Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been asking readers to put their coffee-related questions to 2018 Finland Cup Tasters Champion and Head of Production at The Gentlemen Baristas, Roosa Jalonen.
As an MTPak Brand Ambassador, Roosa provides regular insight for our Education Centre on everything from cupping and roasting, to branding and marketing.
Here, she answers all your questions, including what her day-to-day entails, how she prepares for cup tasters competitions, and how she learned about the different flavour notes of coffee.
Who am I?
I’m Roosa Jalonen, I’m based in London, and I work as Head of Production for The Gentlemen Baristas. I first got into coffee almost 20 years ago, but I didn’t really think too much about it until I started working at a café as a barista during my studies in Helsinki.
In my second week working at the café, I was shown a video about the different processing methods and what specialty coffee really meant. It was then that I started questioning the coffee I’d been drinking up until that point.
But the pivotal moment was when I did an exchange year in London. I was working alongside my studies at Nude Coffee and had just started doing cuppings. I realised I could actually taste a lot of flavours and people who had been in the industry for much longer were like, “You’re good at this!”
From there, I learned how to roast and I always said I wanted to be a head roaster one day. I usually tell people I’ve been in the industry for 10 years – when you’re working as a barista, you’re part of the industry, right?
What are your tips for someone who’s just getting into roasting?
Hmm, that’s a good question. Well, it depends on what level you’re aiming at, but I would say the most important thing for anyone getting into roasting is to read as much as you can. Read books, blogs, forums – anything you can find that will be useful. Scott Rao has a great book called The Coffee Roaster’s Companion, which I would recommend buying. He also publishes his top tips on his Instagram account, so it’s worth following him on there.
Otherwise, my main advice is to always ask questions, no matter how stupid you think they are. This is what I did – the first time I worked in a cafe attached to a roastery, I would constantly be pestering the roasting team. Even the best roasters don’t know everything, there’s always new things to learn.
As Head of Production, what does your job entail on a day-to-day basis?
It varies, everyday is different. Generally it’s responding to a lot of emails, dealing with suppliers, that sort of thing. I don’t roast much anymore, but I’m in charge of making sure the production team is okay and everything is running smoothly. I do a lot of quality control too and I oversee various different projects.
For example, at the moment we’re looking at redesigning The Gentlemen Barista packaging and deciding on whether we want recyclable or compostable materials. We’re also looking at the hat and what it means to people.
How do you prepare for cup tasters championships?
In preparation for the world champions I was just tasting, tasting, tasting. I tasted so much coffee. Using sensory skills is already a huge part of my life (I do a lot of wine tastings too) but I was really pushing myself to recognise where different coffees were from.
At a higher level, like a world championship, I would say the focus is less about your palate and more about your head. You need to train your head for stressful situations, because once you’re up on the stage and there’s a time limit, you can feel pretty stressed.
I remember the year I competed at the World Cup Tasters Championship, I watched Jinwoo Yama Kim perform his championship-winning routine so calmly. So I would say train your head and train your palate.
How long did it take to learn about the different flavour notes of coffee?
I’ve always been interested in flavour. The first time I did cuppings at Nude Espresso in London, I could pinpoint a lot of the different flavours, like blueberry and chocolate.
Ultimately, I think it’s about your memory and remembering things that you taste. I have a lot of flavour memories from my childhood, which makes it easier to make the connections between certain flavour notes in coffee.
It’s also about developing the vocabulary, because it can often be hard to put into words what you’re tasting. The way my brain works means that I usually see colours when I taste something and then I’ll run through the different things connected to that colour. For example, if I taste a coffee and I see the colour purple, I’ll run through everything I can think of that’s purple. It’s just how my brain works. But I’ve heard other people taste in shapes.
What are the biggest coffee trends in Europe right now?
I’ve noticed that a lot of roasteries are now talking about traceability. It’s almost like this new word, everyone is asking about the traceability of different coffees. This is obviously alongside things like transparency and sustainability as well. But having coffee that’s traceable is really important right now.
The other thing that’s really trendy at the moment is this idea of experimental processing, such as carbonic maceration and anaerobic fermentation. More and more origins are doing it, and more customers are demanding to know how their coffee has been fermented. Whenever I come across competition coffees, the talk is always about fermentation and how it enhances certain characteristics.
What makes a great cup of coffee?
Personally, I think sweetness is the most important factor in a good cup of coffee. But it’s not just the characteristics that matter: if someone has made it for you and it’s obvious they’ve put in a lot of effort, then to me that’s a good cup of coffee.
Would you like to put a question to our experts? Next up is 2018 Hellenic Barista Champion and Samba Coffee Roasters’ Head of Quality Control, Michalis Katsiavos.
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