Coffee News: from Seed to Cup

Practical Tips For Quality Control in The Coffee Roastery

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You might have bought great green coffee beans and made sure that they’re properly stored, but what else can you do to ensure that your roastery produces consistently high-quality coffee?

There are some often-overlooked areas that can have an impact on the final quality of your roast. Read on for some practical tips to maintain high standards in every step of the coffee roasting process.

Lee este artículo en español Consejos Para Controlar la Calidad en la Tostaduría de Café

Sacks of green coffee at Taller de Espresso’s roastery in Guadalajara, Mexico. Credit: Ana Valencia 

Efficient Roastery Design & Layout

Layout of a space has an enormous impact on workflow and efficiency. Since each roast depends on split-second timing, having easy access to tools and products can have a direct impact on coffee quality. Scrambling to find the right beans for the next load, or the right vessel for the cooling tray drop takes the roaster’s attention off the current batch and can lead to ruined or imperfect results.

A roastery that is well organized and laid out with workflow in mind makes roasting and packaging much more efficient, which can ease pressure on staff members and reduce the risk of accident. Bob Goldman is Senior Roaster Manager at Allegro Coffee. He says, “Where mistakes happen is when someone gets behind and is scrambling to catch up… if we can minimize the scramble, then mistakes will happen less often.”

When tools, equipment, and products are conveniently located, the result is a natural ease of production that will be reflected in the final product. Better roastery organization will reduce the chance of mistakes and allow for increased focus on the coffee.

Learn more in How to Design Your Coffee Roastery for Maximum Efficiency

A Diedrich roaster. Credit: Neil Soque 

The Importance of Communication

Bob tells me that good communication between staff members is important for maintaining roast quality. He says, “My main thing when working with a team is communication… It is paramount that if they catch a mistake [it is communicated].” Human error happens, but if staff members feel comfortable being honest, mistakes can be addressed quickly and actions can be taken to avoid them recurring.

In a large roastery, there may be more opportunity for miscommunication, but don’t think it doesn’t apply to smaller operations. Even in micro roasteries, it’s important that you keep all team members up to date and let them know that they can approach management with any issues.

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Freshly roasted coffee beans in the cooling tray. Credit: San Franciscan Roaster Co.

Use Coffee Roast Profiling Software

There are a vast number of variables to consider when roasting. For example, ambient air temperature and humidity can change daily. Manual roasters without software don’t allow you to track these variables and written roast profiles cannot map out the process to adjust for any fluctuations. Monitoring the roast in real time and relating it to the ideal roast profile will ensure you are on track with your recipe every time.

Roast profiling technology can also mean reduced training time for new roasters. Bob says, “When training a new roaster… I can get someone operating a roaster within a couple weeks, where as before [I used profiling software], it would take months.” 

Profiling software also provides objective accountability. If a roast tastes off, you have the ability to pull the roast chart from that specific batch and check for anomalies.

In short, just use it. Roast profiling software is a game changer for quality and a new standard in today’s coffee industry.

Find out more in An Explanation of Roast Graphs

A bag of green coffee beans. Credit: René Pollock

Aim For Consistency

If you want to produce consistent results, it’s important to focus on keeping your process standardized. Anne Lunell is a co-owner of Koppi, a roastery in Helsingborg, Sweden. She says, “We always handle the coffee the same way to try to be as consistent as possible. All coffees are weighed out in the morning before the production starts so that they all have the same temperature when going into the roaster.” 

Make sure that you also keep both green and roasted bean storage conditions consistent. If you are confident that your beans always start out at the same temperature and haven’t been exposed to light, oxygen, or moisture, you have a stable, repeatable starting point. This simple step means worlds to product consistency.

Use sealed opaque containers for short-term storage, and minimize the time from the cooling tray to the sealed package. Anne tells me that Koppi’s beans go “from the roaster to the sealed bag in less than an hour.”

Freshly roasted coffee beans. Credit: René Pollock

Consistency means eliminating variables that can impact your coffee. Keep notes and track your methods, and then see where there is room for improvement. Cait McGehee is the Marketing and Communications Manager at Crop to Cup Coffee Importers. She provided some insight from Dan Shafer, Director of Quality Control, and Devin Eiring, Trader. They advise to “always look to better yourself.” 

She says, “Get it locked in. Design a sustainable system to keep tracking it. Soon this QC will be so normal to your team that it will feel like you’ve always done it. Then move deeper to a next level.”

Identify the smallest details relevant to your roastery, then repeat them precisely to the very best of your abilities. Once those details are entrenched, find smaller ones and repeat the process. The sum of many small adjustments has a large overall impact.

Learn more in A Guide to Achieving Consistency in Coffee Roasting

A roaster holds coffee beans. Credit: René Pollock

Clean & Maintain Coffee Roasting Equipment

Roasting coffee is an inherently messy process. Off gasses and oils will collect in the roaster and exhaust pipes. In addition to the risk of fire and the potential for equipment failure that this creates, it also restricts airflow. Further cycling of the airflow will carry these contaminants back into the drum, allowing the beans to pick up unintended and unpleasant tastes.

To ensure quality, it’s vital to regularly clean out equipment, especially for roasters that specialize in lighter roasts with more delicate profiles. Create a maintenance schedule that takes into consideration the volume you are running and manufacturers’ recommendations.

Cait McGehee says, “Well-maintained and calibrated equipment is vital for quality control. Every [roast] needs to be given the same respect. If we aren’t maintaining our machines, we aren’t honoring the product.”

Learn more in How And When to Clean Your Coffee Roaster

Roasted beans drop into the cooling tray. Credit: Bayawe Coffee

Cupping, Cupping, & More Cupping

Technology can be useful to record data and keep roasts consistent, but don’t forget to use your own judgment too. Anne says, “Use tools but don’t forget to trust your taste.” Embrace technologies designed to help with quality, but use them alongside your senses, not in place of them.

Cup often and remember to:

  • Sample every roast to ensure it is up to your standards.
  • Use a group of people with different palates.
  • Sample it unmarked to avoid any preconceptions.
  • Cup your coffee with your clients at their location to ensure that the quality chain is intact.
  • Stay humble. Recognize that some days your perception may be off and that other people may be more knowledgeable in certain regions and flavors. Welcome their skills.

Cupping coffee at a roastery. Credit: René Pollock

Cait says, “It’s important to cup every day. It can be monotonous to cup the same production profiles every day, but I can’t stress how important it is. This gives you the first insight as to when a profile might not be working for you anymore or a coffee is starting to age. 

“Tweaks can be made and you can create a plan for moving forward, usually before receiving any negative feedback from customers… I find it surprising how many roasters out there are not cupping as often as they should. Cup your production roasts!”

A coffee cupping at Battlecreek Coffee Roasters. Credit: Battlecreek Coffee Roasters

With busy workloads and the constant demand for growth, it can be easy to overlook some of the smaller details in a coffee roastery. But they really can make a big difference to final cup quality. 

Bob says that “the desire for a good cup of coffee has to come from within.” Technical training, and business skills will only take a roastery so far. Stay passionate and energized, control your variables, and pay attention to as many details as you can. The end result will be worth it.

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Written by Lon Ford.

Perfect Daily Grind

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