Brewing Equipment Theory: Reflection on the Specialty Coffee Expo Workshop


By Kaleb Leach, Texas Coffee Traders

This year at the Specialty Coffee Expo, the CTG gave us a peek into what is soon to be an accredited curriculum for coffee techncians. This program will allow techs from all over the world to become certified by the SCA.

Within the next 6 months, the CTG Education Committee plans to have a number of classes that will lead to different levels of accreditation for techs. A goal for the future is that an SCA member will be able to go to the SCA website and find technicians in their area that specialize in coffee brewing equipment with confidence that the tech will not only understand the basics of electricity, plumbing, and appliance maintenance, but will also have a basic understanding of coffee and how it should be brewed.

This is great progress – the person hired to fix coffee equipment will not only know how the machine functions on a basic level, but will also have the same training that a barista received from the SCA to insure a high-quality product. On the other side of the coin, baristas, roasters and anyone interested in expanding their knowledge base, will be able to add value to the industry by becoming certified as a technician and potentially filling the void in the region in which they live. 

Shad Baiz and Don Berguist lead the Brewer Equipment Theory: The Essentials of Coffee Brewing Equipment Focusing on Operation, Application and Functionality workshop at the Specialty Coffee Expo in April, and was designed for any current or aspiring coffee technician professionals. This workshop explained how various commercial brewing machines work, focusing in on the difference between how pressure brew and gravity brew systems operate.

Shad and Don are leaders in our industry and have been working with coffee equipment in the specialty coffee world for decades. They are professionals and their experience provides them a base of knowledge that only comes from working in this field for a long time. I have had conversations with them both about the fact that – up until recently – the only way to gain the experience of a highly-functioning coffee technician is to put yourself out there with a bag of tools and do it for a long time until you have gained some skills.

This can be a rather painful way to learn a trade, but it’s been the only way to get the experience.  Some manufacturers will offer training on their equipment – and that is really helpful – but isn’t the most holistic picture of the normal day-to-day life of a coffee tech. Don had mentioned that this is why the CTG are putting together this curriculum: get techs to a level of competency and expertise in 5 years with classes and accreditation that would take a tech left alone in the field 10 years to accomplish. 

The Brewer Theory workshop was a foundation-level class that walked the attendees through the hydraulic (water flow) systems of different styles of coffee brewers and heat-exchange-style espresso machines. This class was designed for anyone to be able to come into this class with no mechanical background and get started on a path to understanding this equipment and the theory behind it.

Shad led the discussion on coffee brewer technology (gravity brew) and Don Lead the discussion on espresso machines (pressure brew). Both Don and Shad gave presentations with visual cues to describe the way water flows through each machine from the water line until the point where water interacts with the coffee.

After the lecture, the attendees broke out into four stations: two espresso machine stations and two coffee brewer stations. Each station displayed the parts discussed in the lecture (brew valves, fill valves flowmeters, etc.). Some of the parts were cut away which allowed us to see inside the parts without taking them apart. The ability to physically hold all the parts we discussed while a station coach is pointing to the same part in the machine was a visceral necessity to bring the attendees into the feeling of what it’s like to be a tech. The espresso machines and brewers at each station had all of the panels taken off to show the inside of the machine. The station coaches went through the hydraulic systems with the attendees from start to finish and showed each component and described what its job was. The goal for the attendees was to retain enough of what was explained to them to pass a quick quiz at the end of the workshop. 

When we asked Don what he wanted to convey to the attendees during the workshop he said, “This is not a learning of facts, but rather theory. The moment you think you have it, machines will throw you a curve. [This] is a topic that is learned over a long period of time.”

This is the reason why the CTG education offerings are so important to our industry. Getting techs into quality workmanship sooner through education will elevate the future of our industry. Shad wanted to ensure that the workshop conveyed functional differences between brewing methods, demystification of how brew process occurs, and that it would increase familiarity with individual components of coffee brewing equipment.

Ultimately these goals were accomplished and the CTG laid the groundwork for future classes and a movement focused on elevating the techs in our industry to a professional level that will be not only be admired, but taken seriously. As we continue down this path to legitimize the coffee technician trade, we will look back at these humble beginnings with great respect for all the personal effort and time that was given to accomplish these goals. 

I was a station coach for this workshop, and it was an amazing experience to be a part of this. Many thanks to the other station coaches that volunteered their time:

  • Frank Freeman
  • Benny Walters
  • Brad Stevens
  • Patrick Monson