The Roast – Rene Macauley

Rene Macauley is NZ Roaster Guild Vice Chair, member and originator of this segment, The Roast where we profile our fantastic members. Find out more about him right here
What is your earliest coffee related experience?
Instant coffee, milo, sugar and cold milk would be my first coffee related experience. Later in High School, Georgie Pie had bottomless cup filter which fueled many extended lunch breaks. Olive on Cuba was my first flat white- I remember the day.
When / why did you first get working in coffee?
I had been a regular visiter to Peoples Coffee roastery, partly for the red wine, bread and blue cheese lunches, not to mention my interest in the roasting and coffee process. 2007 one day over lunch after numerous coffee conversations Matt asked me if I was interested in roasting for a job. Soon after that I was roasting on a 5kg Probat while Matt visited Central America on a Harvest trip.
What led you to becoming a roaster?
The roasting machine was instant love for me, the mix of old machinery operation, sensory exploration as part of the role, the necessity of repeated / ongoing development… all thrills me. After roasting for years, the fun still continues but with a closer connection to brewing, with all the roast profile information contrasted with brewing parameters, then back to the roaster to try for better.
What do you roast on, anything unique about your set up?
We have 3 Probats: 1950’s UG22, an 8 year old LG5, and a 100g open front electric sample roaster. I roast singles to order every day so the 5kg- its great. I have installed digital probes on all 3, and gas flow meters which I use for charting my roasts. On the 22kg I have also added a drive wheel to the airflow baffle so I can control it form roasting position rather than running round machine to change air flow, which I do during during most roasts. We also have a de-stoner.
Apart from your roasting machine (in its factory floor form), what’s your favorite “tool” you use in your role?
This might sound a bit sad, but my fav tool is my compressor, it is genius for cleaning. Both inside roasting machines, ducting, cooling tray, and around the corners of the roastery.
I guess roasting chart templates for each origin and weight are also a fav tool, its just pen and paper but its what I need- and continue to develop to produce good roasts.
What do you find most rewarding about roasting?
Learning the different aspects of coffee and what effects “the cup”, you can focus in on tech stuff- brew parameters, roasting profiles, agronomy, processing, then pull back and look at big picture, the history of coffee, how politics and communities have effected the coffee which now grows, climate change, supply and demand, the New York C… There are so many levels of interest in coffee.
Talk us through a typical work day.
Start up roasters, weigh of yesterdays coffee, flat white, emails blogs, roasting till lunch on both machines, blending cleaning, cupping, working with staff on education, reading writing, fixing stuff….
What are your roles outside of roasting?
Harvest trips, green bean buying, roaster maintenance, roastery floor operations, blend development, roast profile development, brewing parameter development, general handyman….
I run regular events called The Peoples Sessions, which are sometimes cupping, barista comps, harvest trip presentation, brewing parameter tasting etc.
I also do education with our staff covering all sorts of things which relate to progressing our collective understanding of coffee geekery and the wider coffee industry.
Have you visited Origin?
2009 I visited co-ops in Mexico, Guatemala, and NIcaragua, and 2011 Sumatra. Both trips were amazing, they progressed my understanding of coffee quality, trade and the lives of farmers immensely. There are so many things effecting the production of coffee, and “in-depth” harvest trips are the only way to really gain insights into what is really happening, and how it really happens.
Harvest trips are: the taste of coffee cherries, mill machinery, long days travelling- interviewing- learning- photographing and late pm chatting over beer about the day, local bus trips, delegate meetings, co-op board meetings, cupping, warehouse tours, interviewing, connecting the dots, long days, bad roads, usually no good coffee to drink except the formal cuppings….
Any fire stories?
Once I had heard you could have a fire in your machine- and why, I made sure there are things in place which stop any chance of it happening: cleaning regularly, properly set up equipment with auto gas cut off (ours cuts at 245c), and paying attention to roasts.
Oh but we have had plenty of fires outside on the drive way on friday nights over some beers….