Article: The Art (and Science) of Roasting Coffee

Written by Cafe Campesino on Aug 1, 2003 in Article, NEWSLETTER |

For many people, opening a bag of fresh coffee is usually followed by a deep inhalation of the wonderful smell of roasted coffee. Even people who don’t like to drink coffee often love the smell. That smell is, of course, a product of the type of bean and the roasting style, both of which control the taste of the coffee.

Roasting coffee is truly an art. The type of roast used on a particular bean should be one that brings out the best characteristics of the bean. Some varieties of beans do well at several different roast levels, while others have to be roasted to a precise degree, otherwise the flavor will be off. A roaster has to spend the time with each bean, determining what roast works best for that bean.

Here at Café Campesino, we have three different roasts: medium, full city and dark. Each creates its own distinctive flavor in a bean, and while some people may find a certain type of roast wonderful, others may shy away at the acidity of one roast or the strong body of another.

“Roasting is the art and science of turning the green, flavorless coffee bean into a great cup of coffee,” said chef-turned-roaster Lee Harris. “Like baking bread or grilling a steak, roasting is the process that applies heat to the bean and brings out the distinctive flavors of each variety.”

We roast in small, 20-pound batches allowing us to ship coffee in the afternoon that had been roasted that very morning and get the freshest product possible out to our customers. Our roasts typically last between 10-15 minutes. All roasts begin the same way, with a batch of green coffee beans going into the roaster, where little change in coloration is seen for the first few minutes. However, during this time the beans are losing water and the sugars are nearing carmelization.

After several minutes, the beans turn yellow and give off a slightly grassy smell. As the roasting continues, the steam being released becomes more fragrant and the beans are a light tan color. Around this time, “first crack” occurs. The beans swell to twice their original size and lose any remaining chaff. The crack is an audible signal that helps, along with sight and smell, to tell the roaster how far along the beans are in the roasting process.

The beans are now beginning to caramelize sugars, release more water, break down their structure, and allow oils to rise to the surface. After the “first crack” the roast can be stopped at any point depending on the darkness of the roast that is wanted. Shortly after “first crack,” we stop the roast to create our Medium roast. The bean is a light brown color, and even though its oils have begun to rise, the surface of the bean is still dry.

As the roast continues, more sugar is caramelized and more oils are given off. Halfway between “first crack” and “second crack,” we stop the roast to achieve our Full City roast. This bean is usually a deep chestnut color with a slightly oily surface. This roast has been called by some “full flavor.” Our Guatemala and Sumatra Full City beans are two of our best sellers.

Eventually, the “second crack” is reached. During “second crack,” the cell structure of the bean begins to break down, releasing much of the natural oil and lowering the acidity associated with lighter coffees, allowing the carmelized sugar tastes to take precedence. We stop the roast just after “second crack” to get Dark-roasted coffee with the highest amount of body, spice and sugar, but lacking the burnt taste that can often accompany a very dark roast. These beans are characterized by very oily surfaces.

During “second crack,” the beans are giving off a great deal of smoke, the sugars are close to burning and the oils are very volatile. The changes are rapid in this stage, and if allowed to continue much farther, the beans would end up black and taste like a thin watery cup of charcoal.

Roasting is a complicated process that, when done well, produces flavorful coffee at all different stages. But roasting is just one component of flavor. The type of coffee bean brings much of the flavor with it, and next month we’ll take an in-depth look at flavor profile of Café Campesino’s beans.

Contributing to this article: Coffee Basics, by Kevin Knox and Café Campesino’s roaster, Lee Harris

For further reading:

Powell’s Books – Check out the book Coffee Basics at Powell’s (
). You’ll learn the fundamentals of coffee buying, brewing, and tasting; and develop an aficionado’s ability to see beyond the expensive trappings of today’s coffee explosion.

Samantha Slater is the Customer Service Manager at Café Campesino. Hailing from the Oregon coast, land of Douglas Firs and drive-thru espresso shops, she comes by her love of coffee and the environment naturally. Sam is committed to Fair Trade as a viable way to protect and sustain the environment, while still providing a living for the people who depend on the land.

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