this cup.

Honduras Beneficio San Vicente

One of the coffees Water Street currently roasts, this microlot displays a silky smooth body, a looser acidity, alongside notes of almond, mango, and apricot.

Panama La Mula Geisha Sun Dried Natural

This coffee is from Willem’s own farm in Panama. With an intense, pungent flavor, and notes of cloves, cumin, and other indian spices. We also tasted black currants, jasmine and noted its unique bittersweet quality.

Seth 1We split into teams of two and worked with these three coffees throughout our three-day venture. Each team devised a different strategy for roasting, and we had the opportunity to compare results. We performed many different roasting experiments, manipulating our roasting techniques to isolate different variables and their impact on the final cup. Proving that the smallest adjustment in airflow or heat application at certain stages of the roast could drastically affect the body, flavor, and acidity of the coffee. After the class, I feel prepared to evaluate any type of green coffee, identify properties important to roasting that particular bean, and executing a successful roast profile, with complete control. I have returned, excited and enlightened, ready to implement new techniques to further Water Street’s coffee program.