chris-swift-new employee

Putting the Art in Artisan – My first week on the job at Rogers Family Company

chris-swift-new employee

So how did I end up working for Rogers Family Company? A set of perfect aligning moments, sprinkled with a bit of luck and topped with a new suit.  Yeah I bought a new suit.

4 weeks ago I hadn’t even heard of Rogers Family Company let alone their coffees & teas. Now here I sit, getting ready to tell you the story of my first week on the job.

My role is digital marketing, essentially I create content like this article, and share it with you. But the Rogers family want every employee to understand the company from the ground up, they want us to understand the hard work and talent that is required to make our varieties.  SO, I spent half of the time on the floor during my first week and I learned first hand how the coffee magic happens.

My first stop was Roasting. I worked with a really cool guy named Roberto. I quickly learned that he takes his job very seriously.  For the novices out there, like me, roasting coffee at Rogers is not done on a small scale, it is done on the scale of 1,000 lbs at a time. So a screw up can cost a ton. Roberto though is a perfectionist and screwing up is not a part of his DNA.

Roasting at Rogers

Together we roasted about 8 batches, each adjusted in temperature and cook time to achieve that perfect roast.  You may not think it, but roasting coffee is an art as much as it is a function of the process.

In fact, for the first week I was trying desperately to come up with a term, a phrase, a word that would sum up the company from the ground up and I finally arrived at what I believe is the perfect word.

ARTISAN.

After my experience as a roaster I moved into Packaging and then Shipping & Receiving.  I’m fascinated by operations and how large companies are able to do what they do. It is no different here. I am blown away each time I go on the floor at how much is done by so few.  The teams are tight-knit, they know their jobs and do them with perfection.

(TID BIT) Something you may not know is that if you purchase from any of our online retailers your coffee order is handled with care by 1 person here in our Lincoln based facility. 

My next stop was Quality Control and Green Lab. What is Green Lab? I’m so glad you asked because I am able to answer you now. (insert prideful smile )

Green Cupping

Our Green Lab is where the green coffee is tested for quality.  Standards have been set by http://www.scaa.org/ the Specialty Coffee Association of America.  For each new sample arrival the same exact testing is performed prior to tasting, or for a more professional term, Cupping.  Beans are examined for different factors and if they pass muster the sample elevates to the cupping stage.

This is when the fun begins. Slurp, palate examination, spit. 3 different inspectors cupping samples at the same time, in the same room at the same table. The unspoken rule is that you do not show your opinion. Not in words, jesters or facial expressions. The value of three separate opinions is so important we do not want an outside factor to sway the cupper’s opinion.

Okay, here was my experience. I choked. Literally, I choked on the hot coffee which you quickly slurp into your mouth to bring out the flavors. This slurp is faaaarrr more complex than the descriptor used. Imagine dipping a teaspoon into a cup of hot coffee, you give it a blow to cool it, but not too much as cold coffee is not useful for cupping. Then you bring this steaming teaspoon to your mouth, press your lips to the spoon and slurp in the hot liquid. Now, within a nanosecond you need to stop the fluid from reaching the back of your throat and jetting into your lungs from which the SLURP originated.

IT AIN’T EASY FOLKS.

I coughed, I hacked, I failed. Pretty embarrassing in all honesty, but the guys were cool and didn’t make fun of me... too much.

After the debacle in the Green Lab I made my way over to QC or Quality Control. In QC are the masters of quality assurance. Every roast is sampled, as well as a sample of every OneCup™, whole bean and ground coffee bag. Nothing leaves our warehouse without at least 3 but in most cases 5 examinations.

A laborious process for sure but one that I have come to realize is the source of our consistency in producing a quality product. No rhetoric here, this is a completely self formed opinion from a newbie. Just like the Green Lab, no outside influence on my opinion here.

In QC I performed many more tests on coffee grounds, packaging, OneCups™ and of course brewed coffee. Yep that’s right, I tried cupping again. This time I was prepared and knew what to expect…plus I got a tip from my teacher. He said,

“Don’t try to do it like us, you won’t. It takes time and experience. Sip slower and you will be fine.”

What do you know, no choking. Thank you for the advice Hugo.

I don’t know about you readers but for me, drinking/cupping coffee for a couple hours straight can set the nerves ablaze. Tough night of sleep but worth the training.

Line Production

My final day of training was with Production Planning. If roasting is the heart of the business then Production Planning is the lungs. PP works internally to determine current stocks and future needs, they plan out the following week’s production needs and create the orders, and they work with our distributors to ensure all of our customers are serviced with the right product.  A Veteran of 20 years is at the helm of this department, Sara Power.  Thanks for the lesson Sara.

The business of coffee is astonishing to me and each day I’m on the job I discover something new that leaves me even more impressed.

As I said earlier, the only word I have been able to use that properly describes not only our coffee but the entire company, its people and culture is ARTISAN. Each member approaches their role as an artist, using proper technique and execution to arrive at the best possible outcome and all the time seeking new ways to improve and elevate the end product.

That’s an insider’s view of Rogers Family Company; I hope you enjoyed my story.

If you have any questions for me put them in the comments below.

Thanks for reading.

 

6 comments

  1. Jim Bender 9 October, 2013 at 13:07 Reply

    I really enjoyed your article, Chris. Your various descriptions of the different departments enabled me to get a mental/visual of the of the plants processes. I’ve been by the Rogers Family Company’s facility in Lincoln many times, but have never toured the facility. You helped me achieve that (though in a whirlwind way). They have to have excellent employees to produce the great products they do. I have my favorites that I order, but they have so many types and flavors of coffee being created at one location that it must take one heck of a plant manager to facilitate the demand. I do know that if I ever would work there, the Green Lab is not in the equation. As an aside, Chris, I am the President of the (morning) Sunrise Rotary Club. We meet every Thursday morning from 7:00 – 8:00AM. It would be great to have someone from Rogers Family Company to belong. Let me know if you would like to belong. Usually the Company you own or work for sponsors you. Again (back on topic) great job on the article. You’ll do well there. JIM

  2. Marc Perdew 9 October, 2013 at 15:18 Reply

    Great article Chris, Thanks for the insight on how a great company like Rogers is run from top to bottom. The company sounds like everyone is very involved and ‘hands-on’. There is nothing like personal insight to what transpires on a day-to-day basis. Very informative.

    Thanks again,

    Marc

    • Chris Swift 10 October, 2013 at 10:35 Reply

      Thanks Marc. It’s great to receive feedback from total strangers and know that our words have an impact. Stay tuned for more articles.

  3. Thomas Reamer 11 October, 2013 at 05:52 Reply

    Thank you for sharing! Congratulations. Awesome and what a gift. Rogers Family Coffee truly makes some of the best coffee available. I have gotten a few people hooked – inlcuding work 🙂 I no longer use the K cups – l use a Vue brewer so I just poor the grounds into the V-Cup solofill. Excellent coffee!!

  4. Patrick Shea 24 October, 2013 at 14:27 Reply

    Chris, Just read and very much enjoyed the account of your first week with Rodgers Family Company. Not surprised you failed the slurping session since I am confident I would have had the same outcome. Also it is apparent from your writing that you really are enjoying your new position. Keep up the positive attitude and continue to produce interesting and entertaining stories about the Rodgers Family Company. As others I, too, am switching to Rodgers 1-cup coffee.
    Pat

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