Long before he was promoted to the role of master roaster at the Starbucks Augusta Roasting Plant in Georgia, Ryan Kirkland worked as a chemical operator, helping build an organic compound used for synthetic fibers.
“Never in a million years,” he says, could he have imagined himself not only appreciating new coffees, but searching for subtle tasting notes of honeybell orange and graham cracker.
“At that point in time, it was, coffee tastes like coffee. I couldn't taste the difference in any of it,” Kirkland says. “But now going through sensory (experience training) and really focusing in on these different attributes… My wife calls me a coffee snob.”
At Augusta, Kirkland oversees the production of the Green Apron Blend, a 50/50 blend of coffees sourced from Latin America and Africa that – after it’s roasted light and fast – give it the aforementioned flavors. The overall profile is sweet, citrusy, fruity and nutty.
“The roast profile we chose to run this coffee on is extremely fast,” Kirkland says. “It's much lighter than what we would normally run most Starbucks coffees to. Because of how we roasted it, we didn't generate quite as much acidity as we would have with other coffees.
“By having something that's really well-rounded, it makes it really easy to brew, no matter what brewing method you choose.”
Augusta, which opened in 2012, is Starbucks newest roasting plant. It produces almost all the Frappuccino powder that’s used at Starbucks around the world and much of the Starbucks Blonde Espresso sent to stores. It roasted the initial batches of Green Apron Blend that were first tasted by partners, last October during the District Manager Leadership Experience and with in-store partner tastings across the United States and Canada.
As a master roaster, Kirkland makes sure his plant’s systems are set up to be reliable and consistent, so each particular coffee tastes the same today as it will five years from now and tastes the same as what’s made at other Starbucks roasting plants around the world.
“Having a bag of coffee and having the plant partners taste it and pick up on the attributes, that is rewarding because we're actually doing the coffee justice,” Kirkland says. “We're taking the time to not only roast the coffee, but pick up on the attributes that could have gotten lost had somebody else gotten a hold of that coffee.”