I learned how to roast when I moved to Iowa, a rural state in “flyover country” – a place you fly over, not to. Iowa’s pretty much 56,272 square miles of large cornfields arranged in a grid. People are rare; specialty coffee shops are even rarer.
And that makes becoming a third wave roaster particularly difficult. You can’t shadow an established professional, you can’t attend roasting classes, and you can’t pop into a local roastery to ask why your beans are heating up too quickly or too slowly.
Spanish Version: Tostador Rural: ¿Cómo Aprender a Tostar Café por INTERNET?
I’ve made the business case for becoming a roaster in rural America (or any other rural area) before. But this time, I’m going to look at another aspect: how you learn to roast amazing specialty-grade coffee when you’re as far away from a specialty coffee community as can be.
Because while communicating with other coffee professionals may be vital to developing your roasting skills, there’s no reason why it has to be face to face.
Welcome to Iowa. Not a specialty coffee shop in sight. Credit: Carl Wycoff via Flickr
1. Ask Questions on Forums
When you’re in the middle of nowhere, the internet is where you find your equipment, your mentors, and your community.
Luckily for me, I had a friend on the East Coast who runs a website selling green specialty to home roasters. He started me on my journey with a few pounds of green coffee and some tips about roasting in a popcorn popper – and later a bread machine. He was also generous enough to answer my periodic “What’s going on?!” emails.
Discussion forums were also invaluable sources of information for me, as – of course – was Google. With every problem, quirk, or idea you might have about roasting, the chances are high that someone else has had it before you. They’ve likely asked about it online and then had a productive discussion with others that you can benefit from – or even engage in yourself.
Not sure why your coffee looks like this? Ask online. Credit: Michael Allen Smith via Wikipedia
2. Follow Sites & Podcasts
The same friend who kindly answered all my emails also pointed me toward Sweet Maria’s. This website doesn’t just sell exceptional green coffee, brewing kits, and home-roasting supplies – it’s also a wealth of information and guidance for home-roasters. I recently heard a professional roaster say of the founder, Tom Owen, “I wonder if Tom knows that he’s personally responsible for launching thousands of micro-roasteries? He’d probably deny it because he’s so humble, but it’s the truth.”
Another excellent resource is podcasts. I listen to all the episodes of the excellent CoffeeIs.me, hosted by Valerian Hrala. It’s a gold mine of wisdom, and an example of how generous and kind this industry can be. (Not to mention that you can listen to the PDG CEO & Founder, Henry Wilson, being interviewed about social media!)
B. Gumm’s first home roasting setup was created based on online advice.
2. Make Relationships Over Social Media
Here’s some great news for you: social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, are packed with specialty coffee folks!
Since I have a background in web development and have been using social media for years and years, this was easy for me to wade into. But if you’re not a techno nerd like me, yet want to connect with a wide range of people in the specialty coffee world, what do you do? My advice: become a techno nerd. (Sorry.)
At the very least, I recommend gaining familiarity with the main platforms, how they work, what each one is – and isn’t – good for, and then starting to make friends. Buy other specialty roasters’ coffee and start talking on social media about how great it is and why. Post photos on Instagram, tag roasters, and add a bunch of relevant hashtags. Do bag swaps with fellow roasters, if you’ve built up a rapport with them.
And, most importantly, be a “real person” on social media – not a stream of impersonal marketing buzzwords. Show what specialty coffee is all about by supporting and encouraging others.
Social media enables roasters to become a community. Credit: Jason A. Howie via Flickr
I’m only a year into my adventure as a professional specialty micro-roaster in flyover country. But I’ve already connected with other startup micro-roasters from across the world, all of whom are as passionate about coffee as I am. I’ve learned so much about roasting coffee from them, as well as from podcasts, forums, and websites.
If you have the right coffee community, you can gain the skills and knowledge you need to be successful – even if you’re roasting third wave coffee from the cornfields of Iowa.
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Written by B. Gumm and edited by T. Newton.
Perfect Daily Grind