Interview with a Coffee Enthusiast

Kelly Stewart is the editor of Roast Magazine, a bi-monthly publication dedicated to the technical side of coffee and aimed at its roasters. While caring for a 7-month-old baby at home, Stewart still manages to complete her professional duties with the magazine in order to educate coffee-drinkers everywhere. She has over 10 years journalism experience from the University of Portland, the University of Oregon and various professional publications.

What are the goals of Roast Magazine? Who is your main audience, and what

Cover of the Sept/Oct. 2011 issue of Roast Magazine

about coffee are you trying to teach them?

The goals of Roast are to “address the art, science and business of coffee roasters.” Our main audience includes coffee roasters, roaster/retailers and anyone who is interested in the technical side of coffee. Our articles aim to educate our readers about specialty coffee, from seed to cup. We cover topics as diverse as exploring processing techniques at origin, examining roasting curves, determining how to control emissions from a roaster, and putting together a marketing plan for selling award-winning coffees in a café.

When did you start working with on Roast Magazine?

I started working with Roast in spring 2009.

What are your responsibilities on the magazine? How did you become the editor?

I work with the publisher to come up with an editorial calendar for Roast, and then work with folks within the coffee industry who are willing to share their specific coffee knowledge with our readers. I work with Roast’s editorial board to edit the articles in each issue and help find images to accompany the articles. I also write an editor’s letter in each issue and, finally, copyedit each issue several times before it goes to print. I also travel to coffee trade shows each year to meet our readers and learn about what they would like to see in the magazine.

I applied for the editor position at Roast and was lucky enough to be offered the job.

Do you have any favorite article(s)? Why?

I don’t often write articles for the magazine, but I do write an editor’s letter for most issues. The most fun and interesting editor’s letter I’ve worked on was about the myth of the supertaster. To write the piece, I interviewed Linda Bartoshuk, a scientist who studies taste and smell. It was a fascinating conversation about taste buds and genetic differences, and I tried to capture some of Bartoshuk’s enthusiasm for her research in my piece. Even more than a year after it was published, I still hear from people who learned something from that piece.

How did you get involved in the world of coffee? Are you an avid coffee drinker?

I was a coffee drinker before I started at Roast, but I did not consider myself a “coffee person.” When I started at the magazine, one of the first things I did was travel to the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) expo – a huge annual event for people in the coffee industry in the United States and all over the world. I had no idea that the coffee industry was so huge. I’ve learned that people in coffee are extremely passionate and dedicated about what they do.

How does being based out of Portland help/hinder your job?

Portland is a wonderful place to be based because the city has so many successful coffee businesses; plus we’re incredibly lucky that the SCAA expo will be held in Portland in 2012. I can’t see any downsides, except that PDX doesn’t have a lot of direct flights to coffee-producing countries.

Your magazine is about the “technical” side of coffee. How do you and your fellow writers go about approaching this topic? Are stories or sources difficult to attain?

People in the coffee industry are interested in the technical side of coffee. What happens to the bean when it is roasted? What flavors do coffees from different regions (using different processing methods and different roasting profiles) exhibit? We attend coffee-industry trade events and talk to people in the industry about what they are working on and what they are interested in. The coffee industry is large, but people working in coffee are extremely generous with their time and knowledge, and they’re willing to talk with our writers about their expertise.

How difficult is it to produce your bi-monthly magazine? Coffee is such a specific topic: how do you develop fresh and new story ideas?

It’s actually remarkably easy to develop new story ideas. Our readers are generous about sharing their thoughts and ideas about coffee, and we often use reader feedback to generate article ideas for the coming year.

Do you utilize social networking at all to gain information that you need?

I do use Twitter and Facebook to see what our readers are up to/what interesting tidbits are going around in the coffee universe.

Has working on this magazine changed your views on coffee? Do you think differently now when you drink a cup than before you began working on the magazine?

Yes and yes. Before I began working on the magazine, I did not think about where coffee beans came from. I had the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica and saw how coffee is grown and processed. That experience changed how I thought about coffee and how I tasted coffee. So much work goes into coffee before it arrives at the roaster—it’s an amazing process, an amazing journey.

It says on your staff bio that you have 10 years journalism experience. What experience is that? Where did you work previously? How did you get into journalism in the first place?

I was interested in journalism at a young age – I worked on school newspapers in junior high and high school. I majored in journalism at the University of Portland and was the editor of the student newspaper there. While I was in college, I interned at two daily newspapers and later earned a master’s at the University of Oregon in the literary nonfiction program. I moved to New York City in 2005 and landed a position as an editor at Zagat. While I was in New York, I also wrote a few articles for the Christian Science Monitor. I’ve written freelance pieces for several publications, both print and online.

What would you say is your best and/or most educational experience working in journalism? Working on Roast?

My most educational experience working in journalism was my second assignment for the Christian Science Monitor. My editor asked me to profile a woman, a Philadelphia school-district employee, who worked with families whose children had died. Gun violence in Philadelphia was a big problem, and many of these children died from gunshot wounds. When I agreed to write the story, the understanding was that I would accompany the woman to a funeral. It was a sad feeling knowing that I needed to plan to attend the funeral of a child who was still very much alive when the assignment was made. When I visited Philadelphia and attended the funeral, I used the skills I had learned in the UO’s literary nonfiction program to capture the scene, the emotions and the strength of the family and the woman I was profiling.

Working with Roast, the most educational experience was traveling to origin to see firsthand how coffee is grown and processed. It was an eye-opening experience.

Do you believe that Roast has changed the coffee industry at all in educating drinkers, farmers, and everyone in-between?

I would say that Roast has given roasters a place to go for information on their craft. Before the magazine existed, roasters would pass on their knowledge from one person to the next. There were very few written resources for roasters. The magazine has become a resource for coffee roasters, business owners, coffee importers and educators.

Do you read any other publications, blogs, etc. in order to get inspiration for your writing?

Yes, I read widely because I never know where I’ll get ideas and inspiration. I frequent several coffee blogs, food magazines, The New Yorker…basically anything I can get my eyes on. I first read about Linda Bartoshuk, the taste and smell researcher, in The New Yorker.

Is your staff all coffee-drinkers? Is that a requirement for working on Roast?

I wouldn’t say it’s a requirement, but it would be difficult to work in the coffee industry – and edit articles about coffee cupping, for example – without drinking coffee myself.

Has your magazine has any noticeable fluctuation in popularity due to less people partaking in print media?

We have not seen fluctuation in popularity, but we now offer a digital version of the magazine for subscribers who would like to read the magazine on-screen.

What do you look for in a potential writer for your magazine?

We look for expertise in the subject matter. Roast is a trade magazine that is read by everyone from new roasters to those who have been in the coffee industry for dozens of years. We need to be able to give useful information to roasters covering that spectrum of experience, and we find that contributors who work in the coffee industry are usually the best writers because they know the right questions to ask and the right people to consult.

Any other information you would like to share with an aspiring journalist and dedicated coffee-lover?

Try to get published in a variety of places, writing about a variety of topics. You never know where an article, an editor or a source will lead you. While I was in grad school, I did a summer internship at an environmental news service called Tidepool (it’s now called Sightline). My editor there recommended me to an editor he’d worked with at the Christian Science Monitor, and I ended up writing for the Monitor as a result. But above all, keep writing!

About bouchat

I am a blogger specializing in investigative reporting and editorial commentary. Currently a junior at the University of Oregon, I am majoring in journalism and Japanese.
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