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How to Home Roast - Page 5

Postby pallen on Tue Feb 16, 2010 10:43 pm

So, we have some general guidelines about the roasting process. As has been stated, it takes about 5 minutes to learn these. (although perhaps longer for some of us that get the deer-in-the-headlights look from all the variables and machine-specific details) At this stage, hopefully we are all on the same page about the textbook "ideals". We each have ideas of how to achieve these ideals on our own equipment.

Now, that leaves us with the tedious work of roasting, tasting, adjusting to get to the next level. I can roast and I can taste, but when it comes to adjustments, sometimes I know what to try, other times the adjustments are shots in the dark. This may be another one of those things where there simply very few good general rules, but what would be very helpful is a kind of chart with some guidelines something along the lines of "When you taste X in the cup, this could be caused by Y and corrected by doing Z". For example: When your beans have little flavor and seem flat, this could be caused by a roast that went too long and is "baked". This can be corrected by shortening the roast time.

I know its very difficult to put taste into words that can be universally understood by everyone, but are there some common roasting "faults" to look out for with some well know ways to correct them? I'm not talking about machine-specific corrections, but general things like roast faster, stretch your time to 2nd crack, anticipate the roasts tendency to run away from and reduce heat sooner, etc... I've picked up a few such tidbits here and there in my 8 or 9 years of roasting, but I have never seen a collection of such tips all in one place.
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Postby Ken Fox on Tue Feb 16, 2010 11:50 pm

edwa wrote:Very nice to see this simply put in B&W. Can I apply these same general timings for 1C and end of roast for Decaf? I've read and seen how much quicker they can roast and find myself erring on the side of ending the roast possibly too soon, or taking to long to get to 1C. I then adjust to darken.


First I'd say that although I tried to give some basic guidelines as regards timing the roast, that none of this is "written in stone," and in the end the proof will be in the roast product. When I wrote the original post I thought about saying something about decaf, but in the end decided to leave it out. Decaf beans are hard to roast. Unless you are someone who can't tolerate caffeine, I'd either avoid roasting decaf when first starting out, or I'd just accept that they will come out less well and tolerate what I got.

As you indicate, decaf roasts faster, it needs less heat overall, and it is harder to get it to "behave" during the roast. Decaf beans, are, after all, "damaged beans," damaged by the decaffeination process. Nothing you do to them will make them "undamaged," and there is zero possibility that you will get as good an end product out of them as you could get from regular beans. They start out dark in color to begin with, and trying to roast them by observing their color as it changes can be very misleading. In addition, decaf green beans have a very short shelf life, two or three months in my experience. I don't bother with decaf anymore, I don't roast it and I don't drink it. But, then, that is just me. If you want to roast decaf I'd suggest becoming competent at roasting regular coffee first, and then afterwards you can start trying to roast decaf, going easy on the heat input and realizing it is going to take some time and experience to master it.

edwa wrote:Another question, and I suppose this is also dependent on machine type and bean, once 1C is hit is there a preferred heat profile for the stage leading to 2C or does it not matter as long as you get to those timings? I'm not sure I've put my question clear enough. An earlier post stated that they ventilated (via open door) for 3 minutes while using a P1 profile. That setting is 100% power for the duration of the roast with his added open door ventilation, compared to say, a profile that lowers the heat to 70 % after 1C has started but isn't ventilated. Is there a temp/internal heat momentum that we want to ride or is it better to allow a cooling and then add more heat? For the sake of this question ignore how quickly you can increase the heat.


I don't think we can generalize across roaster types. What you want to do is to have a relatively constant increase in temperature from the onset of first crack, although during the first part of first crack, where more heat is likely going to be required to keep the roast going, the increase in "bean" temperature will likely be slower. What you don't want to do is to get your 4 or 5 minute interval by stalling the roast for a while during this period and later pushing it to make it finish. Exactly how to go about doing that on your roaster will take some practice and perhaps experimentation.

pallen wrote:So, we have some general guidelines about the roasting process. As has been stated, it takes about 5 minutes to learn these. (although perhaps longer for some of us that get the deer-in-the-headlights look from all the variables and machine-specific details) At this stage, hopefully we are all on the same page about the textbook "ideals". We each have ideas of how to achieve these ideals on our own equipment.

Now, that leaves us with the tedious work of roasting, tasting, adjusting to get to the next level. I can roast and I can taste, but when it comes to adjustments, sometimes I know what to try, other times the adjustments are shots in the dark. This may be another one of those things where there simply very few good general rules, but what would be very helpful is a kind of chart with some guidelines something along the lines of "When you taste X in the cup, this could be caused by Y and corrected by doing Z". For example: When your beans have little flavor and seem flat, this could be caused by a roast that went too long and is "baked". This can be corrected by shortening the roast time.

I know its very difficult to put taste into words that can be universally understood by everyone, but are there some common roasting "faults" to look out for with some well know ways to correct them? I'm not talking about machine-specific corrections, but general things like roast faster, stretch your time to 2nd crack, anticipate the roasts tendency to run away from and reduce heat sooner, etc... I've picked up a few such tidbits here and there in my 8 or 9 years of roasting, but I have never seen a collection of such tips all in one place.


I wish I could answer your questions, but I'm either not smart enough or not experienced as a roaster to even try. Beans that are "baked" are not going to have just one observable defect, and the degree of "baking" is going to impact how marked the defects are. In its mildest form, the coffee is just going to taste flat when you would expect it to be lively, and it is downhill from there to where you started with perfectly good beans and you ended up with something undrinkable.

My approach as a home roaster is to buy the best beans I can get my hands on, and then roast them in a way that I don't ruin them. I'm not trying to add anything into the beans that isn't there to begin with -- I'm just not good enough at roasting to do that, nor do I think that there are very many people who can accomplish that. So, I try to roast "cleanly," to do things gradually, and as much as anything to avoid doing things that I know can diminish the results. There may be some subtle things that a roast master might do that could bring out the best in one sort of bean, then some other subtle things they could do with another sort of beans to bring out their best qualities. I'm just not that good, and I don't think I ever will be. Judging by the quality of many commercial roasts I've tried, most commercial roasters aren't that good at it, either.

What are the things that will, for sure, damage your roast product? They are scorching (by putting the beans into a roaster that is too hot, or by applying way too much heat during the roast); "baking," by letting the roast take way too long to finish, either by a too-slow temperature rise and/or stalling the roast; not allowing enough time for the beans to develop by rushing the period between the onset of 1st crack and the end of the roast; and (in my opinion) by roasting too dark, so dark that you obscure the fine varietal qualities that were present in the beans when you started but that were "charred out of them" at the end by roasting too dark.

I think that if you concentrate more on buying the best beans you can afford, and on avoiding the screwups above, you will go much further towards getting good roast results than you will by focusing on minutia such as small differences in roast curve appearance and other factors that probably won't effect the end results much and may not even be modifiable with your equipment, no matter what your intentions.

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Postby Ken Fox on Wed Feb 17, 2010 2:41 am

I have one other thought that I haven't expressed elsewhere in this thread, that needs to be expressed. This thought ties in with the rest of what I've tried to say in my original post and responses along the thread, and perhaps will explain to some who think they are following the discussion but who are looking for a magic piece that isn't there.

This post and thread are about ROASTING, not about BLENDING. Anyone who is into espresso has had a profound moment or two drinking a magical espresso that came from beans produced by a master roaster. The shot(s) may have been pulled in a marquee cafe, or they may have been produced on your home machine. If you are thinking about how you might reproduce this experience, for yourself, with beans that you roasted yourself, it is necessary to realize that a lot of what you appreciated in the shot was the work product of someone who is good at blending coffee.

The big Scotch houses, and Champagne houses, do a good job at maintaining a "house style" that they seem to be able to produce year after year. It's a lot harder to do this with an espresso blend and few if any roasting operations are able to achieve this sort of consistency. There will be lots of variation from season to season and year to year. But when you hit a magical moment when a blend is at its best, and if you like the flavor components in the blend, this is not something that you are very likely to be able to duplicate at home. Even in the case of marquee roasters who sell their blends in green form, what they sell you is likely not something that you can roast to get their results. There are lots of reasons for this, including the fact that the professional roaster is probably roasting the component beans separately, perhaps to different roast levels, then combining them later, while you just ended up getting all the green beans mixed together in a bag (assuming they even try to duplicate what they are selling roasted in what they are selling in green form).

I don't even attempt to blend coffee, and only roast single origins. Some here will try their hand at blending, and a few will succeed. In any event, it is important to realize that while roasting is a craft (like bread making), blending is an art, and other than a few standard "recipes" guaranteed to produce a mediocre blend, no one can tell you how to do it, it is something you will have to discover on your own.

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Postby farmroast on Wed Feb 17, 2010 3:13 am

I'll give another thought on blending home roasts. I don't have to create a house blend, or a crowd pleaser, or have to have one or two consistent blends. If I did I'd probably be limited by the best of standardish beans to be able to consistently recreate year after year. As a home roaster I drink what I roast, the good and not so good. And I can buy several outstanding beans with espresso potential, roast them up and post blend and adjust or use some of them as a SO. I tend to prefer SOs as theres just something about tasting all that is in one fine bean. Then I'll often consider adding something else to it.
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Postby pallen on Wed Feb 17, 2010 10:35 am

Ken Fox wrote:I think that if you concentrate more on buying the best beans you can afford, and on avoiding the screwups above, you will go much further towards getting good roast results than you will by focusing on minutia such as small differences in roast curve appearance and other factors that probably won't effect the end results much and may not even be modifiable with your equipment, no matter what your intentions.

ken

Thanks for the reply.

That's basically what I have been doing for years now. I shoot to be somewhere between scorching and baked and experiment with various roast degrees with each bean. Even the most crude equipment with a little tweaking seems to be capable of this. I was just hoping there was some secret knowledge from the master roasters out there that could give me some new things to try to fine tune my "profiling" for even better results.

Thanks to this thread, I have been obsessing lately over time to 1st crack in the Behmor. Its got me thinking about new options - shorter time to first crack, longer stretch to 2nd, longer stretch to 1st crack, preheating the roaster, preheating the beans. All of these options can happen in the space between a profile that scorches and a profile that is baked.

I guess if this were easy, I would have lost interest long ago...
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Postby Ken Fox on Wed Feb 17, 2010 11:41 am

pallen wrote: I was just hoping there was some secret knowledge from the master roasters out there that could give me some new things to try to fine tune my "profiling" for even better results.

Thanks to this thread, I have been obsessing lately over time to 1st crack in the Behmor. Its got me thinking about new options - shorter time to first crack, longer stretch to 2nd, longer stretch to 1st crack, preheating the roaster, preheating the beans. All of these options can happen in the space between a profile that scorches and a profile that is baked.

I guess if this were easy, I would have lost interest long ago...


Firstly, no one said this is easy :mrgreen:

The people who are really good at this, a few selected pros, do this as a job, and have years of high volume experience, which they couple with well developed cupping and blending skills. Probably none of us home roaster types will ever get up into that level. This is not to say that we can't do a good or even excellent job, with enough time and effort expended.

I personally think that the best that any of us here can hope to do is to learn the important factors about roasting, and then to learn our own roasters and how they perform, and how to use them best. We can become "experts" on using our own equipment, and some of that expertise will be transferable if and when we upgrade equipment.

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Postby GC7 on Wed Feb 17, 2010 12:58 pm

I believe an underappreciated factor in becoming a good or adequate home roaster and one not mentioned here as yet is the ability to cup or taste coffee and recognize flavors and defects. How can one even begin to make rational changes to roast profiles and get the most origin specific features of a bean if you can't taste and recognize what is in the cup?
I have benefitted greatly from reading a great deal here and on Sweet Marias, GCBC and other sites and combined with sampling lots of origins both home roasted and in pro roasts and cafes really (IMHO) improved my cupping and tasting skills over the past 1 ½ years. I think this as much as anything else has helped my roasting.
I personally think that it would be ideal to have group cupping of both great and flawed roasts with experts to get reference points from the same coffees for comparison and future use. Absent that I find it hard to use judgments or recommendations on coffees. The exceptions perhaps are Tom at Sweet Marias who after a couple of years and lots of sampling I can usually pick coffee that I will really enjoy. Others at GCBC where I've sampled and compared notes are also trusted because I have a reference. I think it is the combination of those skills and the ones being discussed in this thread that make a good home roaster.
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Postby Ken Fox on Wed Feb 17, 2010 1:07 pm

GC7 wrote:I believe an underappreciated factor in becoming a good or adequate home roaster and one not mentioned here as yet is the ability to cup or taste coffee and recognize flavors and defects. How can one even begin to make rational changes to roast profiles and get the most origin specific features of a bean if you can't taste and recognize what is in the cup? . . . . .. . . . . I think it is the combination of those skills and the ones being discussed in this thread that make a good home roaster.


Improving your ability to taste both the good and the bad in coffee is a real asset.

Another thing one can do, something that I do, is limit the scope of what one attempts to do. I'm principally interested in individual varietals that can make a good single origin espresso. There's not an enormous number of these. Even though there are hundreds of unique varietals, which vary every year according to crop quality and what is available in any given market, I don't feel that I have to even try to become knowledgeable across this huge range of coffees. For one thing, I don't have the time for it, and for another, I'd rather do a good job with a small and select group of coffees than a mediocre job with a large number.

One thing that home roasters can do is to learn what kinds of coffee they like the best, and then to concentrate on those. By narrowing the field, the chance of achieving success is much improved.

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Postby pallen on Wed Feb 17, 2010 2:25 pm

GC7 wrote:I believe an underappreciated factor in becoming a good or adequate home roaster and one not mentioned here as yet is the ability to cup or taste coffee and recognize flavors and defects. How can one even begin to make rational changes to roast profiles and get the most origin specific features of a bean if you can't taste and recognize what is in the cup?

That's basically what I was getting at. Unfortunately, I believe a forum on the internet is a terrible way to transfer any knowledge or experienced gained in this area.
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Postby pallen on Wed Feb 17, 2010 2:36 pm

Ken Fox wrote:The people who are really good at this, a few selected pros, do this as a job, and have years of high volume experience, which they couple with well developed cupping and blending skills. Probably none of us home roaster types will ever get up into that level. This is not to say that we can't do a good or even excellent job, with enough time and effort expended.

ken

I completely agree - that the truly great roasters with be those with the highest levels of experience and a passion for quality. On the other hand, one of the factors that got me into home roasting was that I could fairly easily do better than most "professional" roasters for my own personal tastes at home. That passion factor is often lacking in the profession since economics brings other influences. Profitability is sometimes at odds with consistently maintaining the highest quality. Cheaper beans means higher margins, faster, more efficient production might not always coincide with the optimal roast profile. Spending the time and resources to optimize your roast profile might not make sense to the bottom line if what you have is already "good enough". McDonald's and Starbucks have proven that mediocrity is very profitable.
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