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Victrola-99The 14th annual Roasters Guild Retreat at Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, Washington, was an action-packed whirlwind of old friends, new faces and a mind-bending array of information and educational opportunities from the brightest minds in the biz. The event kicked off Thursday night with raucous introductions by SCAA Executive Director Ric Reinhart, and Roaster's Guild Executive Council Chair Mark Inman. The attendees were then assembled into teams, and charged with the task of competing against one another in a quest for the best cold brew. Each team was given 5lbs of five different unroasted coffees. The first order of business was cupping the coffees to determine what the heck we wanted to do with them. We were given a nice variety of coffees to use for the competition, and after the cupping, we had a pretty good idea of which coffees we wanted to compete with. From there, it was on to the roasting tent to get the coffee roasted. We split the coffees into 15-20 small batches and spread out. I headed straight for the Diedrich IR 2.5 sample roaster with a couple lbs. of Ethiopia Grade 1. Yirgacheffe. After most of the roasting was done (finally!), it was on to the cupping table to taste the fruits of our labor. To my delight, the Yirgacheffe that I had roasted was unanimously selected by the team as something to include in the final product. We ended up deciding on a 12 hour pre-blend Toddy brew of 60% Guatemala Huehuetenango microlot and 40% of the Yirg I roasted. Most of the team disbanded, but my teammate and new friend Erik Williams of Conundrum Coffee and I, headed straight for the basement to set up some experimental cold brew batches--and were there into the wee hours of the morning. True coffee nerddom at its finest. The batches turned out great, but our team ended up being disqualified for not submitting our roasting notes on time (There was a problem with the SCAA's servers, I swear!). The competition helped me gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for cold brew, which I am very excited to take back to Victrola. I have to admit that cold brew had been a bit of a blind spot for me prior to the event; but hanging with Erik, who is a cold brew expert by trade, helped me gain a deeper appreciation for the craft. The event was also a great opportunity to connect with some of our supply-chain partners with whom we are fortunate to have built strong relationships. These folks help us maintain a close connection to our farmers, and ensure that we are able to source the finest green coffees from all over the world, year after year. And as if everything I just mentioned wasn't enough, there was a dizzying assortment of lectures, classes, and research panels offered during the retreat, which I did my very best to take full advantage of. It was a lot to take in, and even more to explain in a blog. Amongst other things I attended demonstrations of advanced roasting techniques; listened to a presentation on cutting edge research regarding coffee staling and how to extend its shelf life; and delved into the convoluted world of shipping logistics and the commodities market--suffice it to say, my head is swelling with new thoughts and ideas that I can't wait to share with the Victrola team. Although I can't really say that the 2014 RG Retreat was a relaxing getaway--it was a string of many late-to-bed, early-to-rise days in a row--I feel as invigorated and excited about coffee and Victrola's role in the coffee lifecycle, as I ever have. Watch for exciting things to come as the Roastery looks forward to the next year's retreat. Stay tuned for greatness.   -- Ethan Hill

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