SCAE Brewmaster Certification

In the world of Speciality Coffee filter coffee isn’t very sexy. One criticism leveled at the SCAE is that it seems obsessed with espresso and yet espresso only makes up a small percentage of how all coffee is consumed in member countries so they have started a Brewmasters program.

Anette and I traveled up for a two day course held at Bunn’s UK office to take part. The first day is primarily lectures – Mick Wheeler gave a seed to cup, Christian Klatt from Mahlkoenig talked about grinding, and Shane Pender from Marco talked about grind size analysis. I’ve attended a fair few seed to cup lectures but there were a fair few interesting nuggets in there I hadn’t heard before and also another view point on the economics of farming. Equallly in a world with very little information on grinding coffee it is always nice to be able to ask difficult questions.

TDS Meter

Then it was onto the brewing lectures given jointly by Paul Stack of Marco and Mike Khan of Bunn. This was similar to the lecture given on filter brewing at the ETCC in Moscow, except in greater depth. Beyond better understand of the kit the focus was around the brewing control chart.

Brewing Control Chart

I am not going to explain it in great detail but essential filter brewing is a balance of extraction and strength – the amount of solubles taken from the ground coffee vs their concentration in the final brew. Extraction is hard to measure easily so with the chart you can test the strength and then, if you know your weight of coffee used, work back to the strength. The SCAE gold cup standard says that you should extract between 18-22% of the ground coffee, and that the final strength is between 1.2-1.45%. Interestingly there are other standards – SCAA, SCAJ or NCA and they all agree on the extraction but not on the strenth. Norwegians like a much stronger brew than the Americans – but everyone likes it properly brewed.

This all makes more sense on the course, I assure you. The first day ended with a written exam covering all the lectures.

TDS meter and control chart

The second day had a more practical focus. First Anette gave a cupping workshop, which is always a lot of fun and it was interesting to see how widely people’s taste preferences differ (I still can’t deal with the Malabar!). After this testing protocols were explained because the long view of this course is that we Brewmasters (I do love the title) are now able to certify a coffee shops filter coffee as achieving an SCAE Gold Cup standard. This is then verified by the SCAE by sending them a sample of brew water and brewed coffee along with details of the weight used to brew. (If you don’t send the water then they can’t subtract the solubles already in it, to give you an accurate reading of the coffee concentration.)

We all had to brew Gold Cup standard coffee, document it and measure the brew time and pH in order to pass the course. Which we all thankfully did – we were the only people not from a filter machine company, the rest were from Bunn, Marco, Animo and Bravilor.

Attendees at the Brew Master Course
I know the debate about what Speciality Coffee is will continue, but is nice to be able to at least measure good practise and standards and though good brewing doesn’t turn bad coffee into good coffee, it is at least tasting as good as it can. It is a great course, and I would recommend it to anyone – I guess it mostly has roasters in mind, or other coffee suppliers as they would be the ones verifying accounts. If you are curious then get in touch with the SCAE.  If you are in the UK I think they will be running this course at Hotelympia in February and if you are interested then drop Steve Penk and e-mail (sgp at laspaziale dot co dot uk)

6 Comments

  1. Nice write up.

    Who’s the fat bloke in the middle?

    FYI Maartin was there from Animo too.

    Mike

  2. This seems a very interesting topic yet I get bogged down a bit in the explanation of how one is to actually measure the strength of the final brew. I am sure the course went into a lot of detail and that it would probably be too much for this post. Would be interesting though to know a wee bit more if possible.

    Cheers, Hans

  3. I looked up that TDS meter. It is only supposed to be used up to 50C. Was the coffee cooled before measurement? Also, if I understand correctly, this type of meter only measures dissolved ionic solids. There would be some variable fraction of coffee solids that are not ionic that would not be taken into account, although perhaps the relative measurements between extractions is all that is really of concern. It seems if one wanted to get a really accurate measurement of extraction, the best way would be to have two equal weights of grounds. Extract (brew) one, then subject both to an oven drying process. The extra weight loss by the extracted grounds would tell you how much solids, including volatile ones that would be lost if the brewed coffee were dried, were extracted If the non-extracted grounds had significant weight loss, that would suggest that there are volatiles whose exact extraction rate would be more difficult to determine. Once again, though, perhaps it is only the relative measurement that is of concern, but in that case reporting of units is misleading.

  4. David,

    There are indeed better ways to measure both brew strength and extraction percentage. We do speak about this on the course. The hand held TDS meter is cheap, portable and accurate enough for use in the field.
    The samples are cooled to 20 degrees C as the TDS meters (though temperature compensated) work best at room temperature.
    The system also involves having samples checked in a lab using the drying method.

    Mike

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