While various different steps are involved in the growing process for coffee, from fruit to your mug, we are going to be focusing on a single one today: the person who roasts your coffee.
This article is for anyone who wonders what a roaster does.
If you have ever seen one in action, you know that it is not a simple process; it can be time-consuming and intense.
It can be complex, with precise equipment and even some science. This isn't factory work, and an assembly line doesn't exit in this case .
These are craftsmen and scientists who have honed their craft and want to make exceptional beans.
There is a lot of work behind the curtain that we coffee drinkers and lovers don't know about or get to be a witness for.
And that is what the purpose of this article is all about: education on the work of roasters to form a better understanding and appreciation for our cup of morning coffee.
Coffee Comes from Across the Globe
Unlike most things that we consume, coffee is not made in a factory or a plant; it is made from the earth.
To be more exact, it is the seed of the coffee Shrub. It is planted, looked after, harvested, processed, and packaged before the roaster can roast it. All of these steps happen overseas. coffee roasters have to locate this coffee somehow to start their process.
Here are some ways that they do this:
- Warehouses/catalog sales - Utilized for decades, this method involves ordering green coffee from a trusted importer that requires the roaster to order from a catalog or visit a warehouse. At times samples may be available. however, authority was given to a Quality Grader to allow them to grade and price the specific coffees. This is much easier now than it was in the past, all thanks to the internet.
- Direct Trade - By visiting farms, the roaster will build a relationship with the farmers and inspect the property to get the coffee that was grown in that region. This makes deals far better for the farmer, as the roaster can forego the middleman (importer).
Although both have their pros and cons, direct trade has risen in popularity in the passing years.
Roasters and Global Relations
The basic principle of direct trade is making relationships with coffee farmers globally.
If it was simply about money and making a profit or finding the cheapest coffee beans, then roasters would turn to the internet; which is a viable option. However, specialty roasters think bigger.
At the forefront of ethical sourcing is the coffee company Intelligentsia coffee and Tea based in Chicago.
Their criteria for direct trade makes sure that they are buying coffee for at least 25% more than the Fair Trade pricing metrics.
When you consider the fact that the Fair Trade certification is about to bring fair wages to farmers and their workers, companies such as Intelligentsia are doing much more than bringing in profit; they are impacting the world.
Roasters who know their trade understand the level of poverty from the farms that they are purchasing coffee from; they want to help in any way they can.
They are great at learning all they can, listening to the farms, and investing in the local communities they source from. They do this by purchasing the coffee at higher prices than what would be asked, which helps the locals to invest in the resources that they desperately need, such as clean water, education, healthcare, and more.
Direct trade is based on partnership, building lasting relationships, and improving the state of the world through globally conscious sourcing.
You may not realize this, But the coffee roaster down the street does not simply place coffee beans into a hot machine and roast them. He sources the coffee that you drink by building partnerships and friendships from around the globe.
Goes in Green, Comes out Brown
Most obviously, roasters apply heat to coffee beans; however, There is much more to it than that. The process of roasting isn't simply about tossing green coffee beans into a roaster and letting them process then dumping the roasted coffee bean out.
For perspective, they have to start with careful planning of the roasting cycles. Because as you know, roasted coffee only has a period of max 3 weeks for peak freshness; the roaster has to be careful about roasting the right amount of coffee.
This can require weeks of planning and attention to supply and demand for green coffee and your consumers.
If you have ever been lucky enough to peer into the inner workings of a roasting facility, then you know how much organization and structure it takes to keep it running properly.
And then There is the actual roasting process.
The Science of Roasting
Although it only takes around 10-15 minutes for the actual roasting process.
There are a lot of chemical changes and reactions that take place in the coffee during that time.
Controlling these reactions to get the result that is desired can be difficult. There are small yet important changes in temperature, airflow, level of humidity; even time can change the final product. Because of this, roasters need to be very precise both with their roasting methods and the environment during this time.
To perfect the roasting method for a particular bean, roasters may perform "trial" batches that are much smaller.
This will allow them to record the time, temperature, and other aspects to get a closer look at what is happening to the coffee beans. After the sample beans have completed the roasting process, the roasters will wait around 12-24 hours before quality tests are performed.
When the tasting is performed (referred to as coffee cupping), they take meticulous notes; carefully grading the flavor, acid content, sweetness, bitterness, aftertaste, body, and aroma.
It is a very time consuming and intense process. After the roaster has identified the favorite from the batch of beans, he will repeat this process; sometimes more than once. In this way, he can get the coffee perfected before processing larger batches that will be sent to stores, homebrewers, and coffee shops.
The Art of Roasting
If you are a fan of one type of roasted coffee bean and switch to another type, you may find something different and interesting. coffee takes on the personalities of their roasters. Let me explain for a minute.
- Dallas Oak Cliff Coffee: Shannon will usually roast his coffee to be versatile and sweeter, with a medium body. His flavor may not always be specific, But it is always chosen well. This style of roasting is especially delicious to fans of Folgers and is enjoyable to even the most seasoned specialty coffee professional.
- Evocation Coffee in Amarillo, Texas: Roman's roasts his beans to have more complex flavors, and is less robust than Shannon's. His flavor descriptors are unique, to say the least, But are just as carefully chosen. Here is more of a subtle change in this flavor, But the roast profiles can frighten some away for being too different.
As you can see, There is a clear difference in style between the two roasters. Shannon likes his coffee to be tasty yet approachable to a wide range of coffee drinkers. While Roman likes to roast his coffee to be complex with a subtle undertone.
While both roasters are highly skilled and celebrated, they are not just focused on the (sometimes robotic) science behind roasting coffee. It's an art form for both and is an expression of the values and personality. roasting is an art as much as a science.
Investing in People
While roasters are men and women of science, craftsmen, artists, they are also your neighbors and members of your community.
They have a special love for their craft, although they also want to share this with everyone. The way that they do this is by investing in the individuals around them.
As we have already gone over, the coffee roaster thrives when their international relationship-building efforts evolve to the point of supporting the local communities of the farms.
Contribution efforts in building schools, clinics, and wells are the pride of many roasters, including the ones listed above.
They also love to help and empower the individuals in their community by being transparent about their coffee, including where it is sourced from and telling the stories of the farmers.
Think of coffee roasters as the bridge between the farmer and the everyday individuals that are enjoying the coffee that they have roasted. Because of them, we can see life beyond our culture and context.
Most importantly, the coffee roaster invests his time and effort into bringing individuals from cultures around the world close together to bond over a great cup of coffee.