Career Spotlight: What I Do As Pita’s Coffee Roaster

I appreciate a good cup of coffee. I’m not a connoisseur – I didn’t fuss over my brewing method , but the fact that I have a “method” says something. The pursuit of the perfect cup of coffee is becoming more common outside the coffee shop, with people carefully choosing beans and brewing techniques to make their morning coffee aromatic. That’s okay for a kitchen counter, but how do you bring the same dedication to a large scale operation?

In 1966, Alfred Peet opened his first coffee shop at the corner of Vine and Walnut in Berkeley, California. It was one of the first stores of this type to focus on roasting and quality coffee; Pete immigrated to San Francisco in 1955 from Holland and was said to have been disappointed with American coffee at the time. It was an influential start that set a precedent for all subsequent coffee chains.

Now that they are celebrating their 50th birthday, how can they manage growth beyond quality? To learn a little about the process, we spoke to Roastmaster Peet, Doug Welch. Doug works with 11 roasters to monitor the quality of their coffee from source to packaging.

What is a typical day in the life of Peet’s Roastmaster?

Every day begins with a tasting of the best coffees from around the world. As a Roastmaster, I lead the coffee quality team and sample 10 to 20 coffee samples every morning. In the cup compartment, we make five separate cups from any intended sample to assess consistency, flavor and pleasure factors. Coffee is inherently complex with over 1000 aromas and the possibilities are huge, so it’s interesting to know that there is always a chance to try something new every day.

What prompted you to choose your career path? What education and experience was required?

The very first day I was hired at Pete’s original store on Vine Street 23 years ago, I decided I wanted to make coffee my career. One of the first things they did was take the new baristas to the tasting room at the back of the store to appreciate the coffee and the craft. There is no formal education to prepare for this career; I think many in the industry would agree that coffee chooses us, not the other way around. Being a gourmet helps because you appreciate the complexity of flavors and tend to be good at tasting. But reaching the Roastmaster level depends not so much on talent as on experience and focus.

What are you doing besides what most people see or know about?

Not many people think about what’s in their cup other than coffee. At Peet’s Coffee, we take great care of the craft – we roast by hand with real artisans who use all five senses to determine when each batch has reached the perfect roast. The rest are fried on computers. It takes years to learn and master the art of frying. Therefore, we have only 11 people trained in this.

Peet’s has also mastered the art of blending coffee for rich, deep and complex flavors. Basically, we treat coffee bean blending the way a master winemaker mixes wine. Plus, there’s freshness, which is key, although most people don’t think about it. The way beans are roasted is critical to their taste, and coffee tastes best immediately after roasting. Freshness contributes to flavor, and our Roast-to-Order System is designed to brew coffee quickly so you can drink it for days and sometimes hours after roasting. For example, we make group orders every night and set a production schedule for the next day. We do not fry on stock. We prepare meals based on the orders of consumers, customers and stores from the previous day. In addition, we have strict 90-day grain freshness standards for grocery, mass-market and club products. To meet this standard, we have our entire Peet’s Fresh Delivery team stocking only the freshest beans in the store every week. The rest can be 365 days or more. Finally, we’ll send you the freshest coffee money can buy, right to your doorstep. Order today, we bake, grind, pack and ship tomorrow.

What do ordinary consumers underestimate / overestimate in your business?

As a loan shark, I choose coffee and recommend new blends, but the roaster is perhaps the most important job at Peet’s. Our roasters are essential to create everything people love about fresh coffee: flavor, complexity, sweetness, balance, acidity, texture, mouthfeel, and more. Our dedicated team of 11 roasters has an average of 16 years of experience, because a roaster requires skill, knowledge and experience in the craft.

What are the average hours of operation for a Roastmaster? Typical 9-5 thing or not?

The team usually arrives at around 7 a.m. and tries between 8 and 10 a.m. because we think our senses are most acute at this hour. We try to avoid tasting in the afternoon, especially in the afternoon when we are having trouble with the taste. You must be extremely focused and not distracted from others to fully understand the intricacies of coffee making. Coffee roasters, on the other hand, have a more unusual schedule. Some of them arrive at 2 a.m. to fulfill coffee orders that were placed overnight and must be shipped the same day – the coffee never leaves the factory more than a day after it has been roasted.

What is the most enjoyable part of the job?

Intrigue and delight associated with the fact that you are lucky enough to taste one of the best coffees in the world. Come every day without even knowing what you will try, but always hope for the perfect cup. I was very lucky.

What’s the worst part of a job and how do you deal with it?

I find myself very fortunate to be able to focus on the craft and my passion for coffee, although the trial and error method of developing blends can be challenging. However, any failure provides knowledge that we can apply to refine a new and different mix.

How will someone with an interest in craft coffee “advance” in this area? What could they do besides working at the local coffee shop?

Keep tasting and learn to trust your taste. Humans are visual animals, and we trust our eyesight – we aren’t naturally trained to rely on our gustatory senses, but you need it for this career. Try new brewing techniques, explore flavors, make samples tricky or complex, and stick to high standards. We are biased, so try to avoid preconceived notions. The coffee will surely surprise you.

What advice would you give to those who want to become your profession?

The real laboratory is behind the coffee counter. Some of our roasters have served as baristas for at least three to four years or more, and have shown great interest in taste and curiosity about tasting coffee. It takes fortitude to be a roaster because the job requires long hours on your feet, and it’s also important to have thick skin and confidence because everything you do is criticized by your peers. Peet’s Coffee has a single veto rule. If some of us are not satisfied with the taste, coffee will never make it into the bag.


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