Coffee studies come in different levels and are known to generate various career opportunities that one can explore. The studies vary from short courses to postgraduate programmes but each is intended to achieve a particular purpose in the coffee sector. At all levels of study though, one is recommended to be passionate about coffee matters and have a desire to fulfill a particular goal in their endeavor.
The coffee sector is wide and most of the studies are customized based on the specific areas that they are intended to target. The key areas one can study coffee are in agronomy, primary processing, secondary processing, coffee cupping and final processing. These are stages of coffee processing and each requires trained human resource in order to attain a product of desired quality. For your information, quality in coffee has to be ensured and it starts at the farm level, maintained during processing until it reaches the final consumer; and to the cup.
At the farm level, agronomists are very key in ensuring appropriate management of the coffee plant. As a coffee agronomist one can be engaged in the management of a coffee nursery or a coffee farm. At the coffee nursery they are supposed to be conversant with soil preparation, seed selection, seed germination, transplanting procedures and grafting. While at the coffee farm, one has to be familiar with variety specifications, disease and pest management and crop nutrition and management. To become a coffee agronomist one has to undertake specialized courses in each area but of essence is to ensure that the training is practical based. At this level, one has to engage in learning practically; on site through wealth of experience. Much of the training is conducted at Coffee Research Institute in Ruiru where they have experts who have specialized in all areas of agronomy. Furthermore, one is able to learn a lot from their demonstration farms which are designed to train agronomists.
After coffee has been harvested, it is mainly processed at the factories in what is known as the primary processing. Primary processing involves the removal of the pulp through pulping and fermentation of the adhered sugars through wet processing. For dried processing, the coffee cherries are dried directly from the farm. Coffee drying at the farm is done on raised drying tables and mostly the process is done by exposing the coffee to the sun. The final product at this stage is the coffee parchment or ‘mbuni’ which are ready for secondary processing. As the coffee is processed at this stage, a trained personnel is needed to monitor quality of the coffee during the process; monitoring is critical in ensuring that coffee is not ruined at the processing level and as a result, only high quality passes on to the consumer. Most quality personnel are employed as factory managers or factory supervisors who are well conversant with every stage of processing. Most of them are trained through short courses taken at the Coffee Research Institute but a lot is learnt through experience at the factory level.
The parchment coffee has to undergo milling and grading before it’s ready for the market. This process takes place at the coffee mills; the process is supervised by qualified and experienced personnel who are employed as production managers, supervisors or coffee tasters. As a production manager or supervisor, one is tasked with the following responsibilities, by default: preparation of the milling program and bulking schedules and monitoring of the milling process (hulling, grading & bagging). The coffee tasters role at the mill is mainly to ensure the following: that only coffee meeting the designated quality specifications is milled; that the milling process doesn’t destroy the quality of the coffee; that the grading of the coffee is according to specifications and finally they taste the milled coffee to generate quality reports. As a coffee taster or a manager/supervisor one has to undergo detailed training in addition to the wealth of experience from the industry. This kind of training is offered at Dedan Kimathi University of Technology in the Institute of Food Bioresources Technology. Here at the University, the course content ensures that the students are well prepared to work in the secondary processing of coffee. Our training equips the students with all the necessary skills required for secondary processing namely: hulling, bulking, grading, roasting and cupping. To set yourself apart for this level of career in the coffee industry, this training is crucial.
After the coffee has been milled, it is ready for the market; a role that is undertaken by the coffee marketers. Marketing of coffee involves sampling coffee offered for sale, cupping it, preparing a catalogue and allocating prices. Coffee buyers or exporters also need to have this knowledge and capacity.
Due to high engagement of coffee cupping during marketing of coffee, one is required to have in depth knowledge in coffee cupping. As a coffee cupper, one ought to understand evaluation of coffee which is mostly acquired through training combined with experience. At Dedan Kimathi University of Technology, we train coffee cupping in our Diploma in Coffee Technology and Cupping. This is a program that takes a period of one year; through which one is equipped with the knowledge in coffee cupping through six months of course work and another six months at a coffee cupping station. After the training at our University, the trainees are equipped with the necessary skills that enable them to acquire certifications with Kenya Coffee Directorate as a Coffee Expert or with Coffee Quality Institute as a Q-Grader.
In addition, after coffee has been milled, if it is not destined for export as unprocessed coffee, it is locally roasted by licensed coffee roasters for domestic consumption. Coffee roasting is a process that involves heating of coffee to develop flavours into it by the use of coffee roasting machines. The process has to be supervised by a trained coffee roaster who has acquired the skill through training and experience. At the University we train students on coffee roasting both commercially and as samples in the lab where one has to perfect the skills by mastering all the roasting profiles. Coffee roasters mainly work with coffee marketers and coffee buyers where they specialize in roasting coffee samples for analysis. Others may be employed in coffee roasting firms where mainly they roast coffee for packaging; which is then sold to the consumers who want their coffee roasted in various profiles. Finally, at the end of the chain, baristas are needed.
The main responsibility of a barista is to brew coffee for the consumers. Baristas are endowed with coffee brewing and tasting skills which are very essential at the consumer level. A barista mainly brews coffee using an espresso machine where they are able to derive more coffee beverages depending on the consumer preference. At DeKUT, we train our students on the knowledge of coffee in such a way that when they have to pursue a career as a barista, they understand the coffee they brew to their clients from how the coffee was handled at the farm level, at the primary processing, at the milling stage and finally at the roasting level. In addition, our program here at the university gives the baristas coffee cupping skills which is essential for every coffee brewer. Even though we don’t train baristas in particular, we ensure that our students have the necessary skills that a barista needs and as such, one can be able to pick out short courses they can take for high level specialization. Our students are also equipped with entrepreneurial skills, upon which they can be able to start businesses with the skills they acquire from our courses.
Through the skills students acquire in the process of coffee studies, they are able to invest in coffee farming, coffee packaging, coffee shops and coffee tourism. When coffee farming is skillfully done, it has greater returns and one is able to offer quality coffee into the market. Coffee packaging is a way of value addition to the coffee hence giving more income to those who are able to provide the final product to the consumer. With the increasing domestic consumption of coffee, coffee shops are another source of entrepreneurship where our students/graduates have been able to thrive in. Another encouraging and upcoming area of coffee business is the coffee tourism which involves guided coffee tours; linking coffee enthusiasts to the origin of the coffee.
There are therefore diverse career paths in the coffee sector and anyone who is passionate about coffee is capable of engaging in various ways; not only limited to the ones mentioned because with creativity, it is possible to explore even more and beyond.
Let’s do coffee; and not just from the cup.
By Kinuthia Chuaga
Senior Technologist & Coffee Cupper, DeKUT Institute of Food Bioresources Technology.