Roasting ain't easy - not even for Marshall Hance

Discuss roast levels and profiles for espresso, equipment for roasting coffee.
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#1: Post by Chert »

On May 1st, I will have been roasting coffee for eleven years. Having found my way into roasting by way of high-end food and a lifelong love for coffee and coffee shop culture, I had the belief then that I still have today, that being an engineer with a culinary background was an ideal and unique skill set for roasting. Each roaster I've used, I designed and built with the aim of having more control over the roast using better thermometer placement than what I've seen commercially available.

Over the past six years, I've honed a system that I thought modeled the process perfectly, increased consistency, and optimized quality. For folks familiar with the roasting world, my system was based on Scott Rao's philosophies. I gravitated to his ideas because they were mathematical, repeatable (in theory), and made me feel like I had control over the roast process. Two years ago, I built an amazing 12kg air roaster with everything I had learned so far.

Despite all of this, I often felt I was going around in circles attempting to bring each of coffee's great qualities into focus at once. While the place I had zeroed in on was as close to perfect as I could get with my process, I held onto a much higher ideal. I'd had coffees with syrupy sweetness, vibrant acidity, fantastic fragrance, absolute clarity, juicy mouthfeel, but never all at once, and never so easy to brew that espresso was a convincing (to me) brewing option. There was always some artifact that got in the way of absolute clarity, and the one I tended to gravitate towards was a generic "chocolate" flavor simply because it's more pleasant than "underdeveloped" woody/grainy/or grassy flavors.

None of this is to say I hadn't fully believed in what I'd been offering, just that I always felt that there was "something more" possible, but I couldn't figure it out.

In February, I landed on something unexpected that invalidated most of what I thought I knew about roast profiling. This finding helped explain why I was previously not getting the repeatability and control I had expected, and finally somehow brought all of coffee's great qualities into focus at once. Thankfully, the roaster I designed and built is perfect for this new approach and without it I would have never made this discovery. Those of you who have ordered in the past two weeks have probably already noticed the big positive changes in the coffee.

This simple change in approach has allowed me to finally experience fully developed coffees that have no "out of place" flavors. The light roasts are the obvious beneficiaries to this change with their vivid fruit sweetness and clean, syrupy mouthfeel, but even Black Mountain, my dark roast, is finally able to offer what I had always wanted from it, being a full bodied sweet and fruited cup with the distinct and familiar chocolaty richness that a majority of people associate with the beverage. All of the coffees are now consistently brewing simply amazing and completely convincing cups, including when brewed as espresso.

Upon this breakthrough, I wanted to celebrate with the kind of ultra-boutique coffee I've always hoped to offer, but never had the confidence to show off in the light it was deserving of. The coffee I chose is La Palmilera. Something that that still blows my mind about coffee is that a beverage of this premier quality can be had for less than $2 per cup!
I think I am going to have to order some Mtn Air. Such a good coffee it was before Marshall's mysterious epiphany. Interesting - provocative advert from Mtn Air and a terse prior HB-er.
LMWDP #198


#2: Post by pcofftenyo »

Maybe we can get some specific elaboration by Mr. Hance.

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#3: Post by mkane »

Great selling points.


#4: Post by dale_cooper »

Very interesting - I'd love to hear more details, and I also miss his posts.

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#5: Post by Chert »

Me too. I poked around a bit and don't see much to learn about that air roaster he built - on social media. I don't know if that is the same one he mentioned on these pages or not. The coffee he roasted was good enough to inspire consideration of an air roaster for the next upgrade of mine.
LMWDP #198

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#6: Post by Marcelnl »

somehow I dont't expect the big difference is with the roaster yet I too fail to see any detail about what he might have learned.... :roll:
LMWDP #483

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#7: Post by Almico »

pcofftenyo wrote:Maybe we can get some specific elaboration by Mr. Hance.
The generalities are pretty well known. The specifics are what Mr. Rao gets paid for.

But I couldn't have said it any better than Marshall.


#8: Post by Bunkmil »

I'd had coffees with syrupy sweetness, vibrant acidity, fantastic fragrance, absolute clarity, juicy mouthfeel, but never all at once[...]
Same here! I am really curious to try his new way of roasting. And of course more details would be welcome...

If I remember correctly he was pretty strict about following Rao's "rules" a couple of years ago when he was posting here. I might be wrong though.

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#9: Post by Almico » replying to Bunkmil »

IIRC, Marshall tried pretty hard back then to discount Scott's philosophies. I tried the same. But in order to really poo-poo them, you need to figure out how to honestly apply them. All that process did was make a believer out of me, and a much better roaster.

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#10: Post by Peppersass »

What a frustrating post!

I don't know where the quoted post came from. but I can't imagine it was targeted at the roasting community because it does no one any good to hear that he's made a breakthrough without any information at all about how he did it. Sort of like saying, "Hey folks, I have a totally proprietary method for roasting coffee that will leave all of you in the dust. Ha Ha."

It reads like more of a marketing piece for current and prospective roasted coffee customers, with very tempting descriptions of flavors that make the reader want to order immediately.

The post certainly is of no educational value for roasters, other than to indicate that the result depends on following Roa's rules. Most of us would love to learn how he did that.