Wood roasted coffee

Discuss flavors, brew temperatures, blending, and cupping notes.

#1: Post by klemenv »

I have been reading regarding coffee roasted in wood burning roasters, and I would like to ask, if anybody has experiences with?

Is it a fade, marketing pitch, or there is real taste difference?


#2: Post by Nik »

I can only compare a recent purchase of Ethiopia Amaro Gayo that was wood roasted by Matt's Coffee in Maine. The first bags came from Klatch which were not wood roasted. I can only say that the flavor of berries was more robust in the wood roasted. However I think there are other factors that would affect it as much as the wood.

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#3: Post by michaelbenis »

There is a taste difference.

Whether you like it, depends on your tastes, of course. :D

And the fact that beans are wood roasted is no guarantee that they are roasted well.... :shock:


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#4: Post by Nik »

Also Mike, if they are not wood roasted there is no guarantee that they are roasted well either.


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#5: Post by another_jim »

michaelbenis wrote:There is a taste difference.
I have no doubt there's differences overall between the commercially available wood roasted and regularly roasted coffees. But is it just due to the fuel? A flat statement like the one quoted makes that suggestion, and it is unsupported.

There are some very good craft roasters using wood fired roasters and they produce some very fine coffees. But when they do both wood and regularly fired roasts, they tend to charge a premium for the wood fired roasts, they pay more attention, and they use better beans. Which of these factors makes the roasts so good is up in the air.

In addition, some roasters doing wood firing close the dampers and do an aroma roast, imparting a more smoky flavor, which people would expect from beans labeled in this way. Smoky flavors develop with any closed damper roast, wood or gas. Does anyone here know if closed damper gas roasts would be very different from closed damper wood roasts? I've never tasted them side by side, but the overall style is similar.

Bottom line: I don't believe anybody has ever had a a wood fired and gas fired roast from the same roasting device, done to the same roasting profile, for the same beans, tasted side by side. So nobody actually knows whether, flat out and absolute, "there is a taste difference."

I tend to be allergic to unsupported assertions, as are most of the other regulars. When the internet coffee boards started, about 12 years ago, there was a lot of conventional wisdom, amply supported by repeated anecdotes like these, that turned out to be completely false and misleading. Every time one of the myths got shot down, the espresso gets better. So I get testy when I see new myths forming.
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#6: Post by malachi »

It's hard to see how one could have the level of precision and repeatability that is optimal for roasting using a wood fire as your heat source.
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#7: Post by michaelbenis »

Sure, Jim. I have never tried a roast by the same roaster of identical beans to the same profile with the only difference being wood/non-wood. So I cannot be 100% sure. There is nothing scientific in my assertion. It is only supported by my own impressions of my own experience.

These impressions are that I have found similarities between wood-roasted beans of different types and profiles over the years which lead me to believe that the wood roasting plays a role in the results in the cup. It would be dishonest not to say so. Also, I am not alone in this impression.

I accept that the use of the damper could also influence this. As could the type of wood, any herbs added and so on. I likewise accept your suggestions that maybe the craft roasters you refer to aren't producing like-for-like wood/non-wood roasts.

I certainly don't believe the wood roasting is an overshadowing factor in determining the result and am willing to accept that I could be autosuggesting myself into believing a "myth" - as you suggest.

But there is nothing either to suggest that the reverse might not be the case. So the original poster may well find it worthwhile exploring.

Malachi: I have a wood roasted four-arabica blend flown to me regularly from Italy. It is very consistent. More so than blends by some very famous new-wave roasters using the most advanced modern equipment. Which suggests one can with practice get the hang of it like some of the old Japanese master potters with their improbable wood-fired kilns.

Klemenv: you may find it worth experimenting with a wood roast or two or three to see how you feel about it. In the end the important thing is to to find a bean and roast that really drive you wild, however it's arrived at.

There are so many other factors involved than just the wood roasting, however. I don't believe it is a make-or-break factor, which is what I was getting at in my original reply. The blend I am so fond of could possibly be just as good if roasted by some other method. I don't know. It is only available as a wood roast. I suspect that the wood roast is part of its magic. I seem to remember from some of your other posts that you live very near Italy. With a little asking around, you should be able to find a good old-school roaster or two to give this a try.


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#8: Post by jc69 »

michaelbenis wrote:I have a wood roasted four-arabica blend flown to me regularly from Italy. It is very consistent. More so than blends by some very famous new-wave roasters using the most advanced modern equipment. Which suggests one can with practice get the hang of it like some of the old Japanese master potters with their improbable wood-fired kilns.
Mike, just out of curiosity, may I ask you which particular blend you are referring to?
Regards, Jan

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#9: Post by michaelbenis »

Hi Jan,

I'm referring to the Marosticana Blue there.

It breaks all sorts of rules (best by date only, no valve etc) but I really like it for a change from my various SO obsessions.

They have a dreadful website here http://www.marosticanacaffe.com which links to Italian Kitchen Aids from whom you can buy online, but no less than 5kg.

It compares quite favourably with real old-school wood-roasts that I've enjoyed in my 35-year-plus love affair with espresso. Many of the eye-popper superlative beans I've enjoyed over the years have been wood roasts. I have no idea how big a role the wood plays in why they were so superb, but the "coincidence" has been high enough for me to recommend that anyone who is curious give them a try. None of those roasters were as inconsistent as the modern roasters I referred to.

Perhaps it's like pizzas. I've had had great pizzas out of all sorts of ovens and bad pizzas out of wood-fired ovens, but almost all the truly exceptional pizzas I've enjoyed have been cooked in wood-fired ovens. Coincidence? Myth? Quite possibly both. But whenever I see a pizza parlour that advertises it has a wood-fired oven, I'm sorely tempted to give them a try.... and I'd recommend any pizza-lover to do the same - without that meaning any disrespect to the scientists among us.


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#10: Post by Whale »

Regardless of the temperature control that might or not be adequate, it is nigh impossible to cook anything on a wood fire without it tasting a bit of the wood smoke.

If someone would want to build a wood burning roaster that would not convey any smoke taste to the coffee he would have to completely isolate the wood fire from the coffee. I guess it would be possible but it really would require very good venting system and significant separation of the fire and the roasting chamber. That does not seem energetically efficient but...

My only experience in a remotely similar matter is with maple syrup production with wood burning and other heat sources. The syrup made with wood burning does taste different although it is not in direct contact with the flame or the smoke. And for maple syrup production also the big players do it with heating system that provide very accurate temperature control while some little guys do it with wood and a lot of caring and attention.

I do not know how any of the various wood fire roasters are built but to me it would be reasonable to expect some flavor effect to take place with only the smallest exposure of the beans to the wood burning.

I do not know the final answer. Although it may not have been scientifically proven why (I will not hold my breath until this happens) there is a reasonable chance (in my opinion) that indeed wood burning coffee roasting would produce differently tasting coffee.

Just expressing an idea that is not much more than speculation. So do with it what you will.
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