Sunday, 11 March 2012

Coffee Education (3)

This is a quick update, mainly because I've had several conversations with, and messages from people who read my original post on this subject and are interested in greater access to the SCAE Coffee Diploma (CDS) training courses outside the London/Southern England area.

Quick disclaimer: I'm not trying to put any pressure on anyone with this post, or set any expectations. It's just an update so anyone interested knows that things haven't gone cold.

Back in December I contacted Annemarie Tiemes, the SCAE Education Coordinator, regarding my confusion as to how to further my coffee education on a formal basis ... e.g. the Brewmaster course, the CDS etc. She helpfully gave me the names and contact details of four certified trainers.  I followed up by contacting one of them, John Thompson of, who turned out to be quite an amazing guy. Not only friendly, but also the author and instructor of several of the CDS modules. In addition, he is based in Scotland, and is interested in supporting my aim to get a Scotland/Northern England CDS programme going. I couldn't be happier - having someone like John giving the thumbs up is a real boost, and makes me think that maybe we can get this thing off the ground.  He obviously cannot promise anything, but is speaking to people behind the scenes to see if anything can be done.

So in parallel with this, I've continued to lobby the SCAE (via Annemarie) and SCAEUK (via Lynsey Harley, in her recent appointment as the UK National Coordinator, and who I'm sure is incredibly busy right now). I sent them both an email 12 days ago to try to kick off some serious discussion, having previously chatted informally about the situation.
"Paul Stack is running a programme in Ireland over Feb-May ( I'd like to investigate creating just such a programme in Scotland this year.  A classroom-based programme seems the best way to make efficient use of the cost of trainers, so that the courses would be affordable for attendees. SCAE-UK members could attend at a discounted rate, which would help promote greater membership in this region.  It would also provide an easy to follow calander of events that would lead up to students gaining the Diploma. This is not to mention the political kudos from the SCAE-UK's open support for a UK event that isn't focused around London and Southern England."

Annemarie responded swiftly :) I don't like to copy/paste private conversations, so I hope Annemarie doesn't mind my doing so on this occasion.
"Dear Mike
SCAE is very positive towards getting CDS courses to Scotland.
I did discuss it yesterday with Lynsey and John.
They came up with some ideas about possible locations.
You saw Lynsey today (says in your email) and may have heard and talked some more about it.
I'll see John next week again and will speak with him again.
In the mean time keep me posted on the progress.
I will try to call you next week.
Kind regards"

This is great news.  I actually then met Annemarie last week in London at the SCAA Instructor Development Program training day being hosted by Square Mile Coffee Roasters, where she reiterated the SCAE's interest. Nothing happens quickly, of course, and I realise that the SCAE is run on a voluntary basis. This makes it necessary to be patient with the timescales of progress. Annemarie reminded me that the SCAE has come a long way in the past few years, but has still not reached full maturity and that things will look very different five years from now.

I accept that wholeheartedly. It causes me some concerns too though, as I'm not in a position to wait five years and non-London regions need more accessible education right now. Hopefully though (based on her email above) we won't have to wait so long for a CDS programme to happen... perhaps in late 2012, with a following wind?

I am gathering names, to build up a network, here in Scotland and Northern England, so that if such a programme were proposed by the SCAE/SCAEUK then we would already have several attendees lined up. I have some already. Scotland-based micro-roasters, baristas, and business owners. Whether their interest will convert into actually paying to attend the CDS training courses probably depends to a degree on how affordable they are. However, my view is that we should not just be aiming to produce qualified graduates of the Coffee Diploma in Scotland and the North.  Some of those graduates should aim to eventually become the next generation of certified instructors, to help prevent the coffee education system from stalling. In that respect, the cost of the course can be deemed less, because it is an investment that will reap returns over the coming years, both for the individuals involved and for coffee lovers across the entire region.

If you're interested let me know :)

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

VST Refractometer

Just threw this together for the folks on
A few of my own comments:
1. Should say "Brew Water Weight", not "Beverage Weight", although you can plan a brew based on either.
2. There are lots of uses for this device. Here I'm only showing one of the ways I currently use it, having bought it only recently.
3. If anyone has any suggestions for improving my measuring technique, or any other (polite!) suggestions, please feel free to comment.
4. I got this in the UK from, which saved me importing it from the US.
5. Yes, I am in pyjamas! This is Scotland in Winter!!


Sunday, 4 March 2012

Coffee Education Follow-Up

I have mixed feelings about my last post.

On the one hand I want to defend it because it was a genuine outpouring of frustration and feedback from someone seeking to learn. It was not directed at anyone, but I probably also hoped it might reach those who are involved in providing learning opportunities. It would be wrong to hide those feelings.

On the other hand the post has, through resulting discussion, suggested to me that the SCAE is still young, and that maybe I'm expecting too much, too soon. That is what I've been told by some of those involved in the SCAE, as well as by some on coffee forums. I also know that the SCAE and SCAE-UK are administered primarily by volunteers.  Those volunteers... the existing ones, at least... some of them... seem to work very hard. This makes me feel guilty for my comments.

I'm going to leave it at that and delete the other three quarters of what I've written.  Things are not right though.