June 17, 2020

Understanding Body in Coffee And How to Roast For it


Body makes up one of the essential sensorial experiences in drinking coffee. Whether it’s light or heavy, it doesn’t matter. What’s important is ensuring that the coffee and its desired body is considered while roasting.

Join us as we discover how body varies in different green coffees, why we roast body, and tips on optimising a coffee’s body in a roast.

Lee este artículo en español Entendiendo el Cuerpo Del Café y Cómo Tostar Para Optimizarlo

What Is Body in Coffee?

Body in coffee is the sensation of weight and texture that is felt while drinking. It is something we feel, rather than something we taste. For example, does it coat your mouth with a lingering, buttery sensation or is it light and delicate?

It is one of the categories used to complete sensory evaluations of coffee, along with other categories such as aroma, sweetness, flavour, acidity, aftertaste, and balance.

So, what creates body in roasted coffee? It’s down to science. During extraction, soluble compounds, such as caffeine, acids, lipids, sugars, and carbohydrates, will dissolve into water. However, insoluble compounds in proteins and fibers, specifically the oils in these, do not dissolve and contribute to the body of the coffee.

During roasting, high pressure from heat forces oils from the centre of the beans, outwards. The longer a bean is roasted, the more physical and chemical changes that occur, including the movement of oil compounds. Therefore, darker roasts generally have an oilier exterior, which can result in a heavier body.

You may also like: Roasting For Sweetness, Decaf & Otherwise: A Practical Guide

Understanding Your Beans: How Body Varies in Green Coffee

Roasting isn’t the only factor that affects body. Processing methods can significantly affect green coffee’s body.

Maren Ernst, owner at Ernst Kaffeeroster in Germany, tells me, “What we want to do is understand the complete DNA of the coffee. What is its potential? What can it be for?”

Understanding the processing method of the coffee will help give an understanding of the bean and its potential. It will help determine the body of the coffee and how it needs to be roasted to optimise this.

The natural (dry) method of processing coffee will tend to develop a heavier body. The method involves leaving the cherry intact around the coffee beans during the post-harvest drying process. The beans absorb the natural sugars in the cherry during this process, generally resulting in a sweeter bean, with more body, and less acidity. 

The washed (wet) method of processing, in comparison, tends to have a lighter body. The cherry fruit and mucilage are removed from the bean before drying. With less sugar absorbed in the process, the result is generally a cleaner cup, with a lighter body, and higher acidity. 

Maren explains, “When it comes to body, I really appreciate the honey process coffees. They have very elegant, velvety textures.” The honey process involves the cherry being removed from the coffee bean, but some sticky mucilage remaining on the bean during drying. This results in sweetness from the mucilage, but a more rounded cup due to increased acidity.

Get to know your coffee and how it’s been processed. This will not only affect body, but also sweetness and acidity, which also need to be considered during roasting. 

Why Roast Coffee For Body?

“All in all, in roasting, the biggest challenge is balance,” Maren tells me. Roasting is a tool that can be used to help balance aspects of flavour such as sweetness and acidity. 

Maren explains how they evaluate the need for body in coffee: “When we roast samples, we roast it very light to see if it has body. But, do we want it?… We evaluate it on how far the body can support the overall experience.”

For example, pulped natural process Brazilian coffees are well known for its sweetness, chocolatey flavour notes, and heavier body. So, roasting to enhance the body of the coffee is perfect in this scenario. For an elegant honey-processed Costa Rica that has notes of caramel and sugar you may want a soft, velvety body to support the overall experience.

Maren explains that it also depends on whether you’re roasting for espresso or filter. For example, roasting for body in a fruitier coffee for an espresso roast requires a focus on balance. Maren says, “If you’re roasting a Kenyan for espresso, you are aiming for fruitiness and body. You must be very careful with a high Rate of Rise at the beginning because of acidity… You have to be careful that the development time doesn’t get too harsh so that the acidity with the body and the sweetness is still there. It’s kind of tricky.”

However, some speciality roasters will focus less on body to achieve more complex flavours. A longer development past first crack will result in the production of body-enhancing polymers as well as forcing oil to surface in the bean, which, in turn, attributes to a heavier body, which may not be the desired effect.

It’s all down to knowing your coffee, understanding the desired profile and final product and making the choices to achieve that in roasting.

Roasting coffee at Arabicca Coffee Roasters. Credit: Laura Fornero

Tips on Roasting For Body

Depending on what you want from the bean, you can use roasting to optimise or reduce the body in a coffee.

First, the length of time of roasting affects the body. Generally, the longer the development past first crack, the more body can be achieved. This is due to the reaction of oils being forced to the surface in the beans through increased pressure. These oils then contribute to the overall body.

However, it must be noted that this is not the only method for increasing body. There are other ways to develop body without increasing the time past first crack.

Maren tells me, “We would aim for a later first crack and stretch the Maillard phase.” The production of melanoidins during the Maillard Reaction affects the bean’s colour, but also contributes to mouthfeel and body. So, stretching out this phase can help contribute to a heavier body without losing the more nuanced flavours from origin.

Extending the overall roast time can, therefore, allow for a later first crack which can allow for the development of sweetness and body. However, roasters must be wary that extending roast time or stretching the Maillard Reaction can result in baking the coffee, a roast defect that can leave coffee tasting oaty or bready. This usually occurs when beans have taken too long to reach first crack.

If you’re roasting a fruitier coffee, such as a natural process, close attention must be paid around the first crack. Chemical reactions speed up at this point, where the bean is developing quickly. The longer past first crack, the more caramelisation that takes place which can result in burnt-sugar bitterness, making the natural sweetness and disrupting the body. 

The faster we move through first crack and drop the coffee from the roaster, the less the sugars will be caramelised and burnt through excessive heat. However, excessive heat used to speed up first crack can result in an uneven roast, with an underdeveloped interior and roasted exterior.

The more we understand the intricacies of what we want from a roast, the more understanding there is for the different methods to achieve that.

Body, whether light or heavy, is an important attribute to a great cup of coffee. Roasters must ensure that before roasting there is: first, knowledge of the green coffee and its potential body, and second, an understanding of the desired profile and outcome. This knowledge will help guide what you do to enhance, or perhaps diminish the body, in coffee. 

When you get down to it, it’s all down to preference and finding the method to balance the flavours to achieve that.

Enjoyed this? Check out Roasting For Filter Coffee vs. For Espresso

Written by Josef Mott. Featured photo: Perfect Daily Grind

Featured photo credit: Roasting coffee at Soho Coffee Roasters, Adelaide. Credit: Nicole Motteux

Other photo credit: Fernando Pocasangre, Laura Fornero, Julio Guevara, Nathaniel Soque

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