Coffee News: from Seed to Cup

How to Define Your Roast Profile – In 4 Stages

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In 2014, I first started home roasting. In 2015, I started using a commercial roaster. And that’s when I had to start taking roast profiling seriously.

Roast profiling is the process of capturing and tracking relevant data during a roast in order to better shape your coffees in the direction of your desired flavor qualities.

It may sound obvious, but it’s far from easy. From choosing the right tracking tools to researching how to manipulate the roast and analyze your results, there are plenty of challenges. And so although there’s no perfect method for developing your profile, here’s what I’ve learned over the past year.

Lee este artículo en español Cómo Definir el Perfil de Tueste en 4 Pasos

coffee in roaster

Developing your roast profile requires more than just observation. Credit: Pixabay

Tools of the Trade

Traditionally, roasters would use their senses – sight, sound, and smell – to refine their roast profiles. But there are a range of highly accurate digital options available to us today. As a former web developer, I naturally gravitate towards using these.

My roaster’s a shop-sized fluid bed model. It came with a bean temperature probe in the hopper, so I bought the BlueTherm, a Bluetooth device to transmit the data wirelessly. I then captured the data on Roastmaster, an Apple/iOS app that serves for roast profiling, green coffee inventory management, cupping, and more.

SEE ALSO: The S-Curve Roast Profile: Exploring Roasting Basics  

This simple setup has given me all the information I need to monitor my current roast profile – meaning all I have to focus on is choosing my preferred profile. Of course, that’s easier said than done…

BlueTherm Duo device

The BlueTherm Duo Device

Learning About Roast Profiles

The internet is a valuable resource for all things roasting. However, once I moved from home roasting to commercial roasting and roast profiling, I found that I needed to dip into some books for more in-depth knowledge.

I’d already devoured the classic Home Coffee Roasting: Romance and Revival (2003 ed.) by Kenneth Davids. Yet while there’s some great general theory and guidance in it, the name makes it clear that book’s focus is home roasting.

So I turned to Scott Rao’s The Coffee Roaster’s Companion. For a newbie like me, who had only recently come into the specialty coffee roasting world, this book was – and still is – a huge asset. It’s not flawless, but it is very useful: I was recently at a specialty coffee roasters’ event in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where a number of people discussed it. The more experienced roasters generally said that, while they didn’t necessarily agree with all the suggestions Rao makes, they were nonetheless grateful that someone had gone to the work of writing such a good book for roasters, one that masterfully blends the theory, practice, and art of the trade (pun intended).

I’ve also been slowly working my way through Rob Hoos’ Modulating the Flavor Profile of Coffee, and frequently turn to James Hoffman’s The World Atlas of Coffee. The former directly discusses roast profiles; the latter is not only a reference book but a beautiful collection of photographs.

open-book

It’s time to get those books out. Credit: Pixabay

Putting Theory Into Practice

So now you’ve got the tools, you’ve got the knowledge, and somehow, you’ve got to put it all into practice. But don’t think it’ll be as simple as following a single formula for success.

Roasters must synthesize their product development goals with the unique attributes of each coffee they source and roast. What that means is that you can’t expect a one-size-fits-all approach.

Every single lot of specialty coffee from every single origin is different, and deserves individual attention. And so while there are some general rules of thumb you can follow for different origins, varietals, and processing methods, you still need to pay attention to the coffee as it is before you, in your roaster. It’s up to you to make each coffee sing in the cup!

Last week, I sample roasted a new Kenyan coffee using the same production roast profile that I’d had great success with on another lot from another importer. What had produced a delicious, fruity aroma and distinct acidity in the first coffee resulted in a fairly flat and uninteresting flavor profile in the second. Both were from Kenya, both were from the SL-28 variety. One tasted great, the other was boring.

Was I frustrated? Yes. Was I surprised? Not as much as you might expect. And so I went back to the drawing board. I had existing and potential customers waiting on samples of this new coffee, but I wasn’t going to let it out of my hands, even in a sample form, until I’d found a quality profile for it.

Another factor that you may have to deal with is roaster type. Without exception, every single educational resource I’ve come across for commercial roasting assumes you’re working with gas drum roaster machine type. But I have an electric fluid bed roaster. I’ve had to do extra work to try to translate all the drum-specific information into a form that suits my roaster, and that’s not easy. Not without a university degree in thermodynamics.

This means that, even though you’ve spent uncountable hours studying roast profiles, the learning and the experimenting never stops. It’s not so much putting the theory into practice as refining the theory through practice. But it’s worth it when you finally produce that great coffee.

roasting in progress

Not every roast will be a success. Credit: Kris Krug via Flickr

Measuring Success Through Cupping

Cupping is a crucial skill for roasters to develop. If you want to succeed in a competitive market segment intensely focused on flavor and quality, then you need to be able to test the quality of your product.

The good news is that this is a great time to be starting the journey towards becoming an expert cupper. The SCAA just released its first major revision to the Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel since its creation in 1995, developed in conjunction with World Coffee Research’s ground-breaking Sensory Lexicon. What’s more, there’s been an emergence of software and social network platforms around specialty coffee in all of its aspects, including cupping. And so this is one area that I’m positively thrilled to journey deeper into. And I’m sure that you will be too, as you see what a difference it makes to your roast profile development.

B. Gumm with Meister of Cafe Imports

B. Gumm with Meister of Cafe Imports after a cupping session.

Developing and refining a roast profile is far from easy. It takes constant practice, constant revision, and constant learning. Yet through following these four stages, I’ve created delicious roasts that I’m proud to sell. I’ve no doubt that you will too.

Written by B. Gumm and edited by T. Newton.

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