Coffee roasting... for coffee drinkers?

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

I was hoping someone could recommend a "roasting 101"-type course of exercises? Thrilled to buy a book, happy to buy some simple equipment. Not looking to seriously get into this (it seems really hard to best the pros!), I just want to understand the fundamentals in the hope that it adds depth to my enjoyment of the end product.

Maybe this is more about beans and less about roasting per se, and maybe this is too advanced, but I'd really like to understand a bit about how blends are constructed. It would also be great to learn about where SO qualities come from (e.g. for a given cultivar, growing condition, etc, what might the coffee taste like).

Thanks!

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lassepavoni
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#2: Post by lassepavoni »

Do you know Christopher Feran's Blog? https://christopherferan.com/

Not sure if that is what you're after, but for me it certainly added some depth and fundamentals to my knowledge.
Regards, Lasse
LMWDP #744

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Sal
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#3: Post by Sal »

Have you visited the https://www.sweetmarias.com/? Not only do they sell green beans and roasting equipment for home roasters, but they also provide very comprehensive tutorials and cheats for each roasting device they sell. Their YouTube video is also very helpful. I started my home roasting a couple of decades ago when I first moved out of a big city to a rural town where I could not find good roasters. This was before the explosion of specialty coffee and online merchants.

Many first-home roasters start the hobby with a manual or an electric popcorn popper. AFAIK, Sweet Maria is the only place you can buy a popcorn popper for coffee roasting purposes. I started with then $130 Nesco (though back then it was called Zach & Dani's). Since then move on to FreshRoast and Behmor roasters. Now waiting for the delivery of the new Bunafr Roaster. I would love to use more sophisticated roasters with integrated Artisan temperature control, but those machines are way over my budget. I do home roasting mostly to save money. But as far as I have experienced, I have not found any pro-roasted beans to be better than my own creation. After all, I am the only person who knows what roasting profile and cupping flavor I like. I roast only for my own enjoyment, it is far cheaper than buying pro-roasted coffee from the store or online.
I am a home-roaster, not a home-barista...

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Jeff
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#4: Post by Jeff »

For learning what things taste like, it's hard to beat a comparative cupping with a few people. Taken alone, many coffees mainly taste like coffee you either like or don't. When you start comparing different origins, processing styles, or roast levels, you can start to build a vocabulary for what you're sensing, as well as what flavors you enjoy (or dislike) and what they might be associated with. Then when you look at a blend of something like a Brazil and an east African natural, it starts to makes sense why those two were picked.

Bean_Thinking (original poster)
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#5: Post by Bean_Thinking (original poster) »

Thanks for the resources!

Sweet Maria's, in particular, seems to have some good technical information about some of the more basic "popcorn-adjacent" roasting techniques. That will probably be useful.

I'm really looking for a syllabus. In most topics, there tend to be certain exercises that give you more bang for your pedagogical buck/serve as efficient vehicles for fundamental techniques or principles. Maybe some alternative phrasings for my question:
  • If you were teaching an introductory college course on roasting, what would be the topics of the hands-on labs?
  • If you were trying to get a friend into roasting, what would be the first three things you'd tell them to do?
  • If you were writing a cookbook of roasting, what would be the equivalent of your "mother sauces", and what would be the recipes that demonstrate them?
Maybe a little more perspective on my goals would be useful. What got me started on this was a couple ideas:
  • As a food, coffee is weird in that we cook it twice (roasting + brewing). Maybe I know a little about brewing it, but I feel like I know very little about the roasting/raw ingredients. I only have half the picture!
  • Your appreciation for things gets a lot deeper if you know something about how they're made. E.g. you have richer thoughts about food if you have nontrivial cooking skills.

Bean_Thinking (original poster)
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#6: Post by Bean_Thinking (original poster) »

Re: cupping. A little structure would be helpful there, too. I could go pick 5 different coffees and taste them, and it would probably be fun, and I'd probably learn something. But some advice about constructing my set of 5 (or however many), and what to look for in those coffees might maximize my experience:

E.g.
coffees 1 & 3 are natural process, notice...
coffees 2, 4, & 5 are high-altitude, notice...

Thanks again

Squeezin' Beans
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#7: Post by Squeezin' Beans »

Plenty of foods are cooked multiple times with multiple methods. Not sure how cooking skills will play into coffee roasting.
There's many things you can do with a chicken breast to improve it before cooking, that said I've never marinated my beans prior to roasting.
For beans, you'll notice a large difference between the various processing methods, Natural/dry processed, versus washed/wet processed, and the spectrum between. For descriptions that might be of use to you, we would need to know more about what types of food you cook/ been exposed to.
It's especially helpful if you've experience with other types of fermented agricultural products, or other roasted/ dry heat processed products.

You might be more interested to learn about cultivars, altitudes, and sorting/grading houses, as those details generally differentiate coffee by region, which is probably more impactful than how the beans are finally roasted and brewed.

Keep in mind some of the more impactful beans differ greatly year to year, so without tasting something from the same batch, it's difficult to make generalizations.

It's not like you're in a region devoid of great roasters, I'd start local.

Bean_Thinking (original poster)
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#8: Post by Bean_Thinking (original poster) »

I wasn't saying cooking skills will help with roasting! I was making a (presumptive) analogy that some grasp of roasting fundamentals will aid coffee appreciation--that's my destination here

Funk-o-scale:

kimchi - yes
natto - yes
fish sauce/anchovies - yes
stinky tofu - I draw the line here. Can get a bit too "fertilizer" to me

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Sal
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#9: Post by Sal »

Bean_Thinking wrote:Thanks for the resources!
I'm really looking for a syllabus. In most topics, there tend to be certain exercises that give you more bang for your pedagogical buck/serve as efficient vehicles for fundamental techniques or principles.
I have not read them, but books by Scott Rao have been the "textbook" for many roasters.
https://www.amazon.com/Coffee-Roasting- ... 1792327757
https://www.amazon.com/Coffee-Roasters- ... B01FGOH0AW
I am a home-roaster, not a home-barista...

N3Roaster
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#10: Post by N3Roaster »

Bean_Thinking wrote: I'm really looking for a syllabus. In most topics, there tend to be certain exercises that give you more bang for your pedagogical buck/serve as efficient vehicles for fundamental techniques or principles. Maybe some alternative phrasings for my question:
  • If you were teaching an introductory college course on roasting, what would be the topics of the hands-on labs?
I've been involved in developing basically that. The classes in the old SCAA heritage roasting track cover that sort of thing. It's unfortunately no longer offered in that form, having been rolled into SCA's Coffee Skills Program which separates certain aspects out a little too much in order to avoid excessive overlap among modules targeted at different segments of the industry. Either program would have been too expensive to recommend unless it's your career, but the basic outline of what was there is, I think, relevant here.

A history of coffee roasting equipment - You can get a lot of this from Ukers' All About Coffee (public domain, should be easy to find a free copy online). This helps with an understanding of what the process is, what the challenges are in doing it at scale, though as a product of the 1920s that's not going to get into the major advancements in contemporary profile roasting that you could start to see developing and being communicated significantly in the 70s, getting tool support starting in the 80s, and making their way into smaller shop roasters through the 90s.

Cupping, brewing, and tasting - Cupping is the lingua franca of the coffee world and cupping methodologies are highly adaptable to a broad range of practical tasks, so knowing the mechanics of doing it and getting some practice doing that in a group is critical, but it's not the best representation of how the typical coffee drinker enjoys the beverage. Understanding the variables involved in brewing coffee and tasting the coffee in its intended preparation becomes more important the closer you get to the final customer. If you're mainly drinking espresso, you'll want to evaluate the coffee as espresso. If you're mainly drinking drip brews, you'll want to evaluate the coffee that way. Scott Rao's espresso book is quite good (I'm not a fan of his later stuff but I'll still recommend this one), Ted Lingle has some short brewing and cupping books that break down the how to and cover the vocabulary. For something that I think is still interesting for the historical context of cupping, I think The Coffee Cuppers' Manifesto is still worth reading. For hands on brewing exercises, one that I like is doing a manual pour over, but changing out the receiving vessel so you can try, for example, the first 10% of the brew, the next 10%, and so on each separately instead of all mixed together. Additionally, taste everything you can. Taste your mistakes. Taste what other roasters are doing. Practice dissecting the sensory elements of the experience and describing those, listen to how other people describe the same thing.

Intro roasting - Basically turning a roasting machine on, seeing the changes as the coffee progresses from a raw seed through different regions marked by specific physical and chemical changes and across a broad range of roast levels, and getting the machine turned off, all done safely. For an enthusiast, you can get a lot of this from the sorts of cheap roasters with a glass chamber and a timer, or by watching someone doing a dark roast, though having some hands on time to control it yourself is better. With appropriate equipment, this isn't a bad time to introduce the basics of progressive roasting exercises (trying the coffee across a range from probably too light to probably too dark and lots of things in between). Just about any book on coffee roasting has a section covering this with none really standing out as an exceptional treatment to specifically seek out.

Profile roasting - Here you'd want a proper progressive roasting exercise, comparisons of roasting faster or slower, and going deeper on different sections of the roast, controlling those individually and tasting the results to observe the distinct changes in flavor that come from changes to specific parts of the roast. It's hard for most home roasters to do much here due to limitations in machine design that are eventually unavoidable as batch sizes get smaller. Recording and interpreting data and connecting what you see in the numbers to what you taste in the cup gets important here. If you want a book for this, I'd go with Rob Hoos, but not until after you've already tried doing some of this stuff on your own since his book never really establishes a baseline roasting plan to contextualize the variations and you'll get more out of it with some prior personal experience.

Defects - Identifying problems. Is an undesirable flavor inherent to the coffee, a result of problems before the coffee is harvested, an issue with post-harvest processing, introduced during storage or transit, an issue with how the coffee was roasted, or merely a difference from a subjective and non-universal preference? Here the books are starting to get both expensive and technical, and as an enthusiast I'd probably skip it for as long as possible. If you do any farm visits at the right times and with enough trust from your host you might be able to get in on a cupping with coffees that a reputable specialty coffee supplier wouldn't waste your time with to get some extreme examples of defects to make it easier to pick these out in more dilute concentrations. For example, trying ripe vs. unripe.

Sample Roasting - Earlier roasting materials are fundamentally about trying to figure out the best (or closest to a desired objective) way to enjoy a particular coffee, but in sample roasting it's about discerning differences among different coffees while trying to avoid differences in how those coffees were roasted. This ties back to cupping and defect sections and can be expanded to the broader business conversations around choosing what coffees you want to bring in, at what price, and verifying that you received what you ordered. The SCA cupping protocol has a section laying out sample roasting parameters that are widely used.

Comparative Tastings - Building up experience tasting coffees from different parts of the world, using different post-harvest processing and drying techniques. I'd also put in exercises like the organic acids workshop (doping a neutral coffee with different acids found in coffee, noting how that changes the overall perception, seeing how the concentrations of those chemicals change throughout the roasting process). It's quite dated in many ways, but I rather like Kenneth Davids' Home Coffee Roasting as an accessible description into a lot of this, plus it's one of the cheapest ways to get a decent roast color reference. While there are a lot more odd ball coffees out there now, this does a good job on the classic origin characteristics which are still readily available and it has some good yet often overlooked ideas to start from if you're interested in blending.

With that in the foundation it's possible to explore freely into more advanced topics like roasting for espresso, blend design, quality control, packaging and staling, sensory training, calibrating with the group evaluating the coffees, and so on. There are also topics in business aspects like how the supply chain works, how to read a coffee contract, what the commodity exchanges really are and how those work, the economics at origin, as well as designing safe and efficient plant operations, managing inventory. As an enthusiast you can probably ignore most of that.
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