August 10, 2016

Omni Roast: Is There One Roast to Rule Them All?


Roasting sets the stage for eye-opening coffee experiences. After all, no amount of brewing technique can salvage a poorly roasted coffee. But do we need a different roast for different brew methods?

Conventional wisdom says yes. I, and other omni roasters like me, say otherwise.

Spanish Version: Omni Tueste: ¿Existe Un Tueste Para Todo? 

Espresso shots being pulled using an omni-roast coffee

Does an espresso really require a different roast profile? Credit: Brian Legate via Flickr

What Is Omni Roasting?

Omni roasting embraces the idea that any coffee can be brewed using any method. So long as the coffee was roasted well, it’ll play well across a variety of brew methods – be it press, filter, espresso, or even cold brew.

That doesn’t mean that every coffee will taste the same in every brew method, of course, or even that every coffee will suit every brew method. A French press will highlight a coffee’s body and perhaps its dark fruit notes. An espresso will highlight acidity and, if they are present, citrus notes.

Part of the excitement of coffee is discovering how varied coffees can be and yet still be delicious. But we omni roasters believe that, regardless of the method used to brew it, each coffee only needs one roast profile. Let’s look at why – and why some people think otherwise.

Green beans waiting to be roasted

A great roast starts with great green beans. Credit: E. Squires (@ercsguitar)

What Profile Makes a Great Coffee?

Ben Kaminsky, three-times US Cup Tasters Champion, said that quality is not subjective. And while it may be controversial, I agree.

Well-roasted coffee is, by and large, considered to have the following characteristics:

  1. It exhibits characteristics of place – i.e. you can taste origin
  2. It has specific, clear flavors that can be objectively identified – e.g. chocolate or apricot
  3. It is balanced, rich, and well developed
  4. It is not sour (too light) or burned (too dark)

Yet for every great coffee, there’s a range of excellent profiles the roaster can choose. And a good roaster knows how to highlight the characteristics of a coffee that best fit their needs. They choose a profile based on many things, including the coffee’s intended purpose in a café setting, if it will be blended with other coffees, how their customers might prepare it at home, and what other coffees are currently on offer at their shop.

But for a while now, lighter roasts have been considered by many to be superior to other roasts.

Halfway finished roast

Keep roasting! That coffee is about halfway done. Credit: E. Squires (@ercsguitar)

The Dark Side of Light Roasts

Third wave roasters want to highlight the hard work of the coffee producers. We want to allow origin to shine through, rather than be burned away by an overdeveloped roast. And so in our attempts to do producers justice, for a while we roasted lighter and lighter.

The problem is, if you roast too light, you can’t taste origin either: instead, you get sour, grassy, and simply unpleasant drinks.

Light roasts generally work well for filter brew methods. However, espresso has a shorter extraction time. Extremely light roasts can create an espresso so sour that it can’t even be tamed with a large dose of milk.

This led to roasters using two profiles for the same coffee, one for filter (often lighter) and the other for espresso (often darker).

Omni roasting 3

Processing plays a huge role in how a coffee will taste regardless of what a roaster might do. Credit: N. Robinson (@ufcnate)

SEE ALSO: How to Define Your Roast Profile – In 4 Stages

Omni Roasting in Detail

Omni roasters, however, have started to push back against that idea. We understand that an excellent coffee starts with the hard work of the farmer pouring his sweat into the soil to grow incredible green coffees. But from there, we believe it is up to the roaster to select the best coffees they can and roast them to the best of their ability.

This doesn’t mean roasting light for filter and dark for espresso. It means seeking out the balance between the two, while still uncovering the hidden gems of flavor locked inside the bean. It means crafting the coffee in such a way that compromises are minimized, and flavor is maximized, across a variety of brew methods.

This isn’t laziness; there are good reasons to prefer an omni roast to a filter or espresso roast. For example, it provides small businesses with the opportunity to use a coffee up before it’s past peak – by using it for all of their brew methods, without worrying about compromising on quality.

Roasted coffee released to cool down

That perfect moment when the coffee reaches its peak. Credit: E. Squires (@ercsguitar)

Common Misconceptions

Although the same roast profile can work for all brew methods, that doesn’t mean all coffees will. Great coffees that are omni roasted well will shine on any brew method (although personal taste may cause someone to prefer some methods to others). But a coffee that isn’t great, that doesn’t have the best profile, may not be suitable for all methods – regardless of the roast.

The coffee may still work well on a particular brew method or two, particularly those that hide its defects and emphasise its better aspects. However, it will come up short on other methods which highlight the missing or defective characteristics.

Equally so, omni roasting doesn’t dictate that you use the same profile for each origin – though some roasters find they use similar profiles with different final temperatures. Vastly different profiles may be used, simply because coffees that are different need to be treated differently. A delicate Ethiopian will be roasted to bring out its floral and citrus notes. A bold Sumatran, on the other hand, will be roasted to underscore its wild, earthy characteristics.

A smart roaster will know which inherent flavors they want to highlight in a given coffee, and how to manipulate the roast profile to achieve that. In the sample roasting stage, a variety of profiles may be tested. The end goal is to ensure the best profile is used to both highlight the work of the farmer and fit well in the roaster’s list of offerings.

Cupping coffee

Cup samples to refine your roast profile, especially if you’re omni roasting. Credit: N. Robinson (@ucfnate)

Some roasters believe omni roasting is a compromise at best. Yet I disagree. For me, omni roasting embraces coffee’s inherent complexity and adaptability. It places a greater burden on the roaster to sharpen their skills; we must work harder to honor the farmer’s work. But we can craft a roast profile that will highlight the beauty of this complex bean, no matter the brew method. And while it isn’t easy, it is worth it.

All views within this opinion piece belong to the guest writer, and do not reflect Perfect Daily Grind’s stance. Perfect Daily Grind believes in furthering debate over topical issues within the industry, and so seeks to represent the views of all sides.

Perfect Daily Grind