The head coffee roaster, green coffee buyer and warehouse manager for Seattle-based Caffe Ladro spills the beans about his job.

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Dismas Smith

What do you do? I am the head coffee roaster, green coffee buyer and warehouse manager for [Seattle-based] Caffe Ladro.

How did you get started in the field? My passion for coffee developed during college while hanging out in coffee shops. After working in my chosen field as a youth worker, I was driving home one day and asked myself, “What do I really want to do?” The answer: I want to own my own coffee shop. I went home and told my wife, and she said, much to my surprise, “OK.” Within a year I had a job as a barista, then manager and trainer, before a six-month apprenticeship roasting with Tim McCormack.

What’s a typical day like? I start off the day with an espresso in one of our stores or our warehouse tasting room. Then, our roasting team brews a Chemex, during which we’ll discuss the roast schedule and plan out the day. The day can include overseeing coffee cuppings, sample-roasting coffees I am thinking of buying, and ordering any coffee that we need to roast for our stores and wholesale customers.

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After meeting, we prep for the cuppings and look at the roast schedule to create coffee loads. On average, it takes an hour or two to build each day’s schedule. As the green coffee purchaser, my day also includes ordering green coffee and samples of potential new coffee, writing coffee descriptions and managing the green/roasted coffee inventory.

The second half of the day, if I’m not the roaster for the day, I assist in packaging coffee going to our stores and wholesale clients. Somewhere in there is an afternoon espresso.

What surprises people about what you do? It consistently surprises people how much work goes into creating a great cup of coffee before it even reaches the store. Great coffee is a very hands-on product. On the roasting side, it starts with measuring out the green coffee and requires a ton of heavy lifting, as the roasters I’m training can attest! The largest batch we roast is 70 pounds of green coffee, and it comes out as 58 pounds roasted coffee, give or take a pound. A batch of coffee only takes about 11.5 to 15 minutes to roast, depending on how dark the roast profile is, which can affect the final weight.

What’s the best part of the job? The best part of being a roaster is being involved in a large and diverse coffee community, both locally and globally. That’s why I started working in coffee. Through this job, I now have friends around the world. I enjoy the challenge of purchasing great coffee and bringing out its intrinsic flavors through the roasting process. It also brings me great satisfaction knowing the coffee that we roast here is an important part of so many people’s day.

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