Typica: Software for Coffee Roasting Operations

Expo 2018 Recap

Another year, another Specialty Coffee Expo. This time around I had two main goals. First, I was teaching roasting classes and wanted those to go well. Second, I wanted to connect with Typica users and some companies that had expressed interest in working with me on projects. I also decided that this would be a good time to see about being less active on the popular social networking sites and put my comments on a site that's not harmful to democracy.

Coffee Roasting Classes

For the past few years on the Roasters Guild education committee, the rule has been "no new classes". That made sense once we had a good certificate program in place and were working to get that accredited, but it did mean that there were some topics that perhaps weren't getting the level of attention that would have been useful. When the SCAA/SCAE roasting programs were combined, we didn't want to do only full day or multiple day courses at events that have historically had the SCAA/RG roasting classes and this has given us the opportunity to more seriously look at either substantial reworks of the heritage classes or entirely new material that better addresses what people are saying their training needs are.

The first of these was a class that I put together called "Roast Level Exploration and Profile Design". This comes out of conversations that I've been having and that other trainers have been having with students or potential students. One group of roasters says, "I have these amazing light roast coffees and I love them, but my customers are asking for something darker and I don't know how to make that taste good." The other group of roasters says, "I have these amazing dark roast coffees and I love them, but my customers are asking for something lighter and I don't know how to make that taste good." So I wanted to cover some useful product development and analysis techniques, help roasters understand the choices that they have available when figuring out how to roast a coffee, along with some hands on exercises where all of the coffees roasted in the class are potentially delicious, but where there are clear trade offs based on specific changes in how the coffee was roasted. There was definitely room for improvement in how that class went and I'll be taking both my own observations and other feedback into consideration when I deliver this again at retreat (if you're interested in station instructing for that event, now is the time to reach out to staff and express interest), but overall this seemed to go well and students seemed to be engaged and interested in the material, if a bit shy in participating in larger group discussions.

Next up was "Can You Taste the Roasting System?" delivered by Anne Cooper and Rob Hoos. I was particularly excited by this class as it ties in very well with the work that I've been doing with Typica, making it easier for people with multiple machines to calibrate their profiles so they can get the same results out of roasts performed on those different machines. Previously I've really only been able to test this on the machines that I have where this worked surprisingly well, but ability to match roasts across different machine sizes was an explicit design goal. To see and taste that the same principles apply across very different machines from different manufacturers lends a lot of credibility to ideas that I've been talking about for a long time. Anne will be delivering this class again at retreat and she's asked me to once again help out with that.

Finally, Rob Hoos and Jim Brady delivered the latest version of the heat transfer class. Rob has put in tons of work on this class over the years and it's a lot better and a lot more practical than it was before.

As an aside, I can currently teach the SCA Coffee Skills Program: Green Coffee, Roasting, and Sensory modules through the Professional level, but it's unclear how long I'll be able to do that. These can only be taught by an AST. I was grandfathered into that program because I was a Specialized Instructor for the SCAA (a credential that I maintained by teaching at events and only got in the first place because when that program was introduced they needed to seed the instructor pool with people who were known and trusted to deliver quality training internationally) but I haven't heard of a way to keep the AST credential other than paying a large amount of money. I helped develop the roasting curriculum and tests, but since that program was rolled out I've been asked to teach it precisely 0 times and the AST renewal fee is too large for me to pay out of pocket. I don't have my own training lab and I think it would be a terrible idea to try to deliver this at my shop where all of the space is already double or triple purposed and surrounded by a busy retail environment. I certainly wouldn't want to be a student in that sort of environment. That means I'm entirely dependent on other labs, companies, or events bringing me in if I'm going to be able to continue offering that training. While a few people have expressed interest, so far none of that has converted to scheduled paid work. I don't care about making teaching a profit center for me. It's something that I've done because I enjoy doing it and because I think that helping roasters get better at what they do is a benefit to everybody, but if I can't at least break even on this work going forward I won't be able to afford to do it. I will, of course, continue to offer non-cert customized training if anybody wants to hire me for that.


It's challenging to write about a lot of the conversations that I've had because they're often about projects that are happening at other companies that aren't yet publicly announced. I don't want to be responsible for people doing things like holding off on buying equipment that they need because they think I'm working on something better, especially when I don't have a firm timeline of when I'd even really be able to meaningfully start my involvement in some of these things. That said, there are at least a couple companies working on new things that would like to be able to advertise Typica support when they're ready to launch those products. Hopefully those will turn out to be real things involving paid work and I'll be able to talk more about them once products exist.

Outside of those sorts of conversations, I was also able to chat with new Typica users, help them with features that they wanted but hadn't yet found. Lots of people also stopped me to say that they liked my videos. It's always nice to hear that.

Another common conversation was around financial support for developing this software. People are always surprised when they find out just how little money comes in to help me cover the costs associated with developing Typica and making that available. So far this year that's only $125 split between 2 people (thanks, you two, I appreciate it), which is at least enough to cover a few months of hosting costs. I'd really like to have the ability to take an extended period of time and just work on Typica full time. There are a ton of features that I think would be broadly useful, work that needs to be done to keep the Typica code base viable in the long term and easier for others to contribute to, improvements to the documentation, bug fixes. The pace of development could be a lot faster than it is and I think we'd all be better off for that, but I also like to eat so I need to spend most of my time on work that pays and for the most part, that's not Typica. You can help change that with the form below.

Social Media

Popular social media platforms have been getting to be increasingly annoying and deliver low value for my time. I think a big part of the problem is that the sites have just gotten too large. Fortunately, there's a group of people who have anticipated a lot of the problems now seen on social media sites and have been developing various open source platforms to replace the popular sites, allowing people to set up their own smaller social media sites for friends, family, or people with shared interests, and allowing these smaller sites to communicate with each other so that people who want to stay current with each other don't need to be on the same sites to do it.

One of these platforms that I've taken a liking to is called Mastodon. You can think of it as something like Twitter, but with a higher character limit and better privacy controls. Earlier in the month I installed this on a cheap server to get a sense of what sort of resource requirements this had and if I thought it might be a nicer place to hang out online. Things that I normally would have posted to other sites at Expo went there instead and satisfied that this was working well, I decided to send out invitations to people who have used the form on this site to send financial support for my development work with their credit card. A few of these people have set up accounts and have used it a little bit, but it's not really getting a lot of use from people who aren't me. Part of this is because I'm not opening the server to everybody. It's still only running on a $10 per month server and if the hosting costs get too high I'll need to shut this down (preferably after giving people some notice so they can pull their data down and import it into another instance). I intend to keep it small for now.

I thought this might be a nice way for people who use Typica to connect with each other and be able to ask questions of a broader community instead of all Typica related inquiries going through my email (or worse, not going out at all because they didn't want to bother me). People have previously asked and I've also considered the possibility of setting up a web forum, but I think there are enough dead coffee fora on the web and maybe something like Mastodon might be more useful, or at least useful in a different way from what's already been done with coffee fora. A lot of the benefits that I can see of a forum over that could be achieved with better documentation, and that's a lot easier to host than something that's interactive.

If you think you should have gotten an invitation, check your spam folder. Those all went out on April 24. If you don't see it, let me know and I'll re-send your invitation. Also complain to your email provider because none of those invitations bounced back to me. I plan to continue sending those invites out to people who send money in support of Typica development and once I have a better sense of how practical it is to keep that server running I might open that a little more, but for now I want to avoid making something that I can't afford to keep running or that takes up too much administrative time and that means keeping things small.

One of the nice things about Mastodon is that you don't have to have an account on the same server to follow or interact with me there. You can join not only any Mastodon instance, but also GNU Social, Pleroma, or any other platform that is protocol compatible on the server side. You can follow me from your preferred instance, I can follow you from mine, and our respective servers will talk to each other and make that work. You can check out my instance at social.typica.us or follow me @neal@social.typica.us.