Interview: Exhale Coffee Roasters - Jacques Strydom

Tuesday, 20 September, 2022

You know, the joy of this competition is that the blind tasting means everyone is on a level playing field! There's no points for personality, you've got to bring out the best in the beans. And every year there are more than a few surprises. Jacques Strydom, who entered as a home roaster in his first year, placed in the Top 10 and we were all very impressed! But then, in 2022 with a coffee roasting business established, he came out and blew everyone out the water, placing 1st in the Preliminary Round! So he's obviously got a knack for communing with the beans...

Name of Roastery: Exhale Coffee Roastery 

Name of Roaster: Jacques Strydom

Where did you learn your roasting skills? And how long have you been doing it?

I first got introduced to roasting by Kevin Clarke when I did the Green Bean program at Vintage Coffee. Last year I did the first two SCA Roasting courses under Donovan McLagan. Actively, this is my second year of roasting more professionally, but I have been doing some home roasting on a very small self built roaster for about a year before that.

What roasting equipment do you use?

I roast on a Genio 6Kg roaster that I rent at Mazot Street Coffee. 

Do you use software to help you create profiles for coffees? What is your process when you get a new green coffee in the roastery?

I don't rely too much on creating and following software based profiles. Initially I varied a bit between different roasters and got used to doing everything manually by following a time sheet and looking out for specific markers during the roasting process. I really appreciate the feedback provided by software, but I follow my own manual 'recipe'. 

When I get a new coffee, I read up a lot about it and try to get some idea of what flavours others gotten out of similar coffees. Most of our local green bean suppliers have staff with so much skills and knowledge. I really use their inputs and notes on the coffees as a guide for what to aim for.

I then do a sample roast based on its origin and start tweaking from there until I am happy. I also have a few people with different tastes and brewing methods that I would get inputs from.

How did you find the Preliminary Round Tanzanian coffee, was it interesting to work with? And in what way?

It was a really interesting coffee, in the sense that it was a bit hard to "read". I had a good idea of where I wanted to go with it based on its origin, but after we cupped it, we were very unsure about where we ended up. Luckily it paid off in the end. 

Do you have a ritual when you roast? (Ie Listen to music, specific days or times of day)

Not really, to be honest. The roasting in itself is a bit of a ritual for me, and it is such a sensory experience. I therefore try to keep it as pure as possible. I usually try to roast on Wednesdays, but that is also not always practical.

What is your favourite thing about being a coffee roaster?

With coffee in general, my favorite part has always been the fact that you as the consumer are part usually of the production chain, in the fact that you have to brew the coffee in order to reach the final product. It always astonished me that these beans are grown somewhere; cultivated and picked by people; processed by people; transported far and wide; and then roasted so that we can have the final hand in this whole process by brewing it - like artists creating a whole artwork just ti hand it to you to add the final brush strokes. Being a roaster, I have the immense privilege of having an extra part in this whole process. 

What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you in the pursuit of delicious coffee?

It is probably just me that find it funny, but the last while I have been overwhelmed by companies from far and wide that are trying to sell me coffee packaging. I just find it ironic and funny, because I am sure that if they realise how small we really are, they would be very quick to lose interest. As I mentioned earlier, I can get a bit lost in research and take a while to reach a decision. Coffee packaging was one such a very big and deep rabbit hole that I have delved into and got lost in quite a few times, in search of something that is sustainable, so it is ironic that this is the thing I am approached for the most. 

Please tell us a little know fact, completely un-coffee related, that will give readers some insight into who you are as a person.

A good friend of mine calls me 'Dominee Digter' (Poet Pastor). I have a big love for words, writing, literature and art as ways of expression - and I am also a reverend and theologian (for some reason I found out that I am one of many in the coffee industry). I am also dabbling a tiny bit into philosophy. All of this inspires what we do at Exhale Coffee and how we do it. 

See the full list of the ASITD Top 10 here

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