The Art of Coffee Roasting
What different kinds of roasts are there and why?
Now, here’s a topic that cries out for clarification. Many misconceptions about grades of coffee roasting have almost taken on the status of urban legends.
A professional coffee roaster will tell you that there are three basic shades of roast: light, medium and dark. Many of the terms used to describe the in-between shades such as “Full City” and “Vienna” are trendy terms that have recently turned up in the coffee vernacular. Understanding a few simple facts about the shades will go a long way in helping you decipher the implied characteristics of the roast.
First and foremost, aroma and the degrees of bitter and acid tastes vary in accordance with the roasting temperature. The hotter the roast, the more bitter (and less acidic) the coffee. Conversely, lightly roasted coffees display more acidic and less bitter tastes than darker roasts.
Remember, in evaluating coffee, acidity is a very complex characteristic. It covers a wide range of tastes, particularly among Arabica beans.
Many people are under the misconception that “dark roasts” are preferable because they produce a “stronger cup.” This is incorrect. In fact, huge production facilities do not dark roast expressly to produce beans for stronger coffee. Rather, dark roasting helps produce and maintain consistency in taste; it can even out variations among very different beans. Thus, it’s important to realize that dark roasting does not refer to any specific variety of coffee or any type of bean. Any coffee can achieve the basic flavor characteristics of a dark roasted coffee. More tellingly, dark roasting is often used to mask the tastes of inferior beans.
The second aspect of roasting shades involves the beans themselves.
Expert roasters consider the weight, volume and water content of the bean as well as the flavor characteristics of the varietals region they represent before roasting.
Unfortunately, many roasters now really know "beans" about beans.
An experienced roaster knows precisely when to pull beans from the roasting process – down to the second. Such surgical precision is used to achieve a varietal’s perfect shade, which is essential to releasing the maximum flavor of the bean to enhance the coffee drinking experience.
Again, it’s helpful to think of an expert coffee roaster in terms of an artisan who knows his raw materials and his preparation process the way a master cheese maker, vintner and so understand grapes or milk, as well as the important steps of storing and aging.
That said about dark roast, there are some coffees meant to be dark roasted. For example, coffee for espresso. According to one truly experienced master roaster, Joe Palozzi (a.k.a. Java Joe), of Java Joe’s Micro-Roasted Premium Coffees, “Espresso roasts tend to be darker roasted because the process reduces the acidity level in the coffee and therefore makes a better-concentrated cup.”
According to Palozzi, there are some noteworthy examples, “African coffees can hold a dark roast, with the exception of Kenyan which already has an inherent sharp flavor characteristic, so it is not complimented by the dark roasting process. Tanzanian Peaberry is also excellent when roasted to a darker shade."
To Palozzi, other notable coffees, such as Colombian, Costa Rican and Indian Coffees, especially the Monsoon Malabar, are better tasting when roasted light. He notes that other coffees, including premium coffees, such as Jamaica Blue Mountain, Hawaiian Kona, Nicaragua, and Guatemalan taste better with a medium roast.