by Megan Rindt
Last week, coffee roasters from all around the world traveled to Buford, Georgia to meet at Lake Lanier for the 19th Annual Coffee Roasters Guild Retreat. The air was heavy but that didn’t stop us from roasting coffee! The Retreat has been held many times at the Legacy Lodge on Lanier Islands, a resort nestled among the inlets and outlets of the vacation hot spot of Lake Lanier. Lanier is the largest lake in Georgia, having nearly 700 miles of shoreline spread over 38,000 acres. It may look familiar to anyone who watches the series Ozark on Netflix as it is one of the main filming locations.
Before you even travel to the event, you are placed on a team, and are introduced to your team members via email. This is when the magic begins. You and your teammates must come up with a name for your team and designate a team captain. This is also when you are told what this year’s theme is, and alas, this year’s theme was the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Some great names were thought up – Lunar Chaff, Team Dark Side of the Moon, A Roasted Development, Chaff Busters, Lunar TerRoR, Smells Like Bean Spirit (my favorite as a proper Seattleite), Moonrakers, Apollo’s Crack, Pulped Natural Fiction, Dark Side of the Spoon, Close Encounters of the Third Crack, and last but not least, my team, the Cryogenic Catimors. Awful name, I know. I can say that because I came up with it (NO one else threw out any ideas, obviously).
Each year CRG Retreat has a unique roasting challenge that you tackle with your team. This year’s challenge was to create two blends. First blend: Far Side of the Moon. This blend is to be roasted (or charred?) to Agtron tile range 35-25. These were to be caramelized without reaching the point of carbonization. Which, I think most of the participants would agree, most of us completely failed. To be fair, I have read that most people consider 35 as very dark, 30 as extremely dark, and anything below 30 as ‘charcoal.’
Second blend: Near Side of the Moon. This was to be light and bright with balanced acidity that will dance on the palette but not curdle the cream. Agtron range 85-75. How to do this without underdevelopment certainly is a challenge! I will say that at the final judging, these coffees were palatable. I cannot say the same for the Far Side of the Moon roasts!
The coffees we could use included Brazil South Minas Yellow Bourbon Pulped Natural, Ethiopia Guji Washed, Nicaragua Nueva Segovia Natural, Congo Kivu Bourbon Washed, Guatemala Huehuetenango Washed and a Colombia Huila Washed. We were given 3 kg of each coffee and had to turn in 1 kg of each blend by Saturday afternoon, right before the judging. Each blend had to have at least 2 of the coffees with 1 component no less than 20%. Everyone was welcome to judge the coffees using the Cropster Cup app Saturday night.
The main event at CRG Retreat is the roasting tent. The tent includes different roasters for anyone to try. They included Probat, San Franciscan, Mill City, Proaster, Loring, Diedrich, Giesen, Ikawa, Roaster Dynamics, Ceroffee, and Neuhaus Neotec. Teams had designated times to play around in the roasting tent to create their blends.
A fun addition this year to the challenge was coffee bag art. Teams were to design the bags any way they deemed fit. You could use the classic pen and markers, or a put together a collage, or use any kind of computer software. The designs were hung up and judged by attendees with Cropster Cup.
Another addition to this year’s Retreat was cupping sessions with importers. We had 30 minutes to cup as many coffees as we liked. This was a great way for attendees (especially those new to roasting) to cup a wide range of different origins all in one weekend. I included coffees from El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Papua New Guinea during Mercanta’s cupping time slots.
Throughout the event, there’s an assortment of roasting classes offered that you can choose from. The instructors are people who have a plethora of experience in roasting. It’s a great event to come meet these people as they are more than happy to share their experience and knowledge with attendees. Classes include Roasting Styles and Exploration, Heat Transfer and the Roasting Machine, The Science Behind the Flavor Wheel, Comprehensive Sample Roasting, Deconstructing the SCA Cupping Form and Distinguishing Defects in the Cup: Green vs. Roast.
I attended Deconstructing the SCA Cupping Form as I think it’s always great to review. I will admit that I often go straight to scoring a coffee in my head without paying proper individual attention to each element on the cupping form – Fragrance/Aroma of the dry and wet, Flavor, Acidity, Body, Uniformity, Clean Cup/Sweetness per cup, Overall and Defects (as Taints or Faults). The class included a lecture and tasting examples of the same coffee with different levels of body and different acidities. We ended the class with a cupping and taking the time to score each section on the SCA cupping form.
A few other classes I attended were The Exploration of the Art & Chemistry of Coffee Roasting, and Distinguishing Defects in the Cup: Green vs. Roast. Both were excellent classes. The Art & Chemistry of Roasting class probably could have been four hours’ worth of lecture, but who wants to be lectured for four hours? Instead, Karl Schmidt of Diedrich and Jim Brady put together a powerpoint and a booklet and went through a plentitude of information in just 90 minutes. The booklet will have a prominent place in our coffee lab! The Distinguishing Defects in the Cup: Green vs Roast class explained defects caused by roast and defects that are straight from the green bean. We first cupped roast defects: tipped, scorched, baked and underdeveloped. We cupped these next to a unique stand out coffee, a Colombia Geisha Natural. This made the roast defects very easy to taste. Cupping notes included dry pasta, bland, biscuit, flat. Whereas the ‘control’ cup (roasted properly) included notes of dark cherry, pomegranate, complex and layered. And then, to show that the roaster is not always to blame, we cupped the green defects. This included shell, immature, broken wet mill, broken dry mill, slight insect and severe insect damage. This was fun. I found that the broken beans from the dry mill were worse than the broken beans from the wet mill, it made for a very uneven roast leaving a burnt taste. To be completely honest, severe insect damage was not nearly as bad as I expected. Perhaps this was because as I cupped, I was looking at the label ‘severe insect damage’ and expected to taste something akin to a dirty gym sock… but instead, I found musty and salty notes. I would argue that these are slightly better tasting notes than cupping dirty gym sock coffee.
Friday night was the Marshmallow Maillard Roasting Challenge, another competition that is highly anticipated. Who doesn’t like a friendly competition around a bonfire complete with deliciously roasted ‘mallows? Saturday night was a dinner fit for a wedding reception overlooking Lake Lanier, complete with DJ. After dinner and the announcement of the winners (and maybe a little dancing for some), many attendees didn’t want to say goodbye to their newfound coffee friends and spent the rest of the night in the huge saltwater pool at the Lodge.
All in all, it was an excellent event attended by excellent people. We are greatly looking forward to next year’s Retreat in our home state in Skamania, Washington!