Lee Knuttila, the owner of Quietly Coffee wrote a piece titled “Is Roasting Difficult?” (www.theroasterspack.com/roasting). In it, he shares learning the first ninety percent [in roasting] is easy but the final ten percent becomes a lifelong pursuit.” 

So we asked him, “What are the things you try to solve that final ten percent? What are the variables that impact it getting there?” 

And, here is his answer… 

Roasting coffee is paradoxically easy and hard. Given that we are working with ever-changing, organic matter, each individual bean is different. While we might group together coffee from countries or regions or even farms, each of these plants produce slightly distinct seeds and these variations only grow when we consider the impact of weather, harvesting, or processing. By the time green coffee arrives at the roaster, the total number of factors bearing influence on the cup’s taste are inconceivably large and then we add heat, air, movement, momentum, and time?!

And herein lies the crux of the easy and hard paradox. If you start with good quality green, follow some general protocols, fall within a reasonable time frame, and employ some manual controls, you will get a cup that beats most gas station, waiting room, or gross corporate chain brews. However, is that the full potential of that green lot? In other words, could it taste better? The answer is inevitably: yes, it could taste better because the green’s capacity for bigger, cleaner, sweeter, and more vibrant flavours is not fully realized.

So how to deal with this final ten percent? I think the solution is admitting that the gap is impossible to close. Firstly, because no roast will ever truly reflect the story of the cup. Roasting is less about ‘opening the window’ to origin and more about not destroying the hard work of an entire network of people who farm, harvest, process, and ship coffee. The process is about highlighting preexisting qualities. In other words, let us move away from roaster and café as main character and instead shift focus towards the intention of the workers involved in coffee production because no approach ever lives up to the story behind the cup.

Secondly, the more practical answer to mastering roasting is finding a personal style. To borrow from my previous life teaching Film Studies, no photograph is neutral because you are making an active selection to focus on specific objects or elements. You set the scene. Coffee too is about making choices. Akin to framing a shot with a camera, in coffee you can choose to focus on a general element, like sweetness, acidity, or texture, or maybe an individual trait, like a berry or caramel note. I think the great roasting companies have a well-developed and personal methodology. Rather than simply treating roasting as, well, roasting, great coffee is personal. It is not some amorphous or generalized task and instead reflects a more consistent, intentional, and thoughtful approach.

February 03, 2023 — Zara Snitman

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