Education is a passion second only to coffee for the owners of Noble Coffee Roasting in Ashland.

Education is a passion second only to coffee for the owners of Noble Coffee Roasting in Ashland.

Based on a curriculum that former teachers Carolyn and Jared Rennie developed over several years, Noble has been schooling its wholesale customers since the company's inception in all things coffee. Their four classes were so popular that the Rennies decided to open them this month to the general public. The next series of classes, $20 apiece, kicks off May 5.

"Our big goal as a company is to enrich people's lives through coffee," says Jared Rennie, Noble's president.

To that end, the Rennies converted an adjoining part of their Fourth Street building into a laboratory that accommodates both lectures and hands-on barista training. A "cupping table" for presenting the sensory aspects of coffee, and a coffee bar with grinders, hot water tower and La Marzocco espresso machine fill the space, along with seating oriented toward the built-in screen with LCD projector.

"In our coffeehouse, we are absolute coffee geeks," says Jared Rennie, likening Noble's classes to wine-industry workshops that empower customers to evaluate and appreciate the beverage.

"We want them to be able to enjoy their coffee at least as much as they're enjoying wine."

The lessons begin with "seed to cup," an overview of coffee's origins, farming, processing and roasting. Tasting concludes the two-hour session, when participants put their perceptions and ability to describe a coffee's characteristics to the test.

"A lot of people mix up bitterness and acidity or sourness," says Rennie, explaining that establishing a vocabulary is the first step in evaluating coffee. "It gives you the power to say this is what I like."

If coffee is bitter, for example, it's most likely "overextracted," which can be a consequence of grinding it too fine or brewing it with water that's too hot, says Rennie.

"If you can control time and you can control temperature " you can get incredible results every, single time," he adds.

Brewing fundamentals are the focus of Noble's second class, which includes discussions of coffee's strength and demonstrations of manual brewing methods. After tasting, participants learn how to adjust for variables in the brewing process and also for those inherent to coffee.

"We don't use big brewers," says Rennie.

Because French presses, Chemex funnels and systems of siphons constitute Noble's brewing equipment, there's really nothing keeping the educated customer from replicating the ideal cup of coffee at home, says Rennie. All of those coffeemakers, he notes, are fairly small and inexpensive and available at Noble or online.

Espresso requires a class of its own in which students learn the beverage's history and fundamentals, including steaming milk to the desired temperature and texture. Advanced barista techniques, the fourth and final in the series, delves into basic menus, efficiency, quality control and latte art.

"It's culinary-level training," says Scott Toll, who says he traveled the world to feed his passion for coffee. "I couldn't find anything better."

A longtime Noble customer, Toll sat in on the class series for professionals late last year and, shortly after, went to work for Rennie. The 55-year-old Ashland resident now is training as a barista.

Taking just the first two classes in Noble's series gives anyone the foundation to practice at home, says Rennie. While not required to take all four sessions, students should take them in order, he says.

Shifting Noble's efforts toward education entailed closing its profitable walk-up window on Ashland Plaza and also ceasing steady sales at the town's Tuesday farmers market, says Carolyn Rennie. The business won't recoup those profits from class fees, she says, but Noble stands to connect with a different type of customer for its certified-organic coffees, about half of them purchased directly from small farmers for fair wages.

Colombia, Honduras and El Salvador have been the most recent destinations for sourcing Noble coffee, says Jared Rennie. Trips to Rwanda and Ethiopia are in the works, he says.

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