The photo for this article was provided by the interviewee.
I first learned about Full Court Press by reading Coffee: A Modern Field Guide, a pocket handbook written by the founder of Full Court Press. First a cafe, Full Court Press has expanded into roasting their beans, with a commitment to transparency that I have not seen from any other roaster to-date. I sent their team an email with some questions about their roastery and transparency policies. Over email, I had an interesting chat with Christopher, the roastery operations manager. Our interview is below.
For my readers, could you tell me a bit about yourself and your role at Full Court Press?
Hi! I’m Christopher Earles, I’m the Roastery Operations Manager.
Most of my day to day work is production roasting. Outside of that, I keep track of our green coffee stock levels, drawing down coffee when needed and purchasing new coffees to replace fully consumed lots. This process starts by requesting samples of green coffee from various importers that fit what we’re looking for; because we try to keep something for everyone on the offer list, this means trying to find like-for-like replacements while keeping it interesting.
What is the first thing you do when you enter the roastery in the morning?
I clean out our filtration system. We have a six-stage filtration system that the roaster sits atop. Maintaining this is super important, as it keeps the air leaving the roaster clean and cool. We’re based in a listed building in the centre of Bristol, so we have to be very mindful of what we’re putting into the air,. With this filtration system, it’s nothing but a lovely smell within the roastery.
What tasks take up most of your time on a work day?
Production roasting takes up a large portion of the day, as does bagging and fulfilling orders, about a 60/40 split.
How do you develop roast profiles for your beans? Can you walk me through the process a little bit.
Our roaster functions a little differently to most other roasters: it uses convective, conductive and radiative heat, rather than just convective, conductive or a mixture of the two. The green coffee dries out very efficiently and quickly when using our radiative heat source (Halogen); this requires approaching the profiles with that in mind.
The easiest way to think of Convection, Conduction and Radiation is to think of an oven. Convection is a fluid process. Ovens use hot air (usually a fan) to heat things more efficiently. Conduction is a static process where the oven is heated to a set temperature through it’s elements with nothing pushing this heat around. Radiation is similar to a microwave using electromagnetic waves. Our roaster, the Stronghold s7, uses hot air to heat the green coffee convectively, heats the drum walls to supply conductive heat and then uses Halogen lamps to provide that radiative heat.
I usually take a moisture and density reading of our coffees before profile roasting as a base point. If the coffee is denser, it’ll have more conductive mass and require less energy – especially the radiative heat – and the opposite will be the case for those less dense coffees. Process also heavily influences the profile, so I have a few master profiles for Washed, Natural and Semi-Washed (Honey, Pulped Natural) coffees and use those as a baseline.
On your website, you display a clear commitment to transparency, backed up by the information you provide on the source of your beans. Could you elaborate on why this level of transparency is important to you as a roastery?
Transparency is important for a few reasons: firstly, it holds us accountable for making sure that the importers we work with are paying a fair price for the farmer’s produce; secondly, it allows our consumers to see the costs involved with producing coffee on our side, which ultimately affects the price they pay for their coffee; and thirdly, it’s important to normalize this level of transparency, hoping that if we as smaller roasters do so, then bigger roasters will follow suit, and consumers will be able to make fully informed decisions on the coffee they purchase.
There’s a large focus on transparency on the producing end but next to nothing after that.
We will share our P&L (profit and loss statement) for the roastery once we’re through our first year of operations and will continue to share them yearly (the cafe side of FCP has been doing this for years).
You mention on your transparency web page that you have your own method of evaluating coffees. Can you explain this a bit more? How did you develop your system?
We developed our system by thinking about what we looked for in a coffee at the cafe. The score weights on the sheet favour Balance and Drinkability – for example, a coffee that is prominently floral and tasty in its own right might be the kind of coffee you only want to drink one mug of; that would score lower on drinkability than a coffee that’s just a big mug of sweet caramel and soft fruit notes that you could easily drink lots of back-to-back.
We score a coffee on Acidity, Sweetness, Finish, Body, Balance, Clarity, Complexity and Drinkability on a scale of 1-10, with Balance and Drinkability weighted with a 2x Modifier. We tend to buy coffees that score a 70+ on our scale, while anything between 60-69 gets a second look.
In essence, it allows those 80-85-point coffees on the Speciality Coffee Association (SCA) scale to stand up against those scored at 85+. The speciality range is broad and we often see roasters and cafes only buy coffees 86 and up, when there’s some absolutely incredible coffees sitting under 85. If we were to have taken SCA Scores for coffees we may have never looked at our Brazil or Guatemala which likely hovered around the 83.5-84.5 mark. Both coffees sit perfectly in our offerlist, were delicious and the 60kg of Brazil we got sold out extremely quickly.
Using the sheet we developed and not requesting the SCA score from importers has led to us buying right across the spectrum and it’s been wonderful to show such a large variety of coffees.
What skills do you think are essential to have if you want to be a coffee roaster?
Patience, a good attention span is crucial as is being very organised, flexibility in roles as you aren’t always going to be roasting (a lot of the job is sticking labels to bags and filling them), and a relatively decent level of fitness, as there’s a lot of manual labour. I’d wholly recommend to anyone that thinks they want to be a roaster to shadow a roaster for a day if they’re able to, once the pandemic is over. It’s important to see what the work environment is like, as it really isn’t for everyone and having worked at both large volume roasters and small, it’s a different kind of job at each end.
What is your favourite snack to have with a cup of coffee?
A Harts Bakery cinnamon bun.
What coffee(s) are you drinking at the moment?
El Fenix Honey, one of our limited releases, and an Ecuadorian Espresso from Redemption Roasters.
What roaster do you use at Full Court Press to roast your beans?
A Stronghold S7 Pro.
You can find out more about Full Court Press on their Instagram @fcpcoffee or on their website at www.fcp.coffee.