QC Professional’s Perspective | Network, Learn and Share at The Event


by Rob Stephen, senior trader for InterAmerican Coffee

SCAA’s annual Event is entering its 26th year. Since its inception, many early SCAA members have enjoyed long and varied careers, which have spanned several segments of our industry. For example, I have had the opportunity to attend the show as a retailer, a roaster, a green buyer, and an allied member. At each Event, different educational opportunities specific to my interests presented themselves, and thanks to The Event my network has expanded to include some of the best and brightest of each of these diverse and dynamic segments.

For the last few years, I’ve been attending The Event as both an importer and a coffee quality control (QC) professional. While this area of the industry can be extremely rewarding, it also has the potential to be lonesome. To begin with, there are fewer of us. It’s also a highly competitive field, and information is less frequently shared among peers during our day-to-day business. Let’s face it — there is no such thing as a QC throwdown!

Ah, the QC pro! The one who is expected to have the answer to every coffee-related question, and to devise the process to solve any problem, whatever it may be. Analogous to the catcher in baseball, QC pros often go unnoticed until something goes wrong — at which point everyone is an expert! Sometimes, this person works alongside a coffee buyer, sometimes they are the coffee buyer themselves, and sometimes they are the ones managing a never-ending tidal wave of cupping, grading, and sampling at an importing company. In any case, regardless of the situation — it isn’t a job where you typically have a lot of peers close by! Where does such a person turn for information exchange and learning opportunities?

Why, The Event, of course! Opportunities abound to network, learn, share — and commiserate — about the issues that can and do arise in such a complicated job.

Let’s take a look at some of the opportunities you can find in Seattle this year:

  • Classes on sensory analysis, cupping, and grading, which will help you keep up your calibration and knowledge of industry standards.
  • Workshops on lab equipment and process control, which will allow you to measure your lab’s progress against the latest thinking in the field.
  • Workshops on inventory management and coffee buying, so you can engage more effectively with your coffee-buying department.
  • Lectures on a variety of topics, including grinding, profile roasting, the SCAA Flavor Wheel, roasted coffee safety, coffee and health, cross-industry calibration, and more!
  • Opportunities to meet your peers in social settings! Trust me, the “How do YOU calibrate your moisture meter?” conversation goes much more smoothly at the cocktail reception than in the convention hall.
  • Need to host a calibration session amongst your vendors, suppliers, or both? The Cupping Exchange is for you! Every year, The Event provides a fully-equipped cupping facility that is up to SCAA standards, which will allow you to host a cupping for any size group. And no clean-up! (After all, you wash enough cups back at your own lab, don’t you?)

In addition, most QC professionals find it quite valuable to wander the trade show floor. Industry lab equipment is often on display, and the manufacturer’s representatives are standing there, happy to answer questions about the machine. You can get a hands-on demo of the latest technology, and get all the info you need to get that nifty new colorimeter into next year’s budget!

The return on investment for a QC professional attending The Event is huge. Networking, opportunities to learn, to contribute to the discussion, and to be a part of moving our industry forward will be everywhere. Don’t miss it!

Additional Info: Everything you need to know about the Cupping Exchange can be found at scaaevent.org/cuppingexchange


robRob Stephen is a senior trader for InterAmerican Coffee in Hopedale, MA. He is a past president of SCAA and a past president and board member of Coffee Kids, a non-profit organization that works to improve the lives and livelihoods of coffee-growing families. 2014 will be Rob’s sixteenth year as an SCAA volunteer.