Jess Cole: Production Roaster – by Aaron De Lazzer

Jess breathes the rarefied air of a production roaster. There are probably just a dozen or so of these people in the Lower Mainland-it is an exclusive club. Fewer still that blend the physical chops, decisive palate and the willingness to work Sunday to Sunday that Jess does.

What follows is a glimpse of the complicated inner workings of what makes a Production Coffee roaster tick.

As a production roaster, do you or do you not work like a sled dog?

Sure do!  Roasting like a champ and keeping production flowing smoothly is part of my job.  But I draw the line at being told to “mush.”  Man, I really wish Jason (Production Manager) would stop doing that.

Other than working with Aaron De Lazzer, Director of Coffee at Ethical Bean and all around nice guy, what are some other highlights?

Gosh, Aaron really is a swell fella.  Aside from all the coffee I can drink, which far exceeds the amount any human should reasonably consume, the highlight of my work is that I am continuously learning.  There are always more coffees to taste, more roast profiles to finesse, and more technical aspects of the roaster to learn.

You went to the “Roaster’s Guild Retreat” last summer.  What the heck?

The Roaster’s Guild Retreat is something similar to a World of Warcraft LAN party.  You live and breathe the game on too much caffeine, too little sleep for three days straight, and make a lot of new friends in the process.  It was an awesome educational experience!  We cupped and roasted Guatemalan coffees in teams and got to roast on four different roasters, including a smaller version of the Diedrich roaster I work on every day at Ethical Bean.  Other activities included playing with quality assurance equipment, a roundtable discussion about the future of specialty coffee, eating delicious food, and… drinking.

What words of advice would you give to someone out there who wants to get into the coffee biz?

The old axiom “Do what you love, love what you do” is never more relevant than to coffee.  Coffee (tempestuous lover that it is) requires so much passion, dedication and humility.  I started my journey in cafes, honing my skills and engaging with people as a barista which is an excellent place to start.  Coffee is a communal experience at its core.  It is a lengthy and populated journey from co-op to cup and that journey should be honoured in a dedication to craftsmanship and shared experience.  So talk it up!  Be ready to learn, always re-evaluate what you think you know, and take it to the next level.  And drink a lot of coffee.  If you don’t love it, you’re doing it wrong.

Next steps.  How long can you see yourself lasting physically and mentally in your current position?

Coffee has been my most enduring passion, so I plan to stay in the biz for a long time.  The physicality of production roasting means that I stay pretty fit, so if I stop roasting I might actually have to go to the gym and who wants to do that anyway?  I’d love to move into quality assurance and green coffee buying someday but Aaron gives me the evil eye and kicks me out of his lab when I say that.

Has drinking coffee stunted your growth or has its mind expanding potential made you not even notice?

Oh, I gave up my supermodel dreams a long time ago.  However, I deeply mourn my childhood dream of rescuing little old ladies’ cats from trees and helping children reach the cookies on the top shelf.  So coffee has made me less altruistic.  Now mind expanding!  If it wasn’t for coffee, I never would have finished reading War and Peace.

Summer is coming.  How do you cope working beside a roaster at 450F in the middle of July?

I drink a lot of water.  I mean a lot.  My salty tears are totally dehydrating.

Chefs gather for beers and food after the frenetic, heat soaked car wreck that is service.  Are there any parallels for folks in your profession?

I think a lot of roasters are also foodies.  We live for the ultimate flavour experience and from what I saw at the Roaster’s Guild Retreat last year, we also drink a lot, which brings me to your next question:

Roasters as a fringe group are known for an unquenchable thirst.  Do you have a favourite beer?

Stella Artois (from the bottle like a lady).  But I will bypass any beer for the perfect Bourbon sour.  Shaken.  Never poured over ice.

Tell us about your coffee preferences and bias.  Favourite coffee of the moment and why?

I prefer a medium roast in the morning, a darker roast or espresso after a good meal, and it’s got to be black.  There are few coffees I dislike, but I’d rather not drink a very light roasted coffee all the time because there is sometimes an off-putting woodiness to it.  But speaking of getting out of your comfort zone, I love our Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Peaberry as Exotic.  (Such cute little beans.)  When it’s brewing on the Clover, it gives off a gorgeous flowery aroma and since we’ve started dropping it a bit lighter the acidity has come alive and made it downright juicy.


One Response to Jess Cole: Production Roaster – by Aaron De Lazzer

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