Our head roaster Mike has clocked and impressive ten years at Kaffa this month!
Ten years in any business these days is an achievement, and in a business as young as Kaffa even more so. There’s no denying that he has been there through it all, and has had a huge contribution to what we are today. Not only in terms of quality and sustainability of the product, but building the brand and company itself.
Ask anyone at Kaffa and they will tell you they could listen to Mike talk about coffee for hours and hours. His knowledge and passion for the subject is apparent in everything he does around here, and he is generous with it, always teaching others and spreading the word of the latest and greatest in sustainable coffee biz. Indeed, he is a man of many stories about coffee, but today we are here to hear parts of his own story. Take the mic, Mike!
How did you end up working at Kaffa?
I was pretty new to Finland, about 6 months in and I’d been (unsuccessfully) sending out resumes and looking for jobs. So I came into Kaffa to drink coffee and the baristas, Lauri, Niki and Kalle, really impressed me with their passion for coffee. So I sent an email to Svante and asked if he needed help. He told me to come around after new years, I did, and we worked it out!
What's your favourite memory from the past 10 years?
There are quite a few. You also lose a lot in ten years! But when you’re reminded of them, there’s a lot.
BUT, definitely the origin trips, like the first time I went to Kenya, getting there and getting to the cupping labs and sort of really getting an idea of how coffee works. Also, the first time I went to Colombia and really got into the weeds about exactly how coffee is grown and made. And it’s just such an impressive country in general. A more recent one, about two years ago now, would be getting a new roasting machine that really allows us to do whatever we want with coffee. That was and is pretty exciting!
What's a typical day in your work like?Usually I show up here, get sorted out and brew a coffee, one at least. Then I just kind of find out the situation, chek the roast list, wait for the machine to warm up and have some conversations about what we have and don’t have and what we need. Then it’s getting into roasting first. When we wrap that up I take care of the green coffee stuff, see that we have enough coffee in our warehouse or on the way, talk to some producers and fix profiles. After that I do some webshop orders and make sure everything gets shipped out. At the end of the day you kind of move coffee around and on fridays we do a lot of cupping. So basically: come in, get a coffee, roast, move and arrange stuff, ship packages and quality control.
What's your favourite thing about being a roaster?
Coffee roasting is pretty exciting stuff, but it does take a bit of patience. One of my favourite things is when you get a new coffee. You receive a sample way earlier, but when the actual shipment comes and you know it’s the real stuff. You make a profile and the first roast,a dn you might have a good idea about what it’s going to be like, but you’re also a little nervous, it’s like an adventure.
Then, when you know you’re going to like the coffee and you have the profile down, you roast it and leave it to rest in sealed bags for ten days. Once you open that bag, smell it and start brewing it, you can tell it’s going to be good but you don’t know HOW good. Until you make that first cup and taste it. That’s super exciting.
Getting feedback from people who like our coffee, that’s also pretty nice. Here we can say “we like this and we don’t like that” and we split hairs a lot, tasting it all the time and asking questions, holding a high standard for coffee and being tough about that. So it’s always nice to get feedback. We might have been roasting fifteen batches of a classic blend in a week so we might not really think about it at that point but when you get feedback that someone really liked it, it’s really cool. It’s a success for the roasters part.
Then there’s communicating with producers, working on different harvests and especially when you can connect those unique flavours of a coffee to something the specific producer is doing.
When you meet and speak to the producer, you get the full picture. You have an idea about the coffee, but then you ask them and see his processes, then you connect “ok this tastes like this, because of that”. You find these little tricks in every origin that nobody else is doing, usually out of necessity.
What has changed in coffee and/or roasting in the last ten years?
Nowadays, as a consumer, roaster or a coffee lover your access to things is so different. When I first started we would get small lots and it would be crazy, like we’d have one 100g bag of something cool. If you wanted special coffees, you had to get it from one place. To be honest we didn’t really have an idea in terms of sourcing, what to do. We were just ringing people up like “hey do you have any REALLY good goffee?” (of course, everyone says they do)
Now the access is just so much better. However much information you want or detail you want to get into, you can. You can really figure out what coffees you like.Ten years ago it was a lot harder to find good coffee, now you can even find excellent coffee.
The other thing is transparency and data in the roasting and growing. This is because people have made a push, customers have said: “hey we want to know this information”, and now in every country you have exporters and producers and green coffee companies that will get that information for you. So you can always ensure that you can get “fair” coffee, or coffee that’s bought in an ethical way. It tastes good, and it is good, and that’s important.
Finally, with all the software for roasting available (we use Cropster) you just know so much more and are able to fine tune coffees to a great level because we have so much information from the trackers and sensors. When I first started roasting there was a lot of luck in there, and we did well because we tried hard and if we screwed something up we fixed it but nowadays you just know, “OK if i do this, it will come out like that”. And then you get to fine tune.
If you're not drinking coffee, what's your drink of choice?
Most often it’s going to be wine. Which one I like, that’s sort of an ever changing landscape, but right now maybe a good Cab Franc that’s well processed, minerally and exciting. Then everything else, the pinks, roses, oranges, whites, naturals, anything if it’s done well. If we’re going all class and really on holiday mode, then I’m going for Old Fashioneds. Easy one, but you can’t really get much better than a quality Old Fashioned!
You're an expert in what you do. What would you say to someone who wants to become an established expert in their own field?
For me, there are two things that are equally important.. Firstly, You need to want to be an expert, meaning, you have to love what you do and you have to want to be better at it. Otherwise, there’s just too much effort. Personally, I just won’t learn it if I don't care about it and see the excitement in doing it. So that’s first and foremost, you need to want to do it, and want to put the work in.
The other thing is to never think that you are an expert. The moment you start thinking: “Oh I can do this I’m an expert” well, it’s not going to work. The longer you go the more you realize, even if you think you have something figured out, you still need to want to improve it, every single time. That’s definitely the thing with coffee roasting because coffee is so complex. Everything from brewing, roasting, cupping, all that stuff is really fine details, so there are no shortcuts.
When you are passionate about something, you will become an expert in it, because you want to learn and do it. I’m lucky that I found a job that keeps me passionate.
Passion is important for anything you want to do, to do it well. If there’s passion, you will do well, but it is going to take time, and you are never going to think: “Wow, I’m an expert”. Because you can always be better.