For many specialty coffee consumers, there are two types of roasted coffee: filter roasts and espresso roasts.
In recent years, however, consumers have come to demand something more: a coffee roast that can suit any brewing method without a compromise on quality. This is known as an “omni roast”. It allows brewers to choose a coffee without worrying whether or not it will work with their equipment.
To learn more, I spoke to Candice Madison, Director of Roasting at Royal Coffee. She told me more about what omni roasting is, and gave aspiring roasters a few tips for profiling one. Read on to find out more.
You might also like our article on roasting high-scoring coffees.
What is omni roasting?
The prefix “omni” comes from the Latin word “omnis”, meaning all. Unlike roast profiles which are developed to match a specific brewing method, omni roasts allow the beans to shine no matter the method, whether you’re pulling espresso shots or enjoying a pour over.
“An omni roast is a coffee that is usually roasted for balance,” Candice tells me. “It’s developed well enough to brew using manual, machine, and espresso recipes.”
Development is a key concept for any coffee roaster, and is often used to describe the difference between a filter and espresso roast. The more a coffee develops, the more its bean structure is broken down, which increases solubility, brings out oils, and caramelises more of the coffee’s sugars.
For example, espresso roasts are generally more developed than filter roasts, giving them more body, less acidity, and a sweeter flavour profile. Conversely, a filter roast is typically less developed, meaning a lighter, almost tea-like body, and more acidity.
Using a filter roast to pull espresso shots will show too much of the acidity in the cup, creating an intense sourness which would be more palatable for a filter brewing method.
Omni roasts fall somewhere in the middle. Rather than offering less or more development, they aim for a balanced flavour to provide flexibility.
Why would you create an omni roast?
Choosing to offer an omni roast offers a few advantages for roasters. Firstly, it can help to reach more customers with a new coffee, rather than only targeting filter or espresso drinkers.
But omni roasting also has benefits from an operational perspective, as Candice explains. “There may be many reasons, but the ones I can think of off the top of my head are efficiency and consistency,” she says. “This is both for the roast itself, and the operations of the roasting plant too.”
Consistently working to one roast profile rather than two means consumers can taste the same flavours in every bag. Furthermore, only having one roast profile per coffee eliminates the need to roast full batches in different ways to meet customer demand.
But what should roasters consider when setting out to offer an omni roast?
Tip #1: Quality is important, but an omni roast can be more forgiving
Sourcing coffee beans is one of the most exciting and rewarding parts of any roasting operation, whether you’re a professional roaster or roasting beans at home. Finding quality green coffee and unlocking its delicate and complex flavours through the roast is rightly a key focus.
Candice says that coffee quality always plays a key role in roasting, no matter what kind of profile or style you’re aiming for. As such, she recommends sourcing for quality nonetheless.
“[Your approach should be] the same as when sourcing all green beans; taste, traceability, fair pricing, reputable import streams – they are all important. If you start with quality, you’re far more likely to end up with quality.”
She says that working with an importer like Royal Coffee can help roasters source quality green coffee from a range of origins. This breadth is also important, as customers are increasingly passionate about understanding the different flavour profiles that certain origins offer.
But this opens another key question: are specific origins or processing methods better suited to an omni roast? Do all beans suit this style?
“Yes and no,” Candice says. “This is really based on personal preference. It’s less a matter of whether or not the beans are suitable, and more a matter of whether or not the roast is right.
“Is it balanced enough for your beans? When you’re omni roasting, balance is key.
“Lean too hard on expressing acidity, and that may turn sour in the espresso machine; similarly, lean too hard on sugar browning or development post-first crack, and you may find you roast any fruit or floral complexity out of the coffee for manual brewing.”
Balance aside, omni roasting is a lot more flexible than working to lighter filter roasts. As it often puts more of a focus on development and balance, it can also be a little more forgiving.
For example, lower-scoring coffees might not express certain desirable flavours when roasted lighter. By omni roasting, you can strike a balance between development and acidity – giving you a flavour profile to suit both espresso and filter drinkers.
Tip #2: Think about the customer
When developing your omni roast, you need to keep your customer’s “base” taste preference in mind first and foremost. It’s no use switching from roasting for filter and espresso to omni if you lose half your business by doing so.
Before you make any major decision, ask yourself: what do your customers look for? What do they prefer? And will an omni roast suit them?
Candice says that classic filter or espresso roasts look to highlight specific flavours, whereas omni roasts bring out more balance. “An omni roast will tend to be more robust than a coffee roasted with a little less development, for instance (such as the trend to drink [lighter roasts] with pour over or manual brew methods).
“[Omni roasts] should also be able to take milk and sugar, as many espresso drinks are served with at least the former.”
Conversely, if you go too light, you run the risk of an overwhelmingly sour cup when the beans are used to pull espresso.
“If you know that your customers prefer a more ‘Scandinavian-style’ flavour profile, with an emphasis on floral and fruit notes, fewer sugars, and less post-first crack development, then an omni roast coffee may [struggle] to please them.
“But then you may choose to omni roast your less expensive coffees, put that on espresso and batch brew, and roast something a little more to these customers’ tastes. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.”
Ultimately, omni roasts can be a good middle ground for customers who are less educated about specialty coffee and less likely to choose a more complex, subtle filter coffee. It is an accessible, easy-to-use option that can be brewed in a number of different ways.
Tip #3: Get some feedback
When profiling a coffee, it can be easy to focus on your own opinion and push through without outside input. However, by doing so, you run the risk of satisfying your tastes – and your tastes alone.
Even if you’re not roasting in a team, you can speak to baristas and even home coffee enthusiasts, who will generally be happy to try your coffee. Getting feedback from people who brew coffee regularly will allow you to dial in your profiles with a different set of taste buds.
Candice says that especially for home roasters, seeking the help of others can help you develop an omni roast that is as accessible as possible.
“If you have access to a lab, great! If not, enlist help from those with espresso machines, and those with time to brew your coffee, either by machine or by hand.
“Get them to tell you what they used, what they taste and if they like it. Join in the fun, look at those results, and you’ll know if you’re on the right track.”
Tip #4: Develop your knowledge & develop your palate
While experimentation and feedback are always helpful, in coffee roasting, there really is no substitution for experience and knowledge.
Practice will make perfect, but you can also develop your knowledge by using educational resources. For example, Royal Coffee’s The Crown training lab offers both in-person and online classes to help coffee lovers and professionals better understand the process of roasting.
By learning from experienced industry professionals, you can accelerate your educational journey and achieve higher quality results much sooner.
Candice tells me that she recommends taking lessons from others as well as regularly searching for other coffees that have been omni roasted.
“When it comes to training, look at taking a cupping class, cup coffees you roast, but also look for other roasters whose coffees you like.
“Cupping other omni roasts and putting them through different machines and brewing methods can help you figure out if you’re on the right track. Oh, and cup everything!”
Tasting various roasts of the same bean alongside each other is an excellent way to find the profile that suits your omni roast best. Taking notes and evaluating the roast will help you deliver more balance in the cup.
Omni roasts can help with both consistency and efficiency in a roastery, but finding the right flavour balance and making sure the market is there is key.
Think of omni roasting as a middle ground that isn’t too heavy on the acidity or so developed that you end up lacking complexity and subtlety. Learn, experiment, and practise – that’s the key.
Enjoyed this? Then read our article on the rise of home coffee roasting
Photo credits: Evan Gilman, Royal Coffee
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