HB + Western High School Barista Certification Program
It’s cloudy and gray on this Friday morning, but the students from Western High school are excited to be at Heine Brothers headquarters. They each doctor up their own cup of coffee; some take theirs black, while others add caramel and milk. After the students are settled in their seats, Alec Risch, the Head Roaster and Director of Coffee, starts talking about the coffee plant.
Coffee trees can look like stout bushes that bare a red fruit. The coffee cherries look berry like, but despite their appearance they taste bitter. There are only two seasons in coffee harvesting: wet and dry. After the constant rain of wet season the plants are triggered to bloom by the beginning of the dry season. The blooms are quite fragrant and smell of honeysuckle. From these blooms we get the cherry, and each cherry contains two coffee beans. These beans are what it is all about!
Generally coffee plants are grown in high altitudes and can be harvested in differing regions. Alec shows a map of all the places we have sourced our coffee from. The students ask questions about the culture and lives of coffee farmers. Since Heine Brothers’ works so closely with the farmers, Alec is able to share lots of pictures and stories from trips to the coffee farms.
Alec then talks about all the steps it takes to process the beans. Beans can be processed using several different methods: washed, wet, semi-washed, honeyed, unwashed, natural, and dry. Each method can drastically change the flavor and essence of the blend. Behind each method that is chosen are the growers who are required to execute it.
Coffee growers are extremely knowledgeable about the type of bean they are looking for. After looking at the photos of our farmers processing the beans, Lakot, one of the students, asked, “So they hand sort every single bean?”. All the students gasped when Alec answered “Yes!”. He told them that along with the hand sorting, each coffee must be tasted by a “Cupper”. That means that the Cupper must taste up to 150 coffees a day.
“All day? So it’s nonstop?”, asks Jamontry.
Alec replies, “Well they slurp it and have a spit cup, but yes they have to taste every coffee”.
Alec then shifts the conversation towards Fair Trade and what exactly that means for both the farmers and our business. He explains that even though small farmers can produce a large amount of coffee that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be able to make a living wage. By being a part of a co-op, we are able to purchase beans in bulk and in turn support these farmers. It is also extremely important that we make our practices sustainable. There are several ways we can implement this: soil fertility, composting, reforestation, carbon capture, R&D or resistant coffee cultivators. We do this so the farmers can thrive and produce a good product, while also taking care of our environment.
We end our day in the training cafe where Joe Dininger, Training Manager, shares a different coffee than the week prior. Today we are trying Congo. The students’ progress is quite impressive; they are now able to identify different flavor notes as well as the acidity and body of the blend.
After this the students are introduced to espresso! Though a single shot might look simple in nature, the process in which it’s assembled is much more nuanced. The students are taught how to properly grind, groom, tamp, and pull each shot. The students are asked to taste good shots comparatively to bad ones. Both shots are “extremely bitter”, according to one student, but are vastly different in taste.
The students learned a lot today, but most importantly they are gaining the building blocks to become a great barista!