Homeroasted coffee vs. commercially roasted "pro" coffee

Discuss flavors, brew temperatures, blending, and cupping notes.
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RapidCoffee
Team HB

#1: Post by RapidCoffee »

...split from Can it Beat the Mazzer Robur? by moderator...



Ken Fox wrote:There is an assumption among home roasters that their roast product is good; unfortunately, this is often not the case. One reason why home roasters assume their roast product to be good is that they are comparing their home roast to what they can buy locally, which often seriously sucks. They are comparing to stuff like Starbucks or that gross dark and oily stuff sitting in bins at a supermarket.

In reality, homeroast runs the gamut, everything from very good to truly horrid. Ask anyone who has tasted a lot of it, people who get samples sent to them regularly, people who go over to other home enthusiasts' houses for an espresso ---

We home roasters are not professionals, we often have no training, we have highly varied equipment that varies in both its innate capabilities, and in the ability to accurately monitor the roast temperature during the roast process.
...
It sounds like you take your home roasting seriously, Rob, and that is good. I take mine seriously as well. This does not change the fact that many home roasters produce substandard results. I have tasted some, and I'll tell you, it is not uniformally excellent, however good yours might be.
Ken, you're on quite the roll these days. So our home roasts are substandard? Well, at least it's a welcome change of pace from hearing that North Americans don't know how to make espresso. :lol:

More seriously: I'd like to offer a counterpoint, because home roasting was arguably the biggest single step forward I've taken in my coffee odyssey.

Roasting coffee is not rocket science. It's cooking, fer cryin' out loud. Roasting coffee is much easier than many other food preparation activities, such as home brewing of beer or wine. With low-end roasting equipment, even beginning home roasters can produce results that are far better than anything found on a supermarket shelf. With slightly better gear and a bit of experience, the home roaster can surpass 99% of what's sold commercially. (I'm being cautious here; it's probably more like 99.99%.)

I don't see myself as a particularly accomplished home roaster, but I prefer my home roasts to anything I've found locally. Sure, there are a handful of artisan roasters in the US whose products are more consistent and, in some cases, clearly superior. But why insist on seeing the cup as 1% empty instead of 99% full? Home roasted espresso blends are my bread and butter; the occasional commercial roast makes a lovely treat and gives me a standard to strive towards. I don't home roast to save money, I home roast for the joy of it, for ready access to a wide variety of coffees, and because I truly enjoy the results.
Ken Fox wrote:One has to consider the impact of the raw material, e.g. the coffee, that is being used by a person who makes any particular comment about their espressos or coffees. In my opinion, the coffee that one uses is far and away the biggest factor in anyone's results, far outweighing any piece of equipment or issue of technique.

It is always germane to ask about the coffee.
Yes indeed. Which is one reason why the old Italian standards may not apply. Perhaps low cost arabicas mixed with high percentages of robusta drove those standards. We have access to better coffee nowadays.

A recent quote from Jim Schulman:
Espresso began life as the mass coffee of Italy, blended with beans not much better than you'll find in any supermarket coffee here. It is still that way now, with shots costing less than a buck at most bars. In this market, the bar owners have to be price conscious when buying coffees and the roasters have to economize. If you compare how a basic Italian bar blend, say Lavazza or Segafredo, tastes compared to what you get in supermarkets here, you'll see that Italian roasters have developed an astonishing level of skill at this art.
John

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luca
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#2: Post by luca »

RapidCoffee wrote:Roasting coffee is not rocket science. It's cooking, fer cryin' out loud. Roasting coffee is much easier than many other food preparation activities, such as home brewing of beer or wine. With low-end roasting equipment, even beginning home roasters can produce results that are far better than anything found on a supermarket shelf. With slightly better gear and a bit of experience, the home roaster can surpass 99% of what's sold commercially. (I'm being cautious here; it's probably more like 99.99%.)
Frankly, I think that that takes it way too far and would probably be seen as insulting by many of the pro roasters who read these forums.

If you're going to take that stance, at least take it in the HB spirit - by rounding up 57000 batches of home roast and commercial roast, several tonnes of equipment, a small country of baristi and Jim to do a blind tasting ;P

... or is your country's coffee industry really that incredibly backwards :twisted: :wink:

Cheers,

Luca
LMWDP #034 | 2011: Q Grader Exam, Brewer's Cup #3, Australian Cup Tasting #1

Ken Fox

#3: Post by Ken Fox »

luca wrote:Frankly, I think that that takes it way too far and would probably be seen as insulting by many of the pro roasters who read these forums.
I would go further; it is just plain silly to think that, and worse to post it.

Roasting is a real skill. There are variations in equipment and skill levels among various professional roasters. One big advantage that accomplished pros have is consistency, something that most home roasters can only dream about.

I have spent time with a number of professional roasters and watched them roast coffee. It's absurd to think that some guy in his garage (or kitchen), with no formal training, using a small air roaster or some other contraption is going to regularly equal (or best) the quality that a good pro accomplishes.

I have put a lot of time and effort into my own roasting adventure, not only extensively modifying my own equipment (which is professional grade) but regularly sending out samples to people whose palates I trust. I buy exceptional beans. Even with all of this, it is undeniable that my average results do not equal those of any number of pros that I have come to respect.

ken
What, me worry?

Alfred E. Neuman, 1955

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old442

#4: Post by old442 »

RapidCoffee wrote:With slightly better gear and a bit of experience, the home roaster can surpass 99% of what's sold commercially. (I'm being cautious here; it's probably more like 99.99%.)
Ken Fox wrote:I would go further; it is just plain silly to think that, and worse to post it.

It's absurd to think that some guy in his garage (or kitchen), with no formal training, using a small air roaster or some other contraption is going to regularly equal (or best) the quality that a good pro accomplishes..... it is undeniable that my average results do not equal those of any number of pros that I have come to respect.

ken
I took John's comments as meaning 99.99% of the tonnage of coffee sold, not 99.99% of professional roasters. Folgers et al sell a LOT of coffee. If you start with quality greens and take just a little care it is easy to beat Folgers. Producing a home roast consistently that is better than professional artisan roasters would be very challenging.

John,
I believe this is what you were implying, correct me if I interpreted your comments incorrectly.
Kurt
LMWDP 114

Ken Fox

#5: Post by Ken Fox » replying to old442 »

People who participate in these forums don't drink Folgers, except maybe on a really long airplane flight or other situation where they have no other choice. Few if any buy beans from the bins in the supermarket.

There are many fine roasters in the world, which includes the USA and Canada. Not all of them spend time on the internet or view online sales as being worth the effort. This does not mean that they don't know how to roast, it just means they don't go out of their way to get business from people like us.

There are at least 3 very competent roasters I know of in Idaho, a very small state by population, and none of them are talked about here on HB or on other internet coffee sites. I am sure there are tons of other ones, who value quality and who make the effort to attain it, throughout the country. You won't hear about them here, but they do exist.

Comparisons of roast results need to be done with the relatively small universe of roasters whose results might interest us enough to buy them; this by definition excludes virtually all the mass market producers. Otherwise, it would be akin to careful home bakers comparing their results to "Wonder Bread," or accomplished home cooks saying they can cook better than one finds at "Denny's."

And by the way, baking is an art, too. When I used to bake, I would be very circumspect about comparing my results to those of a talented professional baker. People spend years learning these trades, which includes roasting and blending coffee. The fact that many do these things poorly and sell gargantuan quantities into the mass market, does not elevate the results of those who strive to do these things well at home.

ken
What, me worry?

Alfred E. Neuman, 1955

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HB
Admin

#6: Post by HB »

Ken Fox wrote:And by the way, baking is an art, too. When I used to bake, I would be very circumspect about comparing my results to those of a talented professional baker.
When I first moved to France, I was impressed by the breads available at most corner grocery stores. It was certainly better than anything available in my hometown. After living there for a few years, I recognized it as the French equivalent of Wonder Bread in the US. We're fortunate to have an excellent French bakery near our house, which opened a few months before we moved back. Lionel's La Farm Bakery greatly reduced our Paris withdrawal pains. His small shop in Cary, North Carolina equals or beats any boulangerie I frequented in Paris; that's no small feat.

So yes, I believe talented pros in a given culinary field will consistently beat all but a few home practitioners, even in foods as "simple" as bread and coffee.
Dan Kehn

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old442

#7: Post by old442 »

Ken Fox wrote:People who participate in these forums don't drink Folgers, except maybe on a really long airplane flight or other situation where they have no other choice. Few if any buy beans from the bins in the supermarket.

ken
So you are saying that because you don't drink Folgers you don't count them as a commercial roaster that sells huge volumes :wink:
Kurt
LMWDP 114

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peacecup

#8: Post by peacecup »

HB wrote:So yes, I believe talented pros in a given culinary field will consistently beat all but a few home practitioners, even in foods as "simple" as bread and coffee.
In my opinion this is right on. I'm no student of the Bible, but I can't avoid thinking about bread as the essence of life. Dan's observations on both French bread/bakeries, and the quality of bread from a professional baker are very apropos to espresso.

I have been baking a French sourdough weekly now for nearly ten years (a recipe from The Village Baker). Real bread is the simplest of recipes - the ingredients are rye flour, a little wheat flour, flax seeds, water, and salt. I've baked some 100 loaves a year of this bread and it is amazing how much it varies. After nearly 1000 loaves I'm just beginning to understand it. Only a baker who makes tens of 1000's of loaves will come to "know" the art of baking.

I believe the same is true of blending and roasting coffee. I am always impressed when I visit Caffe Umbria in Seattle, where Emanuele Bizzarri carries on as a third-generation roaster:

http://www.caffeumbria.com/

I see the photos of his grandfather roasting and am awe-inspired. The family has roasted tens of 1000's of pounds of coffee, with a commitment to excellent espresso. I don't believe there is any substitute for experience.

I suppose one could live on bread and coffee, but only if both are very good....

PC
LMWDP #049
Hand-ground, hand-pulled: "hands down.."

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RapidCoffee
Team HB

#9: Post by RapidCoffee »

old442 wrote:I took John's comments as meaning 99.99% of the tonnage of coffee sold, not 99.99% of professional roasters. Folgers et al sell a LOT of coffee. If you start with quality greens and take just a little care it is easy to beat Folgers. Producing a home roast consistently that is better than professional artisan roasters would be very challenging.

John, I believe this is what you were implying, correct me if I interpreted your comments incorrectly.
Of course this is correct. I'm referring to quantities of coffee sold for consumption nationwide, and made no qualifications such as "not counting Folgers". (And I'll stand by those numbers, even if we don't count Folgers.) Huge amounts of coffee are sold in supermarkets, delivered in preground packages by coffee services to offices and hotels, etc. The poundage sold by specialty artisan roasters is a drop in the bucket by comparison.
Ken Fox wrote:There is an assumption among home roasters that their roast product is good; unfortunately, this is often not the case. One reason why home roasters assume their roast product to be good is that they are comparing their home roast to what they can buy locally, which often seriously sucks. They are comparing to stuff like Starbucks or that gross dark and oily stuff sitting in bins at a supermarket.
This was the post I responded to. Since you referenced Starbucks and supermarkets, that was my primary reference point as well.

The best professional roasters produce wonderful roasts, but this does not mean that discrediting amateurs is commendable practice. I also enjoy home-baked bread, even if I can't replicate the same wonderful crusts in my oven as a true French bakery. My friends and I enjoy playing guitar together, even though we could pop in a CD and listen to a recording of the world's finest music. And occasionally - occasionally! - amateurs can rise to the same high level as the best professionals. That's something well worth striving for.

Ken, I do have one question for you. Under the circumstances, why do you home roast? If I was convinced that my roasts were "substandard", I would quit home roasting.
John

IMAWriter

#10: Post by IMAWriter »

RapidCoffee wrote:This was the post I responded to. Since you referenced Starbucks and supermarkets, that was my primary reference point as well.

The best professional roasters produce wonderful roasts, but this does not mean that discrediting amateurs is commendable practice. I also enjoy home-baked bread, even if I can't replicate the same wonderful crusts in my oven as a true French bakery. My friends and I enjoy playing guitar together, even though we could pop in a CD and listen to a recording of the world's finest music. And occasionally - occasionally! - amateurs can rise to the same high level as the best professionals. That's something well worth striving for. [snipped]
I'd like to add to that...there have been #1 songs written by folks whom never had a cut...and in fact NEVER had another one...good stuff can happen for those with less talent, but a love for what they do.
With Kens line of thinking on this subject, no one would play golf for fear they could never approach Tiger's skill level...but as one who has "kicked" many a golf ball, I can say that I can play 17 terrible holes, and 1 really good one...guess which hole keeps me going?
I love the coffees from the professional roasters I mentioned previously...but as you (John) mentioned....regardless of any $$ savings, and even with my admitted inconsistency, I too would continue home roasting...there is something about doing it yourself.
Rob
LMWDP #187
www.robertjason.com