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Roasting

The First Roast of a New Coffee

The usual goal when you approach a new coffee bean, is to roast it to the level where it best showcases the taste of that particular origin.  But how do you know what that roast level will be?

 

The first question: are you about to roast a “natural process” or “washed process” bean?

Natural processed beans are more delicate and susceptible to scorching if you ramp up heat too quickly, or let the final temperature get too high.You rarely want to take a natural processed coffee all the way to the 2nd cracks, and if you do, it is JUST into the 2nds.A good roast will highlight the fruity undertones and sweet aftertaste.

Washed processed beans are going to be able to handle dark roasting and high temperatures, and you can be a little more forward with the heat, particularly if it is a high altitude bean (this is sometimes abbreviated as SHG or SHB), but the real goal is not to find out how dark you can roast it, but to find the sweet-spot where the acidity, body, and complexity are best balanced. This is quite often found a few seconds into the 2nd cracks (also called a Full City+ roast).  

 

The next step is to study your roasting logs of coffees that were from the same continent and from a similar altitude.It is likely that this bean will react similarly.   Best practice is to keep as detailed of logs as possible.  If you have a thermometer on your roaster, write down the temperature at every 1 minute intervals throughout the roast.  Make note of exactly when and at what temperature the first cracks started and ended, and where the 2nd cracks began, and how long you let it crack.  Write down the total roasting time and ending temperature.  And by all means write down tasting notes, with an emphasis on acidity, body, undertones, and aftertaste.

 

For most home-roasting methods and machines, your MOST IMPORTANT key are the cracks.Take careful note of the amount of time that passes after the 1st cracks end, and how long you let the 2nd cracks continue (if at all).This is the most crucial part of the roast, and mere seconds can greatly affect your results.

 

So if you roasted a coffee 30 seconds past the 1st cracks and the coffee tastes a little too acidic (too bright) for your preference, next time try it 40 seconds past the 1st cracks.

Here’s the breakdown:

Too acidic, try 10 to 20 seconds longer

Too sour, try 20 to 30 seconds longer

Not complex enough, try 10 seconds shorter

Bitter tastes, try 20 seconds shorter

Burnt taste, try 30 seconds shorter

 

Continue to tweak improved future roasts a few seconds in either direction until you have achieved the perfect balance. Keep your notes, even on roasts that are mediocre, or even if the coffee tastes terrible!Write down that it tasted terrible.In the future, you will have notes that remind you what DOESN’T work.

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Thermometers are not always accurate, and the bigger problem is that the thermometer is likely to be confused by the temperature of the air around it, which is higher than the actual temperature of the bean.  Commercial roasters have one thermometer that displays the air temperature, and a second that is buried in the coffee beans.The air temperature is useful for knowing how quickly your heat is rising, but the bean temperature is really the only one that is useful for predicting the cracks and for knowing when to end the roast.  Ideally, your thermometer probe should be buried in the moving coffee beans.When I provide suggested ending temperatures on the bean profiles, I am always referring to the BEAN temperature, and even at that, it may not be calibrated at the same level as your thermometer, so always trust the audible cues over everything else.