How to get your foot in the door to become a commercial roaster?

I know what everyone is thinking..... great, another barista kid who "wants to be a roaster" but seriously, what advice can you guys give me on how to start down this path and try to make a career in specialty coffee. I'm a barista by trade and an absolute geek, , but I unfortunately work for a specialty coffee retailer, (we use Toby's estate) not directly for the roaster. I imagine that if I worked directly for a roaster I could volunteer and do a lot of free work and training in the warehouse and eventually work my way to roasting, but has anyone gotten into it by any other means? Is being a production roaster in the coffee world a nearly impossible dream in this day and age of coffee? any help, advice, stories, lessons and knowledge will be greatly appreciated! thanks everyone!

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If you really want to be a roaster, you should already be roasting at home. Whether you are or are not at this time speaks volumes.

Your idea is fine, except nobody wants somebody for free. Either you are worth hiring or not. Target a few places, or maybe one place, that you like and be straight with them that your goal is to work for their company as a roaster and you will work whatever path you need to to make that happen. 

Or you can find an investor, buy a roaster, log hundreds of hours and then open your own roasterie.

Thanks John! I do the whole Sweet Maria's thing here at home, but my experience is limited to a popcorn popper and my trusty stove. I have created some interesting roast profiles but find it hard to be consistent with anything. I would feel a little foolish if I was to apply for a roasting position with this "experience". Do you think I'd have a better opportunity to roast if I worked in the warehouse of a coffee roaster, or as a barista? Starting my own roasterie would be the ultimate dream, but I'm not quite ready for that bridge.

Thanks again !

It's your attitude about roasting and your desire to do it, even on less than desirable equipment, that makes it a good selling point. Roasting assistant, roasting apprentice... you never know what's available unless you ask.

It depends on the structure of the company in question. Wherever you are closest to the ear and eye of the roaster.

I'm with John. Find yourself a company you like or would like to emulate and go work for them. Let them know you want to be a roaster and beg, plead and bribe your way into working there. Learn the business of coffee roasting before you ever decide to open your own place. You may decide that it's not for you.

Thanks Jay! sound advice from everyone.
P.S. I was excited to see your response because I'm a big fan of the portafilter podcast. It hasn't been the same without you!
Hi Joshua, I was in a similar situation of wanting to scale up from home to the big(ger) times. I started selling home roasts to friends (Behmor) and was able to work all over the industry (growing, roasting, barista, manager). Recently I completed a Kickstarter and bought a SF-6 from the SanFran folks. I'd be happy to share more experiences--but jay and John have the right idea. All must be in service of the bean. Do or do not. Enjoy the roasty journey!

How to get your foot in the door to become a commercial roaster?

Constantly knock nay beat on doors until one opens.

As this thread was started in January, I wonder how Joshua has fared?


Looks like his last activity of any kind on BX was in March so who knows...

John P said:

As this thread was started in January, I wonder how Joshua has fared?


Hey guys so here's an update....

After trying to get my foot in the door at a lot of the big name places, (I.e. Intelli, Stumptown, Blue Bottle etc, I ended up hooking up with a much smaller Manhattan based coffee company (Birch Coffee). I'm currently managing there newest cafe in the upper east side of Manhattan, (they have 4 total). The great thing about Birch is they have just signed the lease on there own roasting space, and that should be up and running by next year, at which point I may have the opportunity to apprentice the owner in a roasting position. The owner is a fairly new roaster himself, however, he's good friends with Tracy Allen of the SCAA so he's learning a lot from him. The bad news is that I'm fairly new to the company, and while I believe my passion and desire to roast outweighs most of our employees, everybody seems to want to work in the roast house. The other bad news is (not to pat my own back or anything) but I've done such a knock up job running this new location that they want to keep me in the shop rather than using me in the roast house. I will have to continue to take the advice of everyone and keep begging and pleading, as well as offering lots of unpaid time just trying to be around the roast house, etc.

My other idea, and I would love to hear your guys opinion on this, is to try to start up a little online/ farmers market roasting company myself. I've seen on kickstarter little roasting companies who use a HOT TOP 1/2 lb roaster yet they are able to raise $30000 on kickstarter for a new roaster. I've never used the hot top but I find it hard to believe you can start a company with one. I was trying to do it a little bigger than that, maybe save up and get a probatino or an Ambex or something. What are your thoughts on that?????

sorry for the 2nd novel, and for my lack of presence on Barista Exchange. I have a shitty computer/phone and can't always stay up to date on BX. Thanks for the continued support and knowledge though, I'm always happy to see in my inbox replies to this post!

You find it hard to believe and therefore it is not possible. 

Whatever the mind can conceive and believe it can achieve. 7 years ago I used 2 HotTops for over 3 months to supply my new coffeehouse location's grinders and retail bag shelf while waiting for my USRC to be built and delivered... (Both modified for computer profile control so running 2 laptops.) Indeed I was roasting every waking moment not at the coffeehouse, every single day routinely running them non-stop from the moment I got home until I went to bed late at night and for over 12 hour stretches Sundays. I did what I needed to do. I looked for and found solutions, no excuses given or accepted. 

Do or do not, there is no try. It is not just a saying from Yoda in Star Wars.

Thats very inspiring. I honestly didn't think the HotTop was physically capable of such a workload. From your experience working with it in such a manner, would you recommend the HotTop to a beginning roaster, or looking back now, would you have done things differently?

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