Roast Profile - Managing Heat and Time for Better Coffee

Better Coffee

A roast profile that’s stock will lead to stock coffee. You can buy stock coffee pretty cheap these days. Cruise over to your local grocery store and grab you a can. In it, you’ll probably find pre-ground coffee that was roasted some time last year. They used a one-roast-fits-all profile for their low quality beans. The result? Bitter, flavorless, stale, flat, gross coffee.

We can do better.

To start with, we source our beans with integrity and care. We only serve specialty coffee of very high quality. We also deliver it to you fresh, with published roast dates on the bag. The step in between is the most difficult of all: roasting it well.

Managing the Roast Profile

“Geology is the study of pressure and time. That’s all it takes really…pressure…and time. That…and a big [%$#@%] poster.” -Red, The Shawshank Redemption

This doesn’t have much to do with coffee, but thinking about profiling our roasts reminds me of this quote from one of my favorite movies.

Roast profiling is a management of heat and time. A coffee roast typically lasts from 8 to 12 minutes long. Mine usually run about 9-10 minutes. During that time, the coffee beans go through quite a lot of change. I observe these changes in 4 very different stages: Drying, browning, first crack, and development. Some roasters have a 5th stage: the dreaded second crack. For us though, the second crack is like a warning light in the car. If I see it (hear it), something’s wrong, and I’ve burned an entire batch of coffee.

The stages of the coffee roast are incredibly important because the temperature should rise at different rates during each stage. For example, the drying stage experiences the most intense heat with an average rate of about 30-35°F per minute. On the other hand, the development stage will see a much more subtle increase in heat with an average rate of about 5-10°F per minute.

What’s at Stake Here?

What is a good coffee roaster trying to avoid?

  • If heat doesn’t rise rapidly enough during the first stage, the bean will turn out under-developed. This happens when the interior of the bean isn’t roasted to the same level as the exterior. Think of a rare steak. The result is a very sour, grassy, and unpalatable coffee.

  • Some roasters will avoid an under-developed roast by simply roasting it longer. They take their coffee into, and even deep into, the second crack to make sure they sufficiently roast the interior of the bean. The result here is coffee that tastes very burnt and smokey, like charred BBQ and second-hand cigarette smoke. You might actually be into those kinds of things…

  • If too much heat is applied throughout any part of the roast, the coffee will be burned, and fire might break out! We must avoid this, obviously.

  • If too little heat is applied throughout any part of the roast, you got it, the coffee will be under-developed.

  • There is something called developed but baked. This is when the bean roasts all the way through, but at some point the heat increase has stalled or the development stage went on for too long. The result is that the coffee has very little flavor, a weak aroma, and maybe even a paper-y taste.

The Aim

On the other hand, there are wonderful aspects that coffee can have when the roaster is on his or her game. To begin with, the aroma and fragrance smell incredible with craft coffee. The aroma will easily fill the room. Next, and probably most obviously, craft coffee offers some truly remarkable flavors. A coffee’s flavors are supposed to be there without soaking the beans in flavor oils such as pumpkin spice or hazelnut. Coffee beans should have inherent flavors, given to them by nature, not by man. These flavors include very positive tones like nutty, chocolate, brown sugar, fruit, vanilla, cinnamon, honey, etc. Craft roasted coffee can give lots of good feels too, such as bright, smooth, creamy, or light. The roaster can preserve or annihilate all of this pleasantness with the roast profile. Carefully manage the profile, and expect incredible results in the entire experience!

The Learning Process

Mastering the roast profile isn’t a one-time thing. Everything changes, from ambient temperature to atmospheric pressure and beyond even to the bean itself. Different coffees will change in flavor, density, and even quality from crop to crop. We’ve made a promise to our customers that we will keep learning and growing, and that we won’t stop criticizing ourselves to make our product better. It’s a constant process that we’re thrilled to be a part of. Send us any questions you have, especially if you notice something you would like us to improve with our coffee.

Steven Carroll