The Roasters Guild: Building a Community at the SCAA Expo

12493541_10153797486533150_6856202172072494401_oBy Timothy J. Castle

Embarking upon SCAA’s Annual Expo is always an amazing, adrenalin-filled experience for me. I feel like I’m about to get on a roller coaster! The opening receptions and meetings allow me to appreciate how much we’ve grown as an industry, and how much enthusiasm, energy, and commitment an ever-increasing number of people want to give to this specialty coffee business of ours. We’re lucky to be able to participate in something that is at once so individual, and so communally directed as Expo. You get the sense of watching a huge, dynamic city from the top of a skyscraper as you walk through the hall and meeting rooms, but the comparison fails in one critical aspect: the city’s drive is generic. Expo is focused on one thing: a better cup of coffee.

A metaphor invoking an anthill, a beehive, or even a swarm may sound unflattering, but watching this convention get underway requires a description of the (very directed, purposeful) hyperactivity. There is just no way to spend three days at this thing and not meet more people than you can remember (even though you’ll want to!), or to learn more and be more inspired than you would have thought possible. There is also no way to leave this thing without being exhausted and overwhelmed, even if it is all in a good way.

Being here makes me more grateful when I see friends, be they customers, suppliers, competitors, or just friends that I haven’t figured out a way to work with yet. If it weren’t for an underlying sense of community, the hustle and bustle of Expo really would fry what remains of my mental circuitry after the convention is over.

The Roasters Guild, in my case, has helped me stay grounded and focused at our annual Expo. Membership and participation in the Roasters Guild has helped me better frame what I am doing here, by helping me learn more about the craft that makes raw coffee into a great cup. It has also helped me understand all the different paths one can take to that same goal.

I like to think that I’ve made a lot of friends in the process, and, at the same time, I feel a responsibility to our community as a whole. I hope I take myself less seriously, while at the same time I take what we do more so—our success depends on each of us doing a great job. When I roast a sample in my office, I think of the retreats I’ve been to, the competitions I’ve watched, and the work I’ve seen my colleagues and friends do—and it makes me want to take each sample roast a little more seriously. It may sound cheesy, but I feel that I owe that to everyone I work with. (But, no worries, I can still screw up a roast!)

In attending our Expo and participating in my Guild, I’ve watched as we’ve grown collectively more confident as an industry, and how each of us has individually developed in our areas of endeavor. This is especially true watching Roasters Guild members understand their craft in an increasingly scientific way. 30 years ago, there was some sense that we were all a little lucky to get into this great industry, and we needed to be careful not to let anyone figure out that we didn’t belong. There is more confidence in the air now, as I’ve watched younger guys and gals take the classes and participate in the competitions that the Roasters Guild offers. They’re a more confident and secure generation of coffee professionals. But, let’s not forget, those of us in the older cohort didn’t do too bad—we did come up with the Guilds, after all!

For 30+ years, Tim Castle has sold green coffee and has been writing about coffee and tea. Castle co-authored The Great Coffee Book (Ten Speed Press, 1999) and wrote The Perfect Cup, (Persues Books, 1991). In 2003 Castle Received the SCAA’s Distinguished Author Award and was the Association’s President in 1991.