A Guide to Getting Started with SCA Coffee Training
You may find yourself working behind a coffee bar and know how to make a good coffee but not much about why it is good? Or you may find yourself having no industry experience at all, but love coffee and want to learn the craft?
At some point in every coffee lover’s and barista’s career there’s the need for validating knowledge or learning new skills. The Specialty Coffee Association - SCA - curriculum is the best way of doing this, as it is recognised by the coffee industry the world over. It is also a comprehensive and methodical programme which covers all things coffee in depth.
We caught up with Dan Dunne, Head of Training at Climpsons, to talk about the best way of approaching formal coffee training. You may have seen Dan judging at SCA competitions, and if you are lucky you will have caught him after hours with a guitar in hand - rumour has it that he sold his soul to play the blues.
How did you get started in coffee and your own coffee training? And, what made you want to get SCA certified?
Well, my journey in coffee started as the result of being a skint musician. Before coffee, I solely did music. But when the money wore thin, I needed to get a job. A friend of mine was working as a barista at a specialty coffee shop and suggested I apply for a job there. I got the job and so it began. I quickly developed an obsession with coffee with a keen thirst for learning and knowledge.
After working as a barista for a couple of years, I wanted to learn more about the other areas of coffee. When I started working at Climpson and Sons, I quickly moved into production, which included roasting and other roastery duties.
From there I got into the education side of coffee. It seemed a natural progression as I had gathered experience on both sides of the fence. Plus, I always got a lot of enjoyment out of talking about coffee and sharing knowledge.
What does it mean to be an ‘AST’? And why do you enjoy teaching even though it involves saying the same things, over and over again?
AST stands for Authorised SCA Trainer. This means, I am a qualified teacher and examiner for SCA courses.
SCA courses give people worldwide recognised qualifications, plus the skills and tools needed for a career in coffee. The courses set a standard, which in my opinion is great for the specialty industry.
Why do I enjoy teaching? Well, even though you might teach the same courses time and time again, the people are always different. This is what keeps it interesting. Seeing trainees develop and learn is rewarding. Plus, people learn at different rates and require different teaching methods. Developing and tuning these techniques also keeps it interesting.
What’s the best entry point for someone who doesn’t have any experience? And what if you already have experience?
The SCA Introduction to Coffee is, to no surprise, is the best place to start, if you have no previous experience. It’s designed to give background and reference to the journey that coffee goes on from farm to cup. So, if and when, you move onto the more practical focussed Foundation level, you’re at a head start.
If you already have a background in specialty coffee, you can jump straight into at the Foundation level for say, the SCA Barista Skills or SCA Brewing modules.
What are the different SCA modules and levels available? What are the general requirements and course length?
The full SCA Coffee Skills Program is on the SCA website. At Climpsons, we currently offer these SCA courses:
- Introduction to Coffee (Half day/ Written exam)
- Foundation Barista Skills (1 day/ Practical and written exams)
- Intermediate Barista Skills (2 days/ Practical and written exams)
Professional Barista Skills (3 days/ Practical and written exams)
- Foundation Brewing (1 day/ Practical and written exams)
- Intermediate Brewing (2 days/ Practical and written exams)
- Professional Brewing (3 days/ Practical and written exams)
Intro to Coffee is optional but recommended. The Foundation levels are mandatory before progressing to intermediate, unless you already work in specialty coffee (minimum of 2 years). If so, you can fast track to Intermediate, at the discretion of the AST. However Professional level can’t be taken unless Intermediate has been completed and the exams passed. There also has to be a minimum of 3 months between doing the Intermediate and Professional.
On a personal/individual level, is coffee training worth the time and cost?
In my opinion, the courses are worth the time and cost. There is lots of information in books and online that we have access too, and this is amazing. However, there really is no substitute for practical learning with a tutor.
Plus, there is a lot of conflicting information online. SCA is a worldwide commonly shared language and curriculum.
If I’m looking to do a course, what should I look for?
Facilities and equipment are really important when choosing where to do a course. It’s beneficial to learn and train on up-to-date, relevant specialty equipment, so that this can be replicated in the real world.
Also, the amount of equipment available for the amount of trainees on the course. We’re lucky at Climpsons, in that we have a purpose-built training academy that complies with SCA standards. We have a maximum of 4 people per course. This is so that each individual trainee has their own workspace (e.g. espresso machine, grinder). Smaller groups also mean trainees get much more one on one training.
The trainer is also important. Although all ASTs follow the same SCA curriculum, all trainers have their own personal training style and skills.
From my point of view, I’ve learned that not all people learn in the same way. Some people learn better through theory-based, some practical. I like to use different methods, that are inclusive of all learning abilities. This includes theory, imagery, sensory, and practical techniques. I also think using different techniques keep the courses upbeat and engaging.
You can take SCA courses all over the world. For your nearest location, visit the SCA website. Here, you can enter your location details and the available courses will come up. From there, you can decide on your preferred AST and training facilities.
Tell us about what makes the Climpsons Academy so good?
Our training academy is in Hackney, East London, and is just a short 15min journey on the London Overground from Liverpool Street station.
The training space is equipped with the 2 x La Marzocco PB, 4 x Mythos One grinders, Mahlkonig E65S, Mazzer Robur, EK43, Reverse Osmosis, SCA height cupping tables, All brewing equipment including Hario V60s, and temperature controlled kettles.
We moved into the new office mid-summer 2018, and It’s certainly a step up from the days teaching in our previous training space.
Is there a benefit for business owners to facilitate and support their staff getting SCA trained?
SCA training is beneficial for a number of reasons. It gives people structured training, with a qualification. It’s also a good way of incentivising and retaining staff.
If you manage a cafe, my recommendation would be to work with a roastery that offers training. At Climpson & Sons we offer complimentary training to all of our wholesale customers. We also offer additional SCA courses. We understand that not all cafes have the experience, facilities or time for training and therefore it’s become a big part of what we offer.
This benefits both parties; the customer makes better coffee and the roastery is represented well.
Where can I find out more about SCA courses at Climpsons?
You can check out the full range of SCA courses and dates available here on our Climpsons website.