Day after Day Job: Our Weekly Series on Home Roasters Turning Pro
Part 3 The Heat is On
Roasting is important. I’ve said it in every single other place and I will continue to say it again and again. Don’t tell me, or anyone, that you roasted the coffee so that you wouldn’t show too much influence over it, that you’re letting the coffee shine on its own. That’s ridiculous and misplaced humility. Roasting is not that incredibly difficult but it does require attention and care, just like cooking anything well does. You do need to have equipment that gives you some control over the energy input and the airflow, allows you to take accurate (or at least consistent) measurements, and has a trier that you can use to observe what is happening to the coffee during the roast. Can you achieve amazing roasts on your air-popper, Behmor, or other home roasting machine? Emphatically yes, but working at a commercial scale with any kind of efficiency, while at the same time being able to have control over shaping the roast, requires these utilities.
I don’t care about your logging software. I don’t. Is logging and keeping records of your roasts important? Absolutely, but it is not nearly as important as a sample trier that allows you to get a decent sample so that you can see and smell what’s happening to the coffee. You also need to be able to hear the first and second cracks. Coffee is not ones and zeros, and if you’re roasting to numbers instead of what is actually happening to the coffee, it’s frankly just boring and soulless work. It’s just another office job. There is creativity in setting that profile and creating the recipe, but you still have to be engaged and able to make adjustments.
What is a good roast? I truly and deeply believe that there is a wide range in which you can roast any one coffee and make it good. The surest ways to make a bad roast are to under-develop or over-develop it, to scorch, face, or tip it, or to bake it by stalling caramelization. I don’t want a coffee that’s all aggressive with everything right at the front of the palate, and I don’t want something that’s completely flat-lined either. Proper development is about creating a three-dimensional cup, where it peaks in the middle of the palate, so that there is an introduction, a build, a peak, and a finish. This can be done with light, medium, or dark roasts.
Yes, this can be done with dark roasts, which are not just carbon. A well-executed darker roast is one that will perform fantastically every time through a blade grinder and an auto-drip countertop coffee brewer, and will always perform better in that setting than most lighter roast coffees. Freshness is absolutely key in darker roasts.
For me, a good roast provides not just a dynamic cup; it is one you can talk about. Roasters don’t talk about their roasts with the consumer any more. They have all sorts of information about the coffee itself now, so they spend all their energy telling the consumer about the altitude, variety and region, and then some tasting notes. You don’t have to give a play-by-play of the roast, but you can use intentional language.
For example, don’t say the coffee tastes like caramel and peaches, say that you roasted it to bring out the caramel and peach characteristics. The customer might not taste the caramel and peaches, but they’ll taste that it’s roasted and that is a win. “They said they roasted it this way and I taste that it’s roasted. I’m good at tasting and want to give them more money.” As opposed to, “They said it tasted like peaches and I don’t taste peaches. So either I’m doing it wrong or they’re full of it.” Ultimately, the best measurement for whether or not your coffee is good enough is repeat customers. Stay tuned for next Friday's installment -Part 4 Being an Engaged Roaster (without Marrying Your Job)
Christopher Schooley is a coffee roaster who works for Sweet Maria’s and our CoffeeShrub project, and has served as the chair of the Roasters Guild Executive Council and has worked for the SCAA.
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