Meet SCASA Board Member, Chris Rootman April 08 2019

Meet Chris RootmanNational Sales Manager at VDP Distributors and one of our newly elected board members. Chris, an ever forward and out-of-the-box thinker, with an astute sense of our industry, believes passion along with knowledge and hard work are key qualities to have if you want to rise to the top.

How did you end up working in the coffee industry?
As a student in the early 90’s I did some shifts as a waiter at an Italian restaurant in Pretoria. The owner was an absolute espresso junkie who taught me some of the intricacies of grinder settings, basic extraction and the difference between what he called a nipple cappuccino and an Italian cappuccino. I fell in love with the rhythms and steps and have since then, always surrounded myself with coffee, in all my career paths. Many people have taken me under their wing since then and I am privileged to have had some great mentors. I chose coffee as a career and hard work as a method to ensure I learn something new about the industry every day.

What excites you about the coffee industry?
The constant change and evolution. I remember leaving a previous job because I felt that I was stagnating. In our amazing industry, there is something new being discovered and implemented every single day, and no matter how much you think you know, the information growth is almost infinite. Our industry is made up of so many different specialities, and each one is different and exciting. 

Has South Africa’s coffee industry grown? Are we on par with the rest of the world?
I think we have seen phenomenal growth. If you look at the statistics released by Insight Survey’s latest South African Coffee Landscape Report, our consumption has grown by an average of 13,3% per year, since 2015. That consumption growth means that the whole supply chain and employment opportunities are expanding. I believe it is important to look at what is happening in industries across the globe, but that we should not measure ourselves against that. We have a very unique country with unique tastes, but more importantly, unique challenges and we should strive every single day to measure ourselves against ourselves. Are we better than yesterday? Did we do everything we can to grow/import/roast or buy a better coffee? Are we training people to make the best coffee possible? Most importantly, are we contributing to our industry and constantly doing our utmost to make it the best it can be?

As a SCASA BoD member what you like to see more of in the future (in the industry)?
I would like to see certified training standards that are regulated by an organisation, potentially SCASA. I would hope that the training becomes more accessible, more affordable and more practical, allowing for faster workplace integration. Lani Snyman has already done incredible work for SCASA and as someone who comes from a training background, I can only say that her work has inspired me. This facet of our industry has the ability to create employment and all of us should actively contribute to help our communities grow and create sustainable jobs.

What skills in your opinion should a barista or coffee professional have to be considered good?
Knowledge partnered with hard work is a recipe for success in any industry.

What can coffee shops do to create more awareness for specialty coffee
Educate. It all starts with the owners and managers. If they are interested and passionate, they will transfer that knowledge to the baristas, who will, in turn, educate the consumers. 

Any memorable SCASA coffee event moments you would like to share with us?
I have run a couple of competitions in the last few years and it is quite difficult singling out one specific moment. Those who are at these competitions will tell you that it is intensely emotional and stressful. Every single competitor goes through the same emotions and through this they form the most amazing friendships and camaraderie. We are all working for different businesses from Monday to Friday and are all fighting for our portions of the coffee market, but when the competition starts, everyone becomes part of this amazing community. I have worked in other industries and this characteristic is beautifully unique to our industry. I have made wonderful friends through these events and the sense of community is substantial and unique.

What is currently your favourite coffee, how are you brewing it, and why?
I am absolutely in love with a black honey processed bean from Nicaragua. Light roast prepared in my Chemex.

What’s your advice or motivation to current and/or aspiring coffee professionals out there?
Work hard, surround yourself with good mentors and become part of the coffee community.