in the hills of Thailand or a barista at a local coffee shop, there are resources available to expand one’s knowledge on a specific sector of the coffee industry or to help open doors to new ones. The training and classes provided range from hands-on training at origin to video courses and materials that one can watch from the comfort of their own home. The prices vary greatly and there are opportunities for help with tuition, if needed, through programs that the schools work with. No matter one’s goals or economic standing, there are many options available.
At Origin Training
One option for education is “at origin” training, where classes are held on-site at plantations and are usually a combination of classroom and hands-on instruction. These classes are generally geared towards the farmers since the classes are conducted at coffee estates, but anyone within the industry can and does benefit from attendance.
Doi Chaang Coffee Academy (doichaangcoffee.com) located in Thailand, which was created by Doi Chaang Fresh Roasted Coffee Company, initially began as a way for Doi Chaang farmers to educate fellow native Akha villagers on growing, harvesting, processing and roasting coffee. Since the establishment of the school, the village has education provisions, running water and electricity. In order to fully understand this academy, the obstacles these people have overcome and what they have to offer, one must learn a little about the village of Doi Chaang.
Traditionally, the Akha hill tribe of Doi Chaang village, which is located in the northern province of Chiang Rai, practiced slash and burn horticulture, moving on once the land was depleted. Eventually, due to increased population and land scarcity, the hill tribes resorted to cultivating opium for survival. This presented many problems for these people who were isolated from Thai society. His Majesty The King began the Royal Project to bring other agriculture to the hill tribes and free the villages from poverty, isolation and opium.
The Akha villagers received Arabica coffee plants and instructions on how to cultivate and process coffee through the Royal Project. The Doi Chaang village was conducive to coffee growing with its fertile soil, high altitudes, cool mists and generous rainfall. Frustrated with coffee dealers who were blending the Doi Chaang coffee beans with inferior ones and underpaying them, the Akha villagers joined together and created their own coffee company. The farmers established themselves as independent coffee growers operating their own processing plants, roasting facilities and storage warehouses all with little money and no outside help. Once established, the Akha villagers created the Doi Chaang Coffee Academy to spread their experience and knowledge.
At first, other farmers in northern Thailand and Myanmar University students were the only ones in attendance at the academy, which can house up to 60 students at one time. Now, students from the University of Chiang Mai, industry professionals and students from North America and Europe all come to learn and experience the success of these rural farmers. Not only did the Akha people teach themselves to successfully run a coffee company, which they own 100% of, without a written language, they now trade to North America through a partnership with a North American company in which they own 50% of and consistently harvest premium coffee on sustainable land.
The academy consists of about 20-30% in-classroom time and the rest is hands-on in-field training on the grounds. The class is free to farmers. Students do pay 500 baht (about $14 U.S.), which includes training, food and living accommodations. If a person would like to attend, but cannot afford to, the services are provided free. Upon completion of the academy, students receive a certificate from a recognized teaching institution.
“Doi Chaang acts as a role model and proves that with unity, determination and dedication you can improve the quality of lives,” said John Darch, chairman of Doi Chaang Coffee Company headquartered in North America. “They are the prime example of what their academy is able to do. With certainty, The Doi Chaang Coffee Company is the perfect example of what they have to offer.”
Another at-origin training facility is The El Recreo School for Technical Training in Coffee Growing of Jinotega (www.elrecreocoffee.com), Nicaragua. The school began as a non-profit organization to share information with those who could not otherwise have access to it. The training follows the industry’s best practices that certification companies such as Rainforest Alliance and Café Practices enforce. “At the annual SCAA conferences, sitting in and learning from so many great talks relating to improving our coffee growing practices, especially in the areas of farming, quality, sustainability and marketing, I developed a great urge to bring all these skills and knowledge to our local coffee growers and teach these practices in a school setting,” explained Leana Machado de Ferrey, director of social development at El Recreo Estate.
Though the school was initially developed to support small to medium-sized coffee farmers, the target audience has been expanded and El Recreo now fully encompasses the whole coffee sector. Their only requirement is to follow their motto, “learning to improve our competitive advantage.”
The curriculum is part interactive lecture and part hands-on field practice, depending on the topic being taught. First, all the stages necessary for productive coffee growing (i.e. nursery, nutrition, organic coffees, managing tissue, shade, weeds and diseases) are covered. The curriculum then moves to all aspects of farm management (planting, managing expenses, sustainability) and closes with the wet milling process.
The program takes place over a seven-month period in weekly Saturday meetings. There are 14 courses offered, each taking four weeks to complete, and upon completion the student receives a certificate from the National Institute of Technology, which assures the person received proper training and can move on to higher-level courses.
Due to the school being a non-profit organization the tuition costs are lower, costing $12 U.S./month or $3 U.S./week. The fee includes lunch, coffee and all course materials necessary to complete the program. El Recreo School also offers scholarships to those who would like to participate in the program but cannot afford to. But, unlike Doi Chaang, El Recreo School does take outside help in order to maintain the facility. “We solicit to large businesses within the coffee industry, such as exporters and agricultural supply companies for sponsorships and for volunteers to offer their specialized skills as teachers or key performers,” said de Ferrey. “Our main sponsor is Exportadora Atlantic of the Ecom Group, which has provided their technicians and the school’s coordinator.”
Both Doi Chaang and El Recreo schools believe that their training is to better the coffee industry and their specific region as a whole and do not see it as helping their competition, but rather generating better practices amongst their fellow coffee farmers. “I don’t see my fellow coffee growers as competition,” said de Ferrey. “We are all on the same boat and if we get in sync with our efforts, Nicaraguan coffee will be recognized as a great coffee, the local economy will improve and overall each participant will benefit.”
Coffee in the Classroom
If at-origin training does not seem like what you are seeking or you are unable to attend the facilities and need something more convenient, there are many other options readily available. Much of the coffee education is provided through classroom training at facilities scattered around the world. These classes can encompass hands-on training, lectures, presentations or all of the above. The sessions are typically held so as not to interfere with a person’s work schedule. Classes can range from a one or two-day course or to a multiple week course that is only held two to three times per week.
The American Barista & Coffee School (coffeeschool.org) located in Portland, Oregon, is one option for a classroom setting. ABC was founded in 2004 and over 400 students from all over the world have graduated from the school.
ABC’s classes are comprised of lectures, demonstrations and hands-on practice with multiple brands and models of equipment. Their training is primarily targeted at those who are looking to get into the retail coffee business or currently own a retail business and are looking to expand or increase sales. Additionally, the school provides an array of classes on subjects like coffee roasting, equipment maintenance and repair, barista competition and latte art training.
The classes are taught by “coffee business professionals who have owned and operated successful retail coffee operations,” said Matt Milletto, the director of ABC. Students receive a diploma upon completion of an ABC course. The cost of the class is approximately $500 per day. The classes are small to “insure a personalized experience,” according to ABC.
The London School of Coffee (www.londonschoolofcoffee.com) of the UK, which was also established in 2004, offers independent training in a wide range of areas within the coffee industry. “We provide training in coffee ‘from bean to cup,’” said Gayle Reed, manager of operations at the London School of Coffee. “We work on the principle that it is critical to the coffee industry, and particularly to the specialty coffee market, that each sector understands the coffee chain right through from the farmer, to the roaster, to the barista and finally to the customer.”
The London School of Coffee provides training in three levels of barista skills (basic, intermediate and advanced), training for baristas who want to enter the competition circuit, cupping, roasting, latte art and barista qualification (VRQ level 2) courses. The courses at the London School of Coffee usually last for one or two days. “We wanted to reach as many people as possible and through experience we realized that if we did longer courses a lot of people could not attend due to work or personal commitments,” said Reed.
The class maximum is six students to ensure adequate personal time with the trainer and the ability to have hands-on experience with the equipment. Prices for classes are £150 per day per course, which includes a light lunch, certificate and course manual. According to Reed, the London School of Coffee is currently looking into programs to assist those who wish to attend the school, but cannot afford to.
Another option for classroom training is located in Trieste, Italy at Demus Lab (www.demuslab.it), which is a spin-off of the Demus Group. “Demus Group is focused on green coffee decaffeination and Demus Lab represents a horizontal diversification in the area of education, consultancy and third parties chemical-physical analysis,” explained Massimiliano Fabian, executive vice president of Demus Lab.
Most of the teachers are professionals within the industry with many years of experience and hold PhDs in “science, technology and economy of the coffee industry” from Trieste University. The courses provide a range in teaching techniques depending on the subject matter being discussed, but “most of them include hands-on training,” said Fabian. The average course taught has about six to eight people in attendance in order to guarantee adequate attention for each student. As with most of the schools’ curriculums, the classes are organized so as not to interfere with people’s work schedules. “We try to keep them within a one or two days time, after which the course finishes, and a certificate of frequency is released,” said Fabian.
Depending on which course one is taking the prices vary, but there are educational funds and associations available that help if an individual cannot afford their services and Demus Lab does actively participate with these programs.
illycafè offers coffee education around the world through Università del Caffè (www.unicaffe.it), their center of education. Their classes are geared toward developing and spreading coffee culture and offering complete theoretical and practical training. They offer education to a wide array of people within the coffee industry from growers to managers and staff of coffee establishments to coffee lovers and connoisseurs. They have branches of the University and programs in Brazil, India, Korea, China, the Netherlands, Egypt, France, Germany, Croatia, England and just this year, the U.S.
This year Università del Caffè will offer a course at the International Culinary Center in New York City (www.InternationalCulinaryCenter.com) titled “Coffee Expert,” which provides classes ranging from the history of coffee, to coffee’s effect on physiology, sustainable growing practices and techniques of preparing espresso and cappuccino.
illy’s Università del Caffè was first established in 1999 and has had around 7,000 students through its many doors. The goal of the school was to promote, develop and disseminate quality coffee throughout the world by educating the people of the industry. “Offering specialized courses at this prestigious institution, we are able to further elevate coffee culture…by educating students on cultivating, preparing and understanding the process involved in producing the best coffee possible, from bean to cup,” said Andrea Illy, chairman & CEO of illycaffè.
If a classroom setting isn’t for you and you would rather learn from the comfort of your own home and have the flexibility to make your own class schedule, Bellissimo (espresso101.com), parent company of the American Barista & Coffee School, may be the answer. “The original mission of Bellissimo was to produce video training materials and business manuals for the newly born specialty coffee industry,” explained Milletto. Bellissimo is also a consulting company with a team of over 75 years of combined experience. Their rates for consulting are $125-$150/hour.
Bellissimo has written and published four manuals and their video line currently includes 12 titles. They give information on how to open and successfully operate a specialty coffee business. “Bellissimo…can give you 100% of what you need: from creating your initial business plan, to choosing a winning concept, to setting up your on-going operational systems after you’ve opened your doors,” said Milletto.
No matter what you are seeking from a school or where you are located in the world, there are numerous options accessible to you. The first step is to decide what knowledge and experience you want to gain. Then you must figure out the time you are able to devote to this training. Once those two criteria are fulfilled, you must budget accordingly and sign-up for the class that best suits you. You are then ready to further your education and exploration into the wonderful and exciting world of coffee.