When you’re browsing websites and trying to decide which coffee you would like to try next, do you ever wonder what a coffee roaster actually does?
Sure, the title is fairly self-explanatory, but have you consider what it actually looks like? Have you thought about the science and how it all works? Have you considered the ways roasters get their beans? Have you ever wondered if roasters are really just shooting in the dark?
Let the mysteries unravel. It’s time to find out.
First Come The Beans
Without unroasted coffee beans, coffee roasters don’t have jobs. Some coffee roasters get their beans from giant warehouses or online databases. They search through hundreds of crop samples to find coffees with their ideal flavor profile and price per pound. This has been the prevailing model for hundreds of years.
The downside to this model was that a few importers used to control a large portion of the global coffee supply. In an age without instant global communication, the abuses towards coffee farmers committed by these international businesses were unnoticed by the developed coffee drinking world.
Thankfully, the days of coffee farmer slavery and exploit are coming to a rapid end as business transparency and sustainable sourcing become values of the masses. These warehouse sourcing spots are still available for coffee buyers, but many with experience and globally-conscious minds are turning to another method.
The Direct Trade Model
Coffee roasters pursuing the direct trade model take frequent trips overseas to find the best coffees they can. They come face to face with coffee farmers, and the business relationships become personal ones.
These trips can be rigorous, often involving weeks of rugged travel, cross-cultural communication struggles, and logistical nightmares. The rewards are great, however.
The middleman is passed by and a larger cut is making its way to the hands of the coffee producers. The result is a farmer who can pay better wages for his workers and a more sustainable future for coffee.
Campfires and Drums
Unroasted green coffee beans need to experience a lot of heat to be made into something that is brewable. Back before electricity, a campfire often did the trick. This was never a great way to roast coffee. The temperature was not stable and the beans were not roasted evenly.
Today, coffee roasters use large rotating drums. These drums are engineered in a variety of ways, and each roaster has to get to know their machine’s quirks and ticks over time. These complicated machines are much more suitable for controlling the hundreds of chemical reactions that turn green coffee beans into brown ones.
A Science, An Art
Roasting coffee well takes a lot of patience and practice. It is not unusual for roasters to dedicate dozens of sample batches to find the ideal balance of flavors and aromas within a coffee. No two coffee batches are the same, and roasters have to be willing to make changes in their recipes, sometimes significant ones, to make a coffee taste just right.
Timers, thermometers, and graphs line the tables of coffee roasteries. No serious roaster doesn’t monitor every environmental change that takes place within the drum. It’s a science, a discipline.
The senses must always be properly tuned in to the sights and smells of coffee while it’s roasting. When a batch of roasting coffee reaches its peak, laziness or poor attention could lose the moment and result in a dull and bitter coffee.
Graphs and charts cannot do everything. It takes artistry and sensory precision to produce incredible roasted coffee. It’s an art, an experience.
A Good Roaster
A good roaster sources quality coffee at a sustainable price and often goes the extra mile to help develop the farms they work with.
A good roaster is a scientist and craftsman, always vigilant and disciplined.
A good roaster honors the coffee and the people behind it, and encourages consumers to also.
If you’re on the hunt for a good coffee roaster, check out Hook Coffee’s line up of coffee beans, sourced through direct trade and roasted with precision.
We leave you with a video from Hungarian roaster Laczkó Gábor that shows the beauty and rigor of skilled coffee roasting.