Learning curves with Roastress Coops

Coffee roasting is an art form, a skill, science, and to Anne Cooper, known as “Roastress Coops”, a craft and industry that needs more decisive training.

Anne Cooper first learnt how to roast on a 60-kilogram Petroncini machine doing high volume commercial roasting. She would follow the same structured roast curve over and over again, never straying from the set recipe. But over time, the one word Anne wanted to explore further, was “why”. Why did I do that? Why does the roast taste the way it does? Why is it right or wrong? 

After years doing production roasting in Brisbane and then in New York, along with regular travel to Brazil to consult and teach roasting, Anne landed back in Melbourne. After some time as head roaster at reputable roasting companies, she recognised a demand from Australian roasters for good roasting education and training. That’s when she thought, “why not put yourself out there and start your own roasting course and consulting service? Why not draw on and offer the vast range of connections, experiences and skills I’ve built after more than 20 years (at the time) in the coffee industry?” 

As such, Equilibrium Master Roasters (EQMR) was born in 2015 to give up-and-coming and established roasters an opportunity to better understand the many “whys” in coffee roasting.

“We often get swept up in the dreamy, romantic pictures of roasting, but there’s so much more those pictures don’t convey. I wanted to be the person that guides roasters and gives them the right understanding of what coffee roasting is all about,” says Anne, also a certified Arabica Q Grader and official Cropster Ambassador.

“It’s important I teach roasters the ‘reality of roasting’– to know their green [coffee], know their machine, and know their flavours and profiles. Once they connect with that, everything else falls into place.”

Anne hosts roasting classes and conducts onsite and online training and consulting.

Post course and consultation, roasters can also join the exclusive EQMR Networking Group where they can continue to learn from and support their EQMR roasting buddies.

With so much subjective information about roasting and techniques out there, Anne says it’s harder than ever for emerging roasters to know what’s right and what’s not. 

“The barrier to entry into roasting is quite low. Besides the Specialty Coffee Association pathways and industry experience, it’s really hard for people to access good, reliable information on coffee roasting. There’s no apprenticeship program. Anyone can buy a roaster, invest in equipment, and try to teach themselves how to roast,” Anne says. “It’s too easy to jump on the internet and go down a rabbit hole of information that causes doubt and indecisiveness. That’s why I want to help people break down the barriers to learning the right information about the wonderful craft of coffee roasting.”

At the EQMR roasting course, students at all levels of ability learn about roasting on Probat equipment. They discover how to manage the equipment, build a roast profile, and understand industry-driven taste profiles and preferences for commercial and specialty-grade coffees. 

In the roasting course, especially during Victoria’s COVID-19 lockdown, Anne has welcomed a lot of students from other industries who have turned their attention to coffee roasting. For some, it’s a new hobby, and for others, a new business venture. 

“I encourage beginners to come along, learn, and see if they like the world of coffee roasting. It’s my job to give them the right perspective of roasting, which includes lots of calculations and decision making. There’s more to roasting than just pushing a button and letting the equipment do the work and turning beans brown. It’s about empowering them to be decisive and using my experience to help them know how and why,” Anne says. 

For more experienced roasters, Anne’s roasting course is about validation. She says most established roasters want to know if they’re on the right track. Many are self-taught or have been taught by someone else who was also self-taught, with information and skills passed on that they begin to question and try to understand ‘why’, especially when things aren’t working as intended.  

“Roast preference comes down to personal preference. It’s subjective. So, if I have a roaster who wants to roast dark, I work with them to achieve a really good dark roast. Other established roasters may have a specific palate preference yet they’re not connecting with consumer taste preferences. And some simply want to improve their skill level, so everyone’s needs and reasons for attending the course is different,” Anne says. 

“Most importantly, I help make roasters realise they are in the business of flavour. As roasters, we are creating something to be tasted, which is culturally and regionally subjective, and that’s where the fun starts.”

Anne says the roasting process itself is actually pretty quick to learn, but learning about green beans, all the varieties and how to adjust for their unique properties is what takes time. 

“We are in an era of huge experimentation where origins that were traditionally processing a certain way are now shaking things up with crazy new methods of processing. Roasting equipment and software is also constantly evolving. There is always something to learn because as coffee styles change and technology evolves, we need to adapt, and roasters need to know how. And that’s where I come in,” she says.

Above all else, Anne says it’s her experience that remains her driving weapon. She has “truckloads of experience” from her production roasting days, 25 years of coffee industry experience at many roles and levels, exposure to many roasting scenarios and equipment, and knows how to bring a realistic business perspective to roasting. 

“It’s not about tooting my own horn, but people put their trust in me. My role as a coach and mentor is about reassuring roasters with proven results. If they roast with the best, they will learn from the best,” she says.

Ocean Grind in Torquay, Victoria, was Anne’s first consulting client, where she assisted the roasters to refine their skills on a five kilogram Has Garanti roaster. Five years down the track and still a client, Anne says it’s extremely rewarding to see the roaster’s progression to an S15 Loring, and the business “kicking goals”.

“I feel really blessed that people find me, mostly through word of mouth. It’s that trust from the roasters who engage in my services that I really value,” she says. 

Pre-COVID-19 restrictions, private onsite consultations were a popular option for roasters. It allowed Anne to work with them individually, troubleshooting in their own environment using their green beans, and their equipment.

“They’d see instant results from what was bothering them,” Anne says.

“Taste is always king. It’s immediate proof and if roasters can see and taste the difference themselves, then that’s the best example of learning. It’s about proving results appropriately and professionally.”

For anyone who attends Anne’s roasting course in-person, the information taught can also be easily adapted and translated across to the individual’s own roasting machine.

Another advantage of the roasting course is that there is only two participants and the opportunity for more hands-on time on the roaster. Attendees also walk away feeling they’ve had as many of their questions and concerns addressed as possible. 

“The biggest thing my students take away is strength in the decision-making process. I can give roasters steps on a piece of paper, but they need to be able to analyse, interpret and understand the decisions behind what they did on the roaster along with the results in the cup,” Anne says. 

“It’s important roasters of today know there’s someone they can trust and reach out to. There’s no judgement, and they won’t be shut down for not knowing something. Engagement is simply about understanding what roasters want to achieve, showing them how, and empowering them with results that focus on answering ‘the whys’.”  

For more information, visit www.eqmr.com.au

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