“Once you’ve seen all the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn.”*
10 Notes on the Master Roaster, from small Hotel Room, Bogota, Colombia April 2011
I have just completed a series of two three-day 8 hour-long trainings on roasting to over forty different Colombians in the mountains of the Quindio Province. Before heading back to America, I took up this room in the Hotel Americas to make myself familiar with silence again.
I have had regular excursions in spastic-honking-cabbies across the divide of Bogota to the cupping lab at Virmax, where I have been working though endless scores of samples and making notes with groups of cuppers. I also made it to the Museo de Oro, where I found myself enraptured by the postures of gold encapsulated miniature Shamans sitting with their hands cradling their knees and this being called, much like the Buddhist Lotus, a basket position. But outside of that, the majority of my time in Bogota has been spent in a room reviewing my thoughts at five years as on what it means to be a Master Roaster.
What teaching would I leave behind here at the gates? What note would I nail to the wooden fence post as I left in the evening behind a wall of crickets and a fading screen of darkening blue? What pace would I set the drum machine on as I laid down my broken down card board box, flipped back my Vans cap and set upon my suicide break-dance?
One: Roasting is not an art, nor is it a science. To call it either or both, is akin to calling the heroic symbols posted on the cave walls of the ancients paintings or formulas. To be so naive. Roasting, rather, is the flicker of the soul cast outward. Roasting is love. Without the passion, there is no craft, just production. Mechanical sick production.
Two: To be a master roaster you must constantly be a student of four things: green beans, yourself, brewing practices, and the great machine. You must constantly kneel before these as Surfer goes to the shore at the end of the day and watches the sea. Watching how things change and connecting the roast to these changes. See the parts, but remember that the sum is greater then all the parts put together.
Three: Roasting is like playing a par-three hole of golf. The first swing (or phase of development) is controlled but the strongest in force. You may approach differently, but of the three this has the greatest vigor. The second stroke(phase of development), if on-course, is more controlled with the interest of setting up the final shot. The final shot is gentle and controlled, so to guide the concentration emptied into a single space. A missed shot, requires a soft and gentle return to course.
Four: The master roaster is never a stagnant state. He is always in the process of becoming the master. This process is through the ebb and flow of roasting and cupping. Though repetition, we find expression. Roasting is about DEVELOPMENT. If you are not developing, you are baking or burning. Develop the subtle changing miracle over small time.
Five: The master roaster is a student of the senses. In spare time, you must submit yourself to arts, love-affairs, violent street fights, butcher boards, running marathons, listening to philosophical debates, meditations, strict yogic postures, Gestalt councils….etc.
Six: The Machine will never beat the master Roaster in a kung-fu challenge for best roast of a coffee. The machine follows numbers, coffee is not a number. The master roaster must understand the mechanical numbers, but be a student of the swift and slow winds that run between words, underneath bridges, across empty fields, and power and fear.
Seven: Being great at Roasting coffee happens before roasting coffee, during roasting coffee, and after roasting coffee. There is no beginning and no end. One day you will be able to abandon your timer.
Eight: The cleaner your roaster, the sharper your sword.
Nine: Start with fire. Learn everything their is to know about fire. How it moves. How it lives. How it transfers. How it relates. How it dies. The roaster is the alchemist, the fire is the medium.
Ten: Burn this blog. Everything is false. Listen to yourself as much as you do others. Cultivate a trusting sense of knowing, without having being told. Roasting is telling a story, but it also a way of being, a path that isn’t found by a guide or a leader.
“What was the barn like before it was photographed?” he said.
“What did it look like, how was it different from other barns, how was it similar to other barns? We can’t answer those questions because we have read the signs, seen the people snapping the pictures. We can’t get outside the aura. We’re part of the aura. We’re here, we’re now.”*
*D. Delillo, White Noise 1984