March 28, 2018

Why Every Coffee Roaster Should Break The Rules – Sometimes


Do you want to understand coffee roasting in greater detail? Become a more creative roaster? Develop your own personal style? Then it’s time you start breaking some of the “rules” of roasting.

Lee este artículo en español ¿Por Qué Todo Tostador Debería Romper Las Reglas Algunas Veces?

coffee beans

Inspecting coffee beans during roasting. Credit: The Coffee Ride

The Myth of The Perfect Roast Profile

When I began roasting, I would spend hours, even weeks, researching the “perfect” roast profile for a particular coffee or region. It was only after years of home roasting that I finally realized this doesn’t exist.

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Coffee has many variables: moisture, elevation, machinery, processing methods… And then you need to consider consumer tastes. There are so many factors that go into the roasting process that it’s pointless having a one-size-fits-all mentality. Instead, learn from each roast, take notes, and have fun experimenting with different beans.

Get to know your machine. Find out what works and what doesn’t work. Cup your coffee. Collect samples every 30 seconds to see what the flavors of each stage of the roasting process taste like. Then, go back and roast it all over again, speeding up or slowing down at various points, just to see what happens.

Remember, mistakes are not bad, as long as you know why they happened and can use that to improve.

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Checking roast progress

Checking roast progress. Credit: The Coffee Ride

What Rules Can You Break?

Some rules shouldn’t be broken. I call these the outermost parameters, and they’re where the extreme “unwanted” flavors begin to enter the taste of brewed coffee. These are things such as scorching, baking, tipping, and over/under-roasting. They are the imperfections that will give your beverage a sour, bitter, baked, or ashy profile.

Discover more! Read 6 Common Roast Defects & How to Recognize Them

But working within these outer parameters, you’ll hear many “rules” that, really, we should just consider guidelines. These inner parameters are subjective. And it’s here that you can express your personal roasting style.

One of the most important things I’ve learned about coffee is that taste is personal. One individual may be seeking an acidic, fruit-forward drink. Another might want a more mellow and balanced cup filled with notes of dark chocolate and currants. And then others may appreciate a smoky tobacco flavor.

Each consumer is unique. Each coffee is unique. And each roaster should be unique, too.

Book of Coffee

Studying coffee-roasting technique. Credit: The Coffee Ride

Developing Your Own Roasting Style

Experiment with parameters. You won’t know where yours lie until you hit them. Try charging your roaster at 450°F (232°C) just to see what happens. Try stretching out your roast to 20 minutes and then tasting the coffee.

Without finding where these imperfections are, you’ll never be able to find the perfections. I remember a natural processed Ethiopian that I had decided to roast much faster than normal, with a time of around eight minutes rather than my standard twelve or so. I had expected an awful result. Yet, when I cupped the coffee, so many fruity notes appeared that had previously been overpowered by the chocolate ones.

While this mistake wasn’t what I was in search of for this coffee, it sparked my curiosity. It pushed me to continue my endless research in coffee development.

As you break the rules, you’ll understand them better. You’ll learn which ones you should follow and which ones are just guidelines. You’ll uncover how and when to ignore rules for the best effect. You’ll discover new ways to bring out different characteristics from each coffee – and, in doing so, you’ll develop your own personal style.

It takes hours and hours of practice to understand how each bean will react to different roast techniques. But the most beautiful thing about coffee is that, as soon as you think you know what you’re doing, something happens that makes you rethink your entire process.

And it’s worth rethinking your methods – and sometimes even challenging the status quo. Just because many people are roasting one way doesn’t mean you should too.

Starbucks has a store on almost every corner in the United States because people like their coffee and have done so for years. While their products may not impress many third wave coffee professionals, the company figured out a way to work within certain parameters, develop their style and build a loyal customer following.

In the end, your roasting style is what makes you stand out. So experiment, break the rules, and have confidence in your taste buds. If you’re roasting coffee that you love, others will love it too.

Enjoyed this? Read Is Bitterness in Coffee Always Bad?

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