The Roast: Sample Roasting for COTW

Back in March I had the pleasure of assisting Joel with Little City’s latest educational offering - Coffees of the World. Building on the positive response to the inaugural class offered a few months prior at Belo Horizonte’s International Coffee Week, the level 2 class took place at the lab of the Brazil Specialty Coffee association in Varginha, Minas Gerais and was expanded from one day to three. This gave the students, most of whom were coffee professionals and experienced coffee tasters, the chance to dive slightly deeper in to coffee’s diverse origins. Through a series of lectures and lots of cupping we explored the histories, genetics, processing methods, flavor profiles and major regions of the world’s key coffee producing countries.

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Flash forward to June. I receive a message from Lyvia, a member of our Brazil team, asking if I could help prep for another COTW class. This would entail sourcing and roasting 30 unique coffees specifically tailored to the origins and regions determined by the course’s curriculum. No problem! I’d done this for the previous two classes and had a strategy down. The catch this time, however, was that the coffees needed to be sourced and roasted and in Atlanta in less than a week as Joel was passing through and would pick them up on his way home to Brazil.

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I’ll leave out the details of how we pulled all the coffees together so quickly, but instead say we couldn’t have done it without help from some of the excellent importers that we work with and even some help from competing roasters here in Austin who were generous enough to share a few pounds of green to help us fill the gaps. With 30 unique coffees from 13 different countries on-hand, we were now ready to roast them - all the same way.

 

One might think that you would want to treat a natural coffee from Yirgacheffe differently than a washed coffee from Huila, and this is generally true when developing a coffee’s roast profile for commercial production. In an academic or quality evaluation setting, however, the goal is a neutral roast that allows the coffee’s true character to reveal itself. We often compare a good sample roast to good soccer referee. They are at their best when they go unnoticed. The following are the Specialty Coffee Association’s recommended protocols for sample roasting:

 

  • The roast level for cupping shall be measured between 30 minutes and 4 hours after roasting using coffee ground to the SCA Standard Grind for Cupping and be measured on coffee at room temperature. The coffee shall meet the following measurements with a tolerance of ± 1.0 units:

    • Agtron "Gourmet": 63.0

    • Agtron "Commercial": 48.0

    • Colortrack: 62.0

    • Probat Colorette 3b: 96.0

    • Javalytics: same as Agtron measurement using either "Gourmet" or "Commercial" scales

    • Lightells: same as Agtron measurements using "Gourmet" scale

  • The roast should be completed in no less than 8 minutes and no more than 12 minutes. Scorching or tipping should not be apparent.

  • Sample should be immediately air-cooled (no water quenching).

  • When they reach room temperature (app. 75º F or 20º C), completed samples should then be stored in airtight containers or non-permeable bags until cupping to minimize exposure to air and prevent contamination.

  • Samples should be stored in a cool dark place, but not refrigerated or frozen.

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Having only small amounts of a few of the coffees and not a lot of time, there wasn’t a whole lot of room for error nor were we able to cup every sample before shipping off to Atlanta. In fact, as I am writing this, the classes have just ended and I’ve not yet received much feedback on the roasts, but having followed both SCA and in-house protocol, I am confident that our roasts were consistent and more importantly, that they went unnoticed.