I'm a real coffee roaster now! / by Bryan Hibbard

This past week, I got the amazing opportunity to study roasting and green coffee buying at Ozo Coffee in Boulder, Colorado. It was a great trip. Before moving to Houston, my family lived in Colorado. In fact, I worked for a company located in Boulder. So, it was a bit like going home. I tried to soak up all the beautiful mountain scenery and the crisp Fall air. I feel like I am still waiting for Fall to start here in Texas.

It was also a great time to reflect. When I left Colorado, I was still working for the company in Boulder (telecommuting) and coffee roasting was a hobby I did with my popcorn popper on my back porch. I had no plans of starting my own business. Coming back I was surprised at how much I had changed, and how much Fort Bend Coffee Roasters has allowed me to grow. It was surreal, to say the least.

It is hard to put into words what this trip meant to me. Since I started my business, I have had a goal of getting my Roaster's Guild level 1 certification. I always felt like a bit of a phony without it. I mean, I knew that people liked my coffee, and I thought it was pretty good. But I have always been wary of sharing my coffee with a real coffee professional. I am still waiting for the day when I am "found out." In the three years since I started my business, many coffee professionals have tried my coffee, and no one has confirmed my fears that I have no clue what I am doing. I guess I'm ok.

I came away from the class making some new connections, learning some really common sense practices that I was missing from my operation, but nothing earth shattering. And I feel like my breadth of knowledge of the roasting profession has increased. But the biggest takeaway I had was a confirmation that roasting really is more art than science and that those people who claim to know the secrets of roasting, are actually full of themselves. There is no secret, beyond your own palate, and a relentless pursuit of a better roast than you did last time. Mike Ebert, our instructor told us that some of his past students weren't interested in putting the work in and they just wanted to know the secret to a good roast. His answer is the same as the computer from Douglas Adams famous book. The secret to coffee roasting (and the meaning of life) is 42.

It turns out, the knowledge I had gained from articles and books I found in the industry, and my own trial and error, were more than enough to make me a great roaster. Chris Schooley (the guy who's articles on home roasting I had poured over with a fine tooth comb and that have informed my roasting style more than anything else) stopped by to say hi to our instructor. I was a bit star struck, in a nerdy coffee way. And Mike, our instructor, is a veteran of the roasting industry, a former SCAA president, and is well respected in the coffee world. He took the time after class one of the days to talk with my about my coffee business and give his advice for our future. This industry, that I am increasingly in awe of continues to feel smaller as I get to meet and learn from the best minds in coffee. For all we have done, the specialty coffee scene still feels like it is just getting started. I am grateful to be a part of it.

In the class, we got a lot of time to work on the roasters in Ozo Coffee. I roasted multiple profiles  of the same Honduran lot throughout the week on a Dietrich IR-12 and a wide variety of coffees on a 2-barrel sample roaster. It was a great week, and I feel more confident calling myself a coffee professional. Though I don't know that my fears of not being the qualified will ever go away. I have been reading Prince Caspian (Chronicles of Narnia) to my daughter and I was reminded of a passage toward the end of the story in which the battle is won and Aslan asks Prince Caspian if feels ready to lead his people as king. He says no, and Aslan wisely points out, that is precisely why he is ready to lead. Humility leads me to say, I can offer you great coffee, but I have so much more to learn. I am both encouraged and humbled by my week of coffee training.