For coffee businesses, it’s important to have a skilled head roaster in charge to take care of the day-to-day running of the roastery. In most cases, a head roaster is responsible for everything from tailoring roast profiles and training staff, to managing inventories and facilitating cupping sessions.
However, hiring the ideal head roaster can be tricky, not to mention time-consuming. The right person needs not only to have good knowledge of coffee roasting and managing a roastery, but also to have an attitude and values that align with those of the company.
To find out more about hiring a head roaster, I spoke with 2019 World Cup Taster Champion and founder of Sumo Coffee Roasters, Daniel Horbat.
See also: How To Create An Efficient Roastery
What Are The Responsibilities Of A Head Roaster?
In a roastery, the head roaster is one of the most important members of staff. Typically working in collaboration with the head of coffee, they are responsible for the smooth day-to-day running of the roastery, including consistency and high-quality assurance across every roast batch.
At smaller roasteries, head roasters tend to take on more responsibility than at larger commercial roasteries, where roles are often divided among more staff. However, responsibilities generally involve roasting, cupping, green coffee handling, quality control testing, and staff management.
Outside the roastery, head roasters may be required to attend events, run classes, and network with other industry professionals.
Daniel Horbat founded Sumo Coffee Roasters in Dublin, Ireland after winning both the Irish and World Cup Taster Championships in 2019. He tells me that the responsibilities of a roaster stretch beyond roasting.
“Beside the main job of roasting, the head roaster is usually involved in every step of production, from purchasing coffee and quality control to packaging and customer service.
“For me, a typical day at the roastery starts with checking and printing out orders, preparing and weighing the right amount of the green coffee, and getting myself organised to begin roasting.”
In roasteries where the menus are regularly rotated, the head roaster may work with the head of coffee to decide which single origins and blends are included in the line of offerings.
What Skills Are Required To Become A Head Roaster?
Although it’s possible to jump straight into roasting, the majority of head roasters tend to start their careers in service roles, before working their way up to the position of roaster over time.
Spending time working as a barista or café assistant will not only give you time to familiarise yourself with various coffee products, but also provide you with the opportunity to learn what customers want.
As a head roaster, you’ll spend most of your time in the roastery, which means you’ll have little interaction with the people who buy your coffee. However, if you’ve worked in customer-facing positions prior to becoming a head roaster, you’ll have a better idea of what happens once the coffee leaves the roastery.
For Daniel, a good head roaster must have a highly refined taste for different coffees and origins. He explains that understanding different flavour and roast profiles will help improve an overall knowledge of roasting.
“I think that sensory skills are very important,” Daniel says. “With the right mentor you might learn to roast in no time. But if you don’t have the taste buds for the job, it might be quite difficult.”
Other essential skills include being well-organised, personable, and decisive. Often head roasters will need to oversee several tasks at once, which means everything needs to be properly managed ahead of time.
In a recent post on Craft Beverage Jobs, the three most common routes to becoming a full-time coffee roaster were outlined: self teaching, working as an apprentice, and joining a coffee roasting programme.
What To Look For In An Employee
Finding a head roaster with the right coffee roasting expertise is essential – but it’s not just about experience. They need to have a personality and approach to work that fits in with your company culture, otherwise it could lead to problems further down the line.
Daniel tells me the qualities he looks out for when searching for someone to join his team.
“I wouldn’t necessarily be prioritising someone with experience because I think, with the right training, this is something that can be learnt in time,” he says. “Instead, I’d be looking for someone with patience and good attention to detail. While very rewarding, roasting all day long can also be challenging. Therefore, the head roaster needs to be able to concentrate for several hours without getting distracted.”
Mistakes are common when roasting coffee, particularly when the roaster isn’t paying close attention to what’s happening inside the drum. This can lead to defects in the coffee and may result in entire batches being thrown away, which will have an impact on profits.
Avoiding situations like this relies on good teamwork and communication between employees. A head roaster who prefers to tuck themself away and focus on roasting alone is unlikely to make a good long-term member of staff.
“I’d also look for someone who could provide excellent customer service,” Daniel explains. “It’s important to maintain strong relationships with your wholesalers who will want to get to know the person behind the coffee. For this, you need passion, which is probably the most important characteristic of all.”
For coffee businesses, it can be exceedingly difficult to find a head roaster. Not only does the person need to have expert knowledge of coffee roasting and managing production lines, they also need a personality that fits in with your company and its values.
At MTPak Coffee we work with a range of specialty coffee roasters from around the world, including Europe, Australia, North America, and the Middle East. These roasters understand not only what goes into creating a great cup of coffee, but also what coffee consumers want.
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