I have found myself at this point in thought process many times over the past 10+ years of roasting. If we roast to achieve the best out of the bean, then surely there is only a small window in which we can be true to the bean. However, if we take into account how the bean will be extracted, then the grind and pressure should be taken into account during the roasting process.
Before I can even begin to guide anyone through the thought trail that answers this question, let’s look at a few (modern) historical points. We are currently at a stage in fashion where specialty, micro-mill and small batch are not uncommonly used words. This being said, they are more commonly said that used. The modern Australian specialty (and for purpose of this article I will use this word in the way the café owner would, loosely) café is offering multiple brew methods. However we can safely assume that regardless of how the coffee and brew methods are featured, that the bulk of sales are still going to be ‘espresso with milk’ based. Although we would all love to be known for our syphons, pourovers, clovers, etc. the majority of our customers are coming in for the latte, flat white, cappuccino.
So I have historically been a believer in the roast for the bean school of thought. This is the idea that each bean has a very narrow “sweet spot” in the roast that will highlight the perfect balance of sweetness, acidity, and body. Any deviation from this point will be compromising any of the three attributes we are after. Now, let me just clarify that this sweet spot is a combination of roast profile, roast degree, and adjustment to these based on age and condition of the green bean.
The idea that roasting for the bean is the ‘best’ way to do things can be further seen when we start using higher quality greens, where flavour, size, and deviation defects are almost non-existent. So regardless of how we brew this ‘perfect’ coffee we will have the best balance of sweetness, acidity, and body to play with. The grind of each particular brew method will then determine the suitability of the bean. For example, grinding fine for espresso will achieve the body and mouthfeel that this brew method is known for without sacrificing the much sought after sugars and acidity that lets you know just how good the quality is. Likewise, brewing as a pourover you will achieve all the possible nuances that are within this bean as you have already roasted for these to be at their maximum.
The most recent occasion that I revisited this thought process came about for a number of reasons. Firstly, as brewed coffee is becoming more prevalent in specialty coffee places I have been drinking more and more styles of roasting. The thing I noticed on repeated occurrences was that filter/brewed coffee is being roasted much lighter. Not in the way that I liked. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy light roasts, but roasting for filter seems to make many roasters forget just how to roast. The reason we would roast light is to achieve a maximum amount of sugars and acids in the bean. These attributes still need to develop during the roasting process, so just following your ‘regular’ profile and dropping the beans out at a lighter colour is not going to cut it. (Now I could write an entire new article about my speculations on this subject but I’ll just say some of the reasons are; the popularity of roasting means owning a roaster makes you a roaster apparently, the internet makes everyone an expert, and the emperors’ new clothes syndrome.) To achieve a good light roast, a roaster needs to roast to a profile that will still fully develop the bean, so that the result is not ‘green’ which is too often mistaken for acidity.
The second reason I revisited the idea is that we purchased a 1 kilo roaster and setup a full pour over station. So suddenly I had an accurate way to roast small batches and throw out results that didn’t go my way. This is very important when some of our greens cost in excess of many wholesale roasted coffee prices.
And thirdly, I started to get a lot of other coffee industry people comment on how light our espresso roasts are, but upon trying them, comment on the fact that they didn’t taste how they were expecting them too. Which led me to believe that a lot of coffee roasters are still stuck in a very traditional roast profile thought process.
So I started to explore the idea of roasting for specific brew methods. What I found is that I could recreate the sugar and acidity sought after by light roasts, without that green flavour that haunted me in most filter coffees. I relearned roasting on a micro profile level and served them to customers and coffee industry professionals in order to better understand what people enjoyed in these, at that time, new light roast brew methods.
Now I still currently roast different profiles for filter coffees than I do for espresso coffee. I also however, roast different coffees for each brew method. I also take espresso coffees and make pourovers with them and take pourover coffees and make espresso with them.
I believe that certain coffees suit certain brew methods and need to be roasted accordingly. As much as we all will continue to try every coffee in every brew method, this is the thing that pushes us to better understand what we do. I think that coffee roasters as a whole need to better understand the product they work with, and fully understand the principals of brewing in order to better explore its possibilities.
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