The Roast – Christopher Willis

Christopher Willis is in charge of roasting for NZSCA member Bay Espresso Organic Coffee Co based in Hawkes Bay. He roasts about 500kg a week on a 5kg roaster to supply their six Bay Espresso cafes and many outside accounts. He is born and bred in Hawkes Bay and has a degree in Chemistry from the University of Canterbury.
His background is in brewing beer, then winemaking and has only worked in the coffee industry for the last two years.
Outside of coffee Christopher is still involved with brewing. He spends the weekends brewing on his 50l brewery where he can make craft beer from scratch for friends and family.
He is also fortunate to have the opportunity to head to Brooklyn, NY later this year to work as a winemaker in an urban winery for 5 weeks during vintage.
Christopher went to the Melbourne International Coffee Expo earlier this year which he says was a great experience, “the whole industry in one place, very eye opening and beneficial!”
Find out more about Christopher right here:
What is your earliest coffee related experience?
I remember while living in South Dakota, USA when I was young going to the local diners with my parents. I always loved the smell of the coffee filter constantly dripping away, and the waitresses pouring giant, neverending mugs to customers.
When/Why did you first get working in coffee?
While working for a local brewpub, part of my job was to roast enough coffee to supply the pub/cafe on a homemade gas BBQ roaster. Had to learn quickly and this was the beginning of the coffee world opening up to me.
What led you to becoming a roaster?
I have always had an interest in coffee and its art of production. After returning from a two-year O.E in the U.S I got the opportunity to roast for a great local company who made superb coffee. I found that roasting was something I loved to do and I haven’t looked back since.
What do you roast on?
I roast on a Probat L5 at the moment. We have it running very efficiently as we roast 20+ batches a day. We have a 12KG Probat on its way from Germany as we speak so looking forward to the upsize!
Apart from your roaster, whats your favourite tool you use in your role?
This would have to be my Ipod and stereo system. It keeps the roastery and roastery staff in tune.
What do you find most rewarding about roasting?
Perfecting a new blend and tasting the coffee from one of our cafes. It makes it all worth while.
Talk us through a typical work day.
I clean and fire-up the roaster first thing. We roast all day. Get the daily orders out by 11am and fit in a cupping in the afternoon. Repeat.
What are your roles outside of roasting?
Roasting keeps me busy. We have a small roastery so I have a range of responsibilities in the general running of the roastery. All orders and dispatch, packaging, labelling, customer support, staff education. Whatever needs to be done.
Have you visited origin?
I have never visited origin. I would definitely like to and will hopefully get the chance at some stage. Ethiopia and Peru stand out to me as origins I would love to visit.
Any Fire Stories?
No fires in the roaster yet(touch wood) but did ruin a vacuum cleaner while cleaning the chaff out of the roaster. I must have sucked up an ember and the vacuum burst into flames and there was smoke everywhere! The vacuum was the only casualty.