What is important when choosing a coffee for roasting
The most captivating experience about roasting coffee is exploring the potential of each particular coffee. It is not about the different tones of brown colour that a batch of coffee get when it is light, medium or dark roast but how I should manage variables like temperature, drum speed and others according to the character of each coffee. What does a Kenya Gura taste like? Why does it taste so different to a Costa Rican Tarrazu coffee? How should I roast each one to bring out the full potential of each one?
I feel lucky to have been in a position where coffee was all around of our lives, so I learnt in a very natural way about coffee plantations and somehow coffee drinking culture which has been expanded and enriched along my experiences. Throughout my life, coffee has been my passion. The main focus of my attention is how coffees from different parts of each farm, let alone different countries, can taste so different and how soil, shades, varietals, washing processes can affect for good or bad a cup of coffee. There is such a diverse range of flavours in every country, and, as an artisan roaster, to learn about those regions that is a complete challenge to select a coffee to roast.
Sampling different lots from the same farm showcases how varied they can be. Extend this to a whole country with its multitude of microclimates and you have a nearly endless number of flavours.
There are so many things to consider when selecting coffee, and the more information you have the better. However, the following are the five main points which aid my decision process.
- The profile
This is probably the key determinant when selecting a coffee. A combination of factors, including origin, region, variety, altitude, and processing, will tell you what kind of flavours to expect from a coffee.
So, what flavor do you want? Is cleanliness in the cup a priority? What about sweetness? Are you looking to showcase the intrinsic flavours of a origin? Do you want a balanced coffee or a bright, acidic one? What about the body? Two coffees might have the same SCA cupping score of 90 but, that doesn’t necessarily mean the one from Colombia will have the bold, chocolate notes of one from Costa Rican.
If you want fruity flavours, go for a natural process. For clean, bright acidity, try a fully washed coffee. A crowd-pleasing single origin espresso? Get something from Central America. Maybe you want a coffee which highlights a particular varietal or cultivar? Go with one from Africa—maybe a winey SL28 from Kenya. Want something sweeter? A honey processed coffee could be perfect. How about the taste of tropical fruits? The pacamara hybrid or the famous geisha varietal are excellent options.
I always remember that it’s customer’s needs, not just my own desires, that need to be met. I might love the sweet, fruity taste of a natural-processed coffee but, this may not suit espresso-based milky beverages.
Here in my recent trip to Colombia (January 2020), Finca El Mirador, Elkin Guzman. Bourbon washed and honey. Same coffee with different process.
- Brewing method
Some coffees work well as espresso, whereas others are much better prepared as a pour over. For example, I’ve found it difficult to enjoy African coffees as espresso although our Nonna Emma blend or some Malawi has performed very well in this respect. Whereas, Latin America offers many balanced and enjoyable origins which suit espresso.
- Roast degree and equipment
When considering the ideal roast profile, customer coffee equipment should be considered. Let’s say that a poor grinder produces an inconsistent extraction, a darker coffee could to accommodate this and to ensure a better overall flavor.
Make sure you sample each coffee that you’re interested in at your preferred roast profile. Roasting can make or break a bean; too light and you might not release its full potential, too dark and you might kill off its subtleties. Always think about the final cup—there’s nothing worse than cupping a coffee, getting excited about its potential, and then running it through your espresso machine, only to discover that, those flavours you loved back at origin just aren’t there.
Roasting and cupping at origin when the coffee has just been harvested/processed will give me a true indication of its flavours.
Coffee is a seasonal product and, as with any seasonal item, you want to acquire it as fresh as possible. This means learning about harvest seasons around the world. Attributes like acidity fade with time. That typical “past crop” cardboard-and-cereal flavour many coffees can take on is usually the result of age and poor transportation conditions.
- Direct trade vs. importers
Buying green coffee is such an important subject that it really deserves its own article. Direct trading with farmers means that you will have to wait until harvesting and processing have been completed. This can mean waiting up to a year, whereas importers are able to supply the coffee more or less immediately.
Having said that, the long-term benefits of direct trade to both the roaster and farmer are immeasurable. The opportunity to work with a producer; to create and sustain long term relationships and to improve lives of coffee producers produce a feeling of humbleness.