Our Head of Product Nick Mabey has been crowned SCA's UK Roasters Championship 2018 winner!
The event, which took place in Glasgow, saw 14 competitors faced with three challenges - they were evaluated on grading green coffee, developing a roasting profile for that coffee, and on the ultimate cup quality of their final roasted product. Now is a perfect time for us to introduce you to the best roaster in the country:
Tell us about your life pre-coffee. How did you get into the industry?
Before coffee I was, and kind of still am, a jazz drummer. I worked as a barista while I studied Jazz Performance at the New Zealand School of Music and loved it.
My first job in coffee was in a well known café and roastery called L’affare. My friend got a job there in the packing department and I walked in and did a shift on the floor and worked my way up.
So was that when you first discovered roasting?
No, that’s when I first discovered coffee! Roasting was still so foreign for me then, that was back in 2007.
I moved to the UK in 2012 because my band had been offered a residency in a jazz club in Cornwall. I found myself in London playing gigs and joined Volcano Coffee Works in 2013 as an Account Manager and Barista Trainer. In 2015, I co-founded Assembly Coffee and began roasting. Now I'm Head of Product at Volcano, and Head of Quality at Assembly and roast a few times a week.
Who taught you how to roast?
I taught myself - I’d watched people roasting and knew what I wanted so went for it.
What’s your favourite part of the roasting process
That moment when you find a new piece of information that gives you insight into reading the data from the roast read-outs that you haven’t had before.
You hear it, or you talk to someone who is better than you, or more experienced, or you understand a scientific context a bit better - and then you go ‘ah’! A lot of roasting is working out what matters and what you don’t have to care about, and focusing on the bits that you do.
Is coffee roasting an art or a science?
Coffee roasting is a science and that’s absolute. It’s just heat transference - it’s that simple.
I guess I’ve got a reasonably unique way of looking at roasting – I’m not attached to anything emotional about it. A lot of people look at roasting and think they have to do certain things in order to enjoy it, but I look at it as a science and just get it done.
What inspires you and keeps you passionate about coffee?
The supply chain and value chain - there’s still heaps of questions I can't answer about how and why it works like it does.
I’m really into history so I’m interested in how the market was born and why coffee proliferated - there’s no intrinsic value in it really. A lot of people assume that farmers want to grow the coffee, but they don’t, they just have to. That interests me a lot too - the psychology of the consumer and the science of the economy behind it all.
I visit our farmers once or twice a year to buy coffee and also to try and get closer to a solution to the issues in our coffee's supply chain.
One of the solutions is thinking local – even though we’re buying from overseas you can still ‘think local’ in that context and make an impact in particular places. At Volcano and Assembly we're about giving farmers price security - a reason for them to keep growing coffee. Ultimately allowing them to have their own voice and let them have their own goals will open up the market for them. The aim would be to go into a region, help them establish a name for themselves, and back out in three years because there’s heaps of demand for their stuff, and then go and do it again somewhere else.
How did you prepare for the competition?
I didn’t really do any practical preparation because it’s what I think about every day anyway, but it was more of a mental preparation – running over the rules in my head and what I needed to do, and remembering the advice I was given.
What was that advice?
Competitions are about how to utilise the score sheet - what to focus on, and where not to lose points. It’s a mental game – stick to your plan and don’t expect to win.
What was your favourite round?
The roasting itself on the second day. Once you’ve done all the grading and you’ve got all your plans all you can do is jump on the roaster, and at that point it’s enjoyable. It’s like sweet, this is me, and I’m just roasting coffee.