Two minutes with Elika Rowell
Occupation: Head Roaster
Business: Square One Coffee Roasters
Elika won the Hostplus Hospitality Scholarship at an industry awards night held by Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. She has worked in hospitality for 13 years with nine of those years dedicated to the art of roasting and serving specialist coffee. We asked Elika what it's like in the world of coffee just before she jumped on a plane to Rwanda.
OK, you have to tell us as a person with serious coffee cred, what is your favourite way to drink coffee?
It really just depends on how I feel at the time! At home, I religiously make filter coffee, but if I go to a cafe I'll usually try everything - an espresso, a flat white and a filter coffee. I know, that's a lot of caffeine, but I love coffee!
What made you turn towards coffee as a career path?
Originally I worked in cocktail bars, which is where I learned to taste, about balance and how to create desired flavours by using different ingredients. After many years working late nights, I was ready for a lifestyle change. My friend was working at a brand new cafe at the time, Three Bags Full, and she convinced me to give it a go.
From here I saw how serious coffee was made. Gone were the days when the grind would only be changed by the coffee rep on his fortnightly visit! They had one product and to change the flavour they changed the grind size, machine temperature, ratios of extraction, and more - and that was only what happened on the bar! The age of roasted coffee, the age of green coffee, the style of the roast, they all change the way the coffee tastes. It was a challenge and thus, I was in love.
You have a Q grader from the Coffee Quality Institute, what is this qualification?
Q Grader is a qualification which intends to create a common language and standard of grading coffee, worldwide. The course itself is a six-day long, intense palate test. It covers sensory and olfactory tests, blind tasting, roast profiling, green bean grading, identifying acids, general knowledge... The list goes on. I guess it would possibly be likened to a Sommelier course, but, coffee.
Which country do you buy beans from and how do you tell good quality in the green beans you purchase for roasting?
Most of the beans we buy come from Africa, Central and South America. There are a few different ways to test the quality. To start, we are sent a sample of green beans that we would assess to see if there are any defects. Then we sample roast the beans on a tiny roaster that looks like something from the Willy Wonka's factory, wait for them to age a few days and cup them. When we cup (which is quite similar to a wine tasting), we analyse the quality of aroma, flavour, aftertaste, body, acidity and balance and give them scores. The higher the score, the higher quality, and thus the price (theoretically).
What does your prize for the Hospitality Scholarship include?
Part of the prize is a trip to three destinations around the world where I have the opportunity to further my knowledge in my area of hospitality. This will possibly include some coffee farms and well-renowned coffee roasteries. On top of that, I will also have the pleasure of a one-year mentorship with a local industry leader (facilitated by MFWF). It's pretty phenomenal huh?!
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
To be honest I'm not sure where I'm going to be next year, let alone in five years. I like for my life to change and grow organically, opportunities will come and go and it’s what fits best at the time. But I do hope the future will hold the opportunity to travel and source green beans for my business.
You can follow Elika on Instagram @elikarowell