If you’re looking for Stephen Gray, check the Grindhouse, where he can be seen meticulously roasting a batch of beans. Or maybe head to the kitchen where his daily quality controlling of our coffee is taking place. If it’s Wednesday morning, he might even be leading our internal coffee class; teaching us the key to cupping. Today, however, he’s sitting down and telling us what it takes to be a Quality Controller & Production Roaster at Pact…
How did you become a roaster?
I’ve always loved coffee, and when I moved to the UK from Australia I heard about Pact from a friend and I immediately applied for a role here. I started working in the Grindhouse as a fulfilment operative, grinding, weighing and packing the coffee to be sent out. After a while, I was given a few opportunities to work with the previous quality control manager and the coffee team, and eventually was offered a full-time role as a production and quality control (QC) assistant. With experience and some training from our Head Roaster and Head of Coffee, I took on more responsibility, and became a fully fledged roaster and quality controller!
How long have you been at Pact?
I’ve worked at Pact for two years, and I have been a roaster/quality controller for just over one.
What does a day at Pact look like for you?
Every day, we start off by cupping the previous day’s batches to check for roast consistency. It’s an important job, and it’s always great to begin your day tasting fantastic coffee! After this, we’ll plan the day’s roasting; we always roast for the next day, so that customers receive our coffee that is as fresh as possible. From here, depending on the day or week, my jobs will differ. Tuesday is roaster maintenance day; Wednesday one of us will be running the weekly internal coffee class. Besides this, with a dual role of production roaster & quality controller, I might be doing the production roasting for the day, but if we’ve received samples of green coffee, I’m responsible for the management and QC testing of these. Otherwise, I could be doing the weekly grinder calibration check, where I run a sample of finely ground coffee from each of them through an espresso machine, measuring the difference in flow rate, and adjusting the burrs where necessary. I also handle most of the new product testing for the commercial team – checking that a new brew device can provide the right extraction, or developing a recipe for it to do so.
What measures do you put in place to ensure we send out the highest quality coffee?
For every coffee we buy, I run a full suite of physical quality tests at various stages – these tests include measuring moisture, density, size and distribution, as well as defect counts (literally counting beans), to ensure coffees meet our quality standards. Once a coffee is in production, we cup (taste-test) every batch we roast, to ensure customers are receiving consistently top-notch coffee. I’m also responsible for maintaining consistency of grind between our three production grinders (which between them push out up to 700kg of coffee a day), so I spend a lot of time analysing relative particle distribution, standard deviation and coefficient of variation to keep them calibrated – exciting stuff!
What is your least favourite part of the job?
Defect counts. It’s a really important quality check, but the testing process is literally counting beans. It’s very time-consuming, and it’s also a lot of pressure as large purchase contracts can hinge on the number of defects from particular categories, so I have to have a lot of confidence in my knowledge of the specific types of defects.
What has been the highlight of your time at Pact?
Earlier this year, we received a bunch of pre-shipment samples from Honduras for testing and sample roasting. This was to coincide with a visit from the agronomist who worked with those farms, and who, according to our Head of Coffee, was “probably the second best cupper in the world”. Normally, after I run the physical tests on the samples, our Head Roaster would handle the sample roasting, but as he was away, it was up to me to roast all 32 samples of this amazing quality coffee; for the second best cupper in the world. This was really high pressure, but I just put everything I had into it. At the end of the cupping, the agronomist turned to us and asked who had roasted the coffees, and I cautiously said that it was me. He said, “You’re a good roaster – keep up the good work.” Working at Pact has provided me with the opportunity to learn an exciting and unique skill, continuously push myself, meet incredible people, and work with really high-quality coffee!
What is your current favourite coffee and brew method?
This morning I had the leftover of a Rwandan coffee sample we received last week which had a really sweet peaches and cream flavour; so that might be an exciting one coming down the pipeline! But from what we have currently in production, I’m really enjoying El Sapote – from our Micro-Lot Plan – you can’t pass up a good washed Honduran coffee. In terms of brew method, my go-to is the Clever Dripper for ease of use, or V60 for a lighter, cleaner brew. I’ve also just bought a new adjustable burner for my syphon, so I’m going to be doing some experimenting at the weekend with that!