Should you roast a Colombian Nariño the same way you would an Ethiopian Sidamo? Probably not.
Producing countries have different climates, soil types, altitudes, and more – and all that leads to very different coffees. The beans will react differently to heat, plus you will want to accentuate specific characteristics. In other words, you need to roast them differently.
So before you create a profile and put your coffee in the roaster, you need as much information as possible about the beans. And today, I’m going to take you through some of the main origin-based variables to consider. Let’s get started.
Spanish Version: Cómo Tostar Cafés de Diferentes Orígenes
Roasting great coffee is about understanding the green beans. Credit: U Roast It Coffee
The Elevation Question
Elevation, or altitude, is of immense importance for coffee roasting – but what we’re really talking about is density. When coffee is grown at cooler temperatures (which, most of the time, means higher elevation), the cherries ripen slower and so develop more sugars. This leads to more complex sweetness, but also to harder, denser beans.
When you have beans of different densities, they also react differently to the heat. Soft, low-density beans tend to have more air pockets inside them, which can slow down heat transference. To avoid scorching the outsides of the beans, you should use a lower initial charge temperature. Joe Behm of Behmor, manufacturer of the Behmor 1600+ home roaster, also recommends extending the length of the roast for these coffees.
Knowing what altitude your coffee is grown at, how far it is from the equator, and the temperature on the farm will help you to anticipate the density.
Coffee producers from China Alta, Tolima visit the mountainous region of Planadas. Credit: Angie Molina Ospina
Which Origins Produce Hard Beans?
Tom Janssen of OR Coffee in Belgium points out the difference between Brazilian or Honduran beans and Ethiopian ones: Ethiopians can sit as high as 2,200 m.a.s.l., while some Brazilians are closer to 900 m.a.s.l. As of such, you can expect the Brazilians to have lower density.
Joe Behm explains that he designed his roasters with set profiles to help beginners, while experienced roasters can create their own profiles and control the roast manually. For Central American, Peruvian, and Colombian beans, his pre-set profiles use higher charge temperatures to reflect a higher average altitude. For Brazilians, Jamaicans, Hawaiian, and other low-grown island coffees, the profiles use a lower heat.
Yet Joe also reminds me that every coffee is different, and many factors can affect density – from the farm’s altitude to the age of the coffee.
And while most Brazilians may be soft beans, some are as dense as Ethiopians.
For these reasons, you want to learn as much as possible about a coffee’s origin – not just what country it comes from, but what region, what farm, what altitude, what temperature, and more.
Colombian coffee being roasted. Credit: Talor&Jørgen
The Flavour of Origin
When roasting, it’s important to consider not just the structure of the bean, but also the flavour of it. And this can vary greatly.
“We will never have an Ethiopian with the same type of acidity like that Kenya AA Kamwangi we once had,” Tom tells me, “and it will be very difficult to find a Colombia with the stone fruit, tea-like flavours of the Yirgacheffe coffees.”
Broadly speaking, you can expect well-balanced coffees from the Americas, with more chocolate and hazelnut notes appearing in Brazil. In East Africa, coffees tend to be clean, juicy, and fruity. Some regions lean more towards sweetness (like Burundi), while others are more acidic (like Kenya). Indonesia is often known for its heavy body and earthy tones.
Yet there are so many flavour variations within one region, as a result of micro climates, terroir, varieties, production and processing methods, and more. Sulawesi, Indonesia is famous for its spice notes, while Bali has a more citric profile. A Panamanian Geisha will taste different from a Panamanian Bourbon. Brazil is so large, you can fit much of Europe in it – and it has a wide variety of profiles to match. And as Tom points out, some countries have multiple harvest seasons.
Tom tells me that it’s the roaster’s job to preserve what makes an origin special and “let the coffee speak”. Knowing the profile of the coffee origin will help you anticipate which flavours will be most prominent – and how you can emphasise them.
Coffee beans dry on raised beds on Bello Horizonte farm, Colombia. Credit: Café Nakua
How to Accentuate Specific Flavour Profiles
Denser, higher-altitude coffees are associated with greater acidity, and you’ll often hear this described in terms of fruit notes – mandarin, grapefruit, plum, blueberry, and so on.
This is a highly prized trait, and if you’re roasting a coffee that has this quality, you may want to accentuate it. (Bear in mind, however, that while acidity can be good, underdeveloped and sour notes are not. There is a fine line.)
Tom tells me that the more you extend your roast after first crack, the more acidity and fruitiness you will throw away. A faster Rate of Rise (RoR) is also recommended by many roasters for emphasising acidity.
On the other hand, if you want more sweetness – say you have a natural Bourbon from Burundi – then Willem Boot, CEO of Boot Coffee, recommends opting for a lower RoR. Sweet Maria’s also experimented with stretching out the drying phase of the roast, and found that it could highlight this quality.
As for body, Sweet Maria’s found that stretching out first crack could open up a more syrupy mouthfeel in a coffee.
It’s important to remember that the qualities you want to highlight will all depend on the coffee itself, and its unique, overall profile. Roasting is a complex skill; there are no simple rules. These guidelines are just starting points for creating your roast profiles.
Freshly roasted Ethiopian coffee beans. Credit: Annisa Hale for The Roast House
How to Roast Coffee From Different Origins
Knowing the altitude, temperature, terroir, and origin profile is a great start to creating a roast profile for a coffee. “It’s about a commitment to get to know the origin and bring the best to the surface,” Tom says.
But it’s only a start.
Tom also tells me that experience matters. Roast coffees from different places, of different altitudes and processing methods, and analyse the differences. Get to understand the impact of these on the coffee’s flavour profile and roast development.
Then research where your beans are from and what other roasters have found. Experiment with your roast profiles and record the results. Get as much knowledge as you can.
Know that understanding the origin of your coffee is a valuable tool – but not a prescription.
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