Aug. 2, 2019
We talk about our Flores coffees as being a nice alternative to Central American coffees, which has a lot to do with the balanced cup flavors and roast versatility. It's that latter aspect that I explore in this blog, not so much in terms of roast level, but by roasting Flores Gunung Gedha in two different roasting machines - a popcorn popper and Quest M3s.
Poppers are by far the most accessible and least expensive entry to the coffee roasting hobby. The unmodified popper is limited by a single heat setting and small roast chamber. But the access afforded to the roasting coffee is second to none. Add to that the ability to roast small batches quickly, and the popcorn popper is one of the best roasters to start on in my opinion (and even end on!).
I use an old West Bend Poppery II for roasting coffee
On the other end of the cost spectrum is our Quest M3s. It's built like a small, tabletop shop drum roaster, replete with manual heat and airflow settings and miniature bean trier to view the coffee during the roasting process. Manual controls mean you have the ability to profile a coffee and potentially draw out different characteristics in the cup.
But back to the coffee a minute. Like Central American producing countries, wet processing is the norm for farmers in Flores, a technique known to promote cup cleanliness and more articulated acidity. Depending on where along the roast spectrum you wind up, the coffees show balanced bittersweetness and body similar to the cup characteristics of a mild Guatemalan coffee. And balance is a key factor I focus on when judging the final cups, noting any differences due to roast development.
Not much color variance from one roast to the next
For my popper roasts, I decided to mitigate the inherent limitations by adjusting roast batch size. My first batch was 100 grams of coffee, or roughly 1/2 cup. I hit first crack around 3:15 seconds in, finishing it off at 4:45 when 1st snaps were all but finished. The roasted coffee weighed 87 grams, a 13% weight loss. The outside color looked a bit dark for a weight that should be City, but the cup would be the ultimate test.
My second popper batch was 70 grams, which achieved 1st crack at 2:37, a bit faster than the previous roast. In trying to match physical color to the 100 gram batch, I wound up stopping the roast at 4:04. The roasted coffee weighed 61.3 grams which meant a weight loss of 12.5%, fairly close to the previous roast.
For the Quest roast, I went with a single heat setting to mimic the popper to some degree. I know that 100 grams does well with the heat input set to 7.5 amps and fan setting wide open. I stuck with those parameters and my roast times were close to what I shoot for when sample roasting: 1st crack 6:55/401F, finishing at 8:55/419F, and weight loss of 13.1%. I figured the Quest roast would be my flavor benchmark, an "ideal" roast level to taste test the two much faster, less than perfect roasts from the popper.
Rather than note all the different flavors in the cup, I set out to judge how this coffee tastes under the different roasting conditions, rating four main categories on a scale of 1 - 5; balance, sweetness, acidity, and body.
Blind cupping results are in, and the winner is...
I cupped these blind, and fully expected the 2nd or 3rd position to be my trusted Quest roast. I was pretty surprised to find that wasn't the case, and in fact, I liked the Quest roast the least. To be fair, I enjoyed all three and felt they were close approximations of the description in our review. But in this side-by-side assessment, roast #3 - the least likely candidate for "best" based on conventional roasting wisdom - won out.
Not a lot of visible differences on the cupping table, all crusts are about the same depth
So what does this mean? Well, for starters, it's a reminder that all you really need is a popcorn popper to roast delicious coffee yourself! But it's not saying that a popper is the better machine. Adjusting the roast parameters on the Quest would yield different results and easily change all of this.
I have a feeling that the reason I preferred the popper roasts has something to do with my Quest roast being too light all around. It's also the case that popcorn poppers tend to roast fast, so the roasted coffee beans are less developed at the center and darker on the outside. This is expressed as a more complex cup, with higher perceptions of acidic impression and sweetness.
It's also a testament to the durability of this Flores bean. Taking almost any coffee to 1st crack in 2.5 minutes risks charring the outside, invariably introducing bittering, ashy flavors in the cup. But this coffee withstood the high heat without issue, coming off sweet and balanced, and finishing clean. In this way, the dense Flores coffee is a prime candidate for popper roasting, similar to many of our high grown Central American coffees.
*Check out our entire Flores lineup on Sweet Maria's or Coffee Shrub
*Have a look at the Nostalgia Electric Popcorn Popper/Coffee Roaster
*See what all the fuss is about with the Quest M3s