Do the Barista and Coffee Roasters Guilds benefit the specialty coffee sector?

There are many organisations and non-profits which support and strengthen the specialty coffee sector. One of the most prominent is the Specialty Coffee Association – a membership-based organisation which represents thousands of industry professionals across the world.

As well as orchestrating several coffee events, expos, and competitions, the SCA runs three guilds. These are the Barista, Coffee Roasters, and Coffee Technicians Guilds. Like with any other guild, the purpose of these associations is to foster a sense of community and share a common goal – which in the SCA’s case is to improve quality and sustainability in the specialty coffee sector.

The Barista, Coffee Roasters, and Coffee Technicians Guilds also provide educational opportunities for a range of supply chain actors, as well as lending support for professional growth.

However, in an ever-evolving industry, it’s also important to ask how the Guilds fit into specialty coffee – and if their role could change in the future.

To learn more, I spoke to Spencer Turer, Vice President of Coffee Enterprises. Read on to learn more of his insight into the Barista, Coffee Roasters, and Coffee Technicians Guilds.

You may also like our article on whether there is space for new coffee competitions.

Members of the Coffee Roasters Guild attend a workshop.

What are the Barista, Coffee Roasters, and Coffee Technicians Guilds?

The three Guilds are an integral part of the purpose, vision, and mission of the Specialty Coffee Association. Initially established as the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) in 1982, the SCA aims to “foster a global coffee community and support activity to make specialty coffee a thriving, equitable, and sustainable activity for the entire value chain”.  

In 2017, the SCAA merged with the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe (founded in 1998) to create an international organisation which represents industry professionals the world over.

Today, the SCA has four strategic objectives:

  • “Make the specialty coffee industry more sustainable with an agenda focused on partnerships, education, research, and advocacy.”
  • “Create opportunities for professional engagement and individual growth through our network and programs.”
  • “Expand our global network and enhance the experience of our stakeholders by working with local communities.”
  • “Deliver outstanding service to members of the global specialty coffee community in everything we do.”

In addition to providing educational resources, conducting research, and organising industry-leading events, the SCA also established the Barista, Coffee Roasters, and Coffee Technicians Guilds.

Spencer, who has held multiple volunteer positions with the SCA and Coffee Roasters Guild since 2000, explains how the organisation has shaped the specialty coffee sector.

“In 2000, the SCAA was a completely different organisation,” he says. “There wasn’t a Barista Guild or Coffee Quality Institute, and the Cup of Excellence had only started in 1999.

“We all wanted to promote specialty coffee and learn more about it,” he adds. “Don Holly – who was the administrative director of the SCAA at the time – was tasked with creating a roaster’s guild.”

How were the Guilds established?

The SCA developed all three Guilds in partnership with industry stakeholders. The Coffee Technicians Guild (CTG) was formalised in 2016 to create a community of industry technicians to provide mutual support and knowledge, as well as opportunities to develop skills and learn best practices.

In 2018, the Roaster Guild of Europe (founded in 2016) and the Roasters Guild (founded in 2000) merged to form the Coffee Roasters Guild as we know it today. In the same year, the Barista Guild was also established following the unification of the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe’s Barista Guild of Europe (BGE) and the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s Barista Guild of America (BGA).

Similar to the CTG, the Coffee Roasters and Barista Guild encourage knowledge sharing and promote community building – as well as hosting several events.

Member benefits

As part of their general SCA membership, Guild members receive discounts for webinars, events, competitions, resources from the SCA store, and the Coffee Skills Program. The latter consists of five specialist modules: Barista Skills, Brewing, Green Coffee, Roasting, and Sensory Skills.

Additionally, members can vote in Guild, Committee, and the SCA Board of Directors and National Chapters elections.

Looking at the Coffee Technicians Guild specifically, members have access to the Coffee Technicians Program (CTechP). This includes electrical, hydraulic, and water and preventative maintenance modules, as well as a practical exam.

A coffee sensory training session using the SCA Coffee Taster's Flavor Wheel.

Hosting community events

One of the biggest benefits of joining the SCA and Barista, Coffee Roasters, or Coffee Technicians Guilds is receiving discounts for certain events – such as the Coffee Roasters Guild Retreat (CRGR). This year’s retreat will take place in Blaine, Washington in the US from 28 September to 1 October.

Over the three-day period, CRGR participants can attend lectures, workshops, cuppings, networking opportunities, and the US Coffee Roasting Championship preparation session, as well as gaining exclusive access to machines in the Roasting Tent.

The Coffee Technicians Guild also hosts an annual summit, which was held in Florence, Italy in 2022. Similar to the CRGR, attendees can take part in workshops and lectures led by industry experts over the two-day event.  

How have the Guilds changed over the years?

Spencer explains how the format of the Coffee Roasters Guild in particular has significantly changed following the unification of the European and US divisions.

“The term ‘guild’ was used instead of committee because we wanted our group to be similar to traditional trade guilds, which are known for craftsmanship and producing high-quality goods,” he says. “Also, for the purpose of autonomy, the structure of a guild is different to a committee.

“To join, you needed to be working as a coffee roaster, otherwise you didn’t qualify for membership,” he adds. “We wanted to improve the skills of coffee roasters, create a community, present the craft and science of coffee roasting as a professional occupation, and represent the interests of roasters in the wider coffee industry.”

While this certainly helped to drive innovation and enhance roasters’ skills, there was undoubtedly an element of exclusivity, too. 

Improving inclusivity – but about member benefits?

To be more in line with its values and mission, the SCA decided to relax its Guild membership criteria. Essentially, this means an extensive or professional background in one of the three Guild disciplines is no longer a prerequisite for membership. In turn, less experienced coffee professionals now have more opportunities to network with industry experts and leaders.

“The CRG essentially went from a guild to a club or an interest group,” Spencer tells me.  

The annual gathering for the Barista Guild, meanwhile, used to be the Barista Camp. This was a four-day educational retreat which included lectures, interactive workshops, and networking opportunities. The SCA, however, decided to stop hosting these events for several reasons.

“We do not currently have plans to host a Barista Guild Camp or Retreat,” a former UK representative for the SCA says. “The costs of production for these events make it hard to breakeven, while also keeping the ticket price at an accessible range for hourly-paid coffee workers.

“However, we are in conversations with sponsors, and if there are companies in the industry who are interested in supporting Barista Guild events, we welcome their participation,” they add.

A coffee roaster attends a Coffee Roasters Guild event.

Looking ahead

Improving accessibility in specialty coffee is an essential and necessary issue to discuss. However, it’s also important to question whether making the Guilds more inclusive essentially waters down membership benefits.

“After the SCA unified and the Guilds merged, the benefits of being a member came into question,” Spencer says. “I can’t quantify the value of Coffee Roasters Guild membership other than I have the ability to vote in the Guild election.”

Moreover, events that were previously exclusive to Guild members, including the Retreats, are now available to any SCA member.

Of course, there are several benefits and drawbacks to opening up membership to a broader range of coffee professionals. But how this will affect the future of the Guilds remains to be seen.

An industry professional removes the crust while cupping coffee.

The SCA has certainly broadened the scope of inclusivity and accessibility in specialty coffee – and will continue to do so in the future. Expanding membership to the Barista, Coffee Roasters, and Coffee Technicians Guilds is also an important part of this. 

But at the same time, questioning how these changes impact the credibility of Guild memberships is essential, too.

Enjoyed this? Then read our article on whether the World Barista Championship needs to change.

Perfect Daily Grind

Photo credits: Specialty Coffee Association

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