Training for Common Goals

Every day the coffee trainers at Stockton Graham & Co. are working with our wholesale and distributor customers. They are training for common goals, which means providing the knowledge and expertise required to deliver an outstanding coffee experience with every cup.

And that means that our coffee trainers are very busy people. They are the team our wholesale and distributor customers count on to teach café managers, baristas and employees the essentials of coffee and espresso.

While converting coffee enthusiasts to budding coffee professionals in six hours flat is rewarding, it’s also a very big task. Interest from large multi-unit foodservice organizations now means they’re taking our Coffee College 101 course on the road too.

Between reviewing the anatomy of coffee fruit (skin, pulp, parchment, seed) and practicing proper milk steaming (and why a latte is different from a cappuccino) – we seldom have time to talk about WHY coffee training is important anyway.

But it is very important. Here’s why.

Quality & Service

Primary to any coffee business is the reality that there are literally millions of places that serve coffee, and every day consumers make a choice. Do they have time in the morning to park the car and walk into a coffee shop for a latte? Are they driving through for a 32oz cup of brew? Did they put a pod in their home brewer, or did they take the time to grind their own beans for a French Press?

With so many choices, the coffee business that provides the best quality product and service is sure to win. In a recent survey of out-of-house coffee drinkers, the most important consideration when choosing a place to buy their coffee beverages was consistent service or quality (86%).

But what does that mean?

When we asked coffee shop patrons to break it down for us, a few words kept coming to the top: “knowledge,” “friendliness,” “confidence,” “competency” and “consistency.”

When it comes right down to it, consumers will bypass places that sell inexpensive or speedy coffee in favor of the comfort of knowing that their favorite coffee beverage will be prepared properly and served with a smile.

In short, what’s best for the consumer is best for the business. The most successful coffee businesses know that training is the key to achieving these common goals.

Training for Common Goals

Whatever level of service your business provides — from wholesale distribution to serving prepared beverages — Stockton Graham & Co. believes all coffee professionals should be aware of these fundamentals:

  1. The path of coffee from seed to cup
  2. Taste characteristics of different coffee and roast levels
  3. The seven essentials of coffee brewing
  4. How to pull an espresso shot and steam milk
  5. Basic food safety, cleaning and maintenance

With the guidance of a professional coffee trainer, these five essential coffee topics are best introduced and explored in a hands-on lab setting. In this type of setting, conventional book training is reinforced by hands-on practice in basic coffee and espresso skills. The biggest benefit of this dual-approach is the opportunity for repeated practice with expert guidance. It doesn’t matter how much natural talent a participant has, they can still improve in a skill by practicing.

The common goal, of course, is that every training participant is “on the same page” when they return to the business, confident in their understanding of the skills learned in training. This knowledge and confidence will translate into the friendliness, consistency and service quality that will drive repeat business and long-term coffee profits.

Training for common goals is important. To explore coffee training options for your business, please call our Authorized Specialty Coffee Association Trainer, Brady Butler, at 800 835 5943 or email us at inforequest@stocktongraham.com.

A Report from the SCA Global Specialty Coffee Expo

Stockton Graham's Brady Butler at the Specialty Coffee ExpoLate last month, our Brady Butler attended the Global Specialty Coffee Expo (SCA) in Seattle. While his focus was on teaching Golden Cup Brewing classes, he did have an opportunity to walk the floor. We were glad he had the chance to cast his eye around the displays and report back on a few of the sights.

Says Brady:

“As an equipment guy, this was an interesting show. From custom machines to new brewers to gadgets, there was a lot to see.

From the SCA Global ExpoEspresso machine customization was on full display, with most of the roaster and café booths featuring beautiful signature espresso machines. My favorite was the custom Victoria Arduino Black Eagle that they’d made to celebrate Gianni’s 80th birthday. It was great to see some options for grinders too – the hand-blown glass hoppers at the EspressoParts booth were a welcome alternative to the usual plastic.

The trend of low-profile and small footprint espresso machines also continued this year. There was lots of buzz about the new under-counter espresso machine by MAVAM, with good reason. Even traditional machines manufacturers like Synesso had prototypes designed to lower the visible barrier between barista and customer.

From the SCA Global ExpoScales continue to show up in new places as well. Acai debuted a new automatic bean portioning system for café’s tired of weighing out little tins for their pour-over bars. Compak showed an espresso grinder which precisely grinds a specified amount of coffee into the portafilter, hands free. Of course, the Baratza Sette was back with their excellent grind-by-weight prosumer grinder for espresso or drip brewing.

Coldbrew was once again a major theme. BKON was back to show off their Storm, a superfast-supersized system to produce 100 gallons of coldbrew in 15 minutes. Several of our allied-products friends were sampling sweet and refreshing coldbrew-based drinks perfect for summer. Even cleaner specialists Urnex joined the party with a two-part complete coldbrew system cleaner – just the thing for nitro coffee systems.

To get a bit of a break from the middle of the show floor, I had a chance to stroll down the Design Lab wall of coffee packaging. This gallery of brightly-patterned, fully printed bags and uniquely-shaped printed cardboard containers is always a highlight. Our new Dilworth bag design would have looked right at home.

As always, there were so many great things to see and sample at this specialty coffee show. I can’t wait to share some of my favorites with our customers!”

With questions or to learn more about what might work best in your store or coffee shop, call 800 835 5943 or email orders@stocktongraham.com.

Tweaking the Coffee Roasting Curve

Coffee Roasting by Stockton GrahamPerhaps it’s because the Specialty Coffee Association of America almost canceled our regional trade competitions (they’ve since been reinstated by popular demand), but I’ve been recently thinking about those competitions and I’m reminded of what a competitor once said during his presentation.

He discussed this philosophy of how, after harvesting, all a roaster does is take away from the coffee’s natural flavor. He talked about how the role of the farm, the roaster and the barista is to keep the quality of the coffee.

This is speculative since it infers that a coffee bean has a maximum flavor potential, a destiny of sorts, but it’s also literal. We take away the cherry that the coffee beans come from; we take away inherent sugars, proteins, and even caffeine when we roast; and when we brew coffee, we dispose of the grounds after a solution is created.

What I like about this philosophy, though, is that it reminds us of the necessary steps in keeping a coffee’s integrity, its flavor, from farm to processing, roasting and all the way to brewing. Any lack of attention to detail could diminish the flavor, hurt a farm’s credibility, decrease coffee sales, or, more broadly, not provide a consumer with an enjoyable coffee experience.

It helps me realize the importance of our roasting job at Stockton Graham & Co. Our responsibility is to balance the roast of each coffee so it is a product our customers want and also shows off a particular coffee’s natural flavor.

A good question from here though is what is the best approach to achieve this balance? Because coffee is continually changing flavor from the moment it starts growing until the moment it is consumed (due to growing climate, processing, aging, roasting, grinding, brewing and so forth) and can change even drastically from harvest to harvest, should we seek to maintain a consistent flavor from year-to-year? Or, should a coffee always be changing to match each harvest?

How much variation should we give a particular coffee?

For us, it’s a mix. At Stockton Graham & Co., our roasting team looks for coffees they enjoy and know to be high-quality examples of a particular coffee’s natural flavor. But they also pay close attention to the needs of our customers, which may be looking for consistency from order-to-order and from harvest to harvest.

As a coffee drinker and patron of many coffee shops in the Raleigh area, consistency is something I’ve never paid much attention to before I started at Stockton Graham & Co. But it makes sense: If a coffee is always different, how will I know if I will enjoy a cup of coffee at my favorite coffee shop every time I buy it? To some coffee shop patrons, and so also to some of our customers, consistency is king.

It makes me realize how a roaster can be skilled in many ways. While one roaster may always look to change a roast depending on their current preference, I see Brandon Riggs, Roastmaster at Stockton Graham & Co., really take each consumer’s interests and their coffee preferences to heart so that both are respected.

The Roasting Process
Roasting coffee is our specialty here at Stockton Graham & Co. We obtain coffee once it is processed, and it’s our job to make the coffee taste great. Green coffee, before it is roasted, has higher levels of caffeine, proteins, and natural sugars, but has the density of a small pebble. We take the green coffee (harvested from a coffee cherry) and heat it till the coffee bean is brittle enough to break apart and be diluted/absorbed into hot water.

As coffee reaches the right temperature (around 375-400F), you can hear it start to break open. This noise is referred to as the “first-crack.” It’s then that the coffee beans are ejected out of the chamber and air-cooled.

httpss://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_354ufdgffQ

There are actually a few different ways this process can occur. The standard is a drum roaster, where the coffee swirls in a barrel with a controlled fire underneath. The second most common amongst roasters would likely be a fluid bed roaster, which uses superheated air to suspend the beans and roast them. Each method can create subtle differences in the coffee.

Generally, when the coffee beans are introduced to heat, a roaster will monitor, or program, the temperature of the coffee. Typically, roasts occur at a rounded, steady increase or an “S” curve, consistently warming. While the flavor is always developing, it isn’t until the last minutes of the roast, around 400F, that a roaster is keen to either under develop or burn the coffee. Darker roasted coffees will roast longer while lighter roasts will come out earlier. This is because some coffees develop better with more heat as compared to other coffees that will lose its flavor if exposed to any higher temperatures.

Fine-Tuning Our Coffees
One way to maximize the quality of the coffee and any particular bean’s flavor is to adjust the temperature and length of the roasting. While some adjustments are made to enhance certain aspects of the flavor profile, our roasters also will adjust roasts as coffee moves further off harvest, ensuring that the coffee we deliver to customers is consistent from order to order.

“Within the last 6-months, we’ve been fine-tuning our roasting process more than ever before to ensure that each bag that a customer buys is as consistently good as the last,” said Roastmaster Brandon Riggs. “There are two things a roaster can manipulate, and those are time and temperature. When you plot these factors on a scale, you end up with an S-shaped curve. Thing is, you don’t want your ‘S’ curve to be too drastic—meaning, you don’t want the coffee to gain excessive temperature at the end of the roasting cycle.”
It’s these nuances that help adjust the flavors of the coffee so that the bean’s natural flavor is optimized and the coffee meets the needs of our customers.

Our Papua New Guinea, for example, is one coffee that we’ve been fine tuning in the roasting process.

“We’ve had a consistent roasting profile for about 3 to 4 years,” Riggs said. “This year, we needed to change it up a bit. By adjusting the temperature at the end of the roast in our latest profile, we noticed it holds a bright body well and has a clean, sweet finish.”

Brandon strives for consistency and quality; so while coffee is constantly evaluated, it is not always changed. This was a good instance in which we’ve done justice to the coffee’s flavor and see good feedback from our customers.

“With the Selva Negra, which just recently came back to us, we’ve adjusted the roast three to four times based on tasting evaluations to make sure it’s back to the same quality our customers have come to expect,” Riggs said.

These are a few ways our coffees have been closely monitored and adjusted at our roastery so that our coffee is both consistent and enjoyable. You can get a close look if you try our new Selva Negra and can compare it to the last time you had it. Maybe it’ll still have that zing you were looking for or maybe it has a lighter finish. Being a discerning coffee taster is just as important as being an expert roaster.

To talk to our roasters or to order coffee, call our Customer Care Associates at 800 835 5943.

Article contributed by Clayton Johnson, coffee roasting assistant at Stockton Graham & Co. in Raleigh, NC.