From retail to roasting

April 29, 2016

     For the first 15 years of my coffee life I was involved in all things retail.  From designing and building out our cafes to opening and managing them with my business partner Tony Massari. Well this winter I was thrust into the position of taking over as our companies new roastery operations manager. A roll that included learning how to roast all of the coffees our roastmaster

 had developed over his seven years of employment with us.   I have been around the roaster for years, have taken part in cupping sessions, knew all the specifics about describing each varietal we roasted.  I have just never actually roasted the coffee!

     So when we learned of our Roastmasters departure I packed up my box and headed West to Hopedale MA where our roasting facility is located.  There I underwent an intensive training session with our roastmaster who was tasked with cramming 15+ years of roasting knowledge into 3 weeks.  At first the change was exciting until I realized that I was responsible for maintaining the standards of excellence our roastmaster had set for the past 7 years.  
     My first day was about grasping the basics of the roaster and roasting concepts.  Roasting is all about Time & Temperature and understanding how each bean from each growing region is roasted to maintain a consistent roast profile every time you roast that particular bean.  The best example I can give is comparing Central American coffees to Indonesian coffees and the moisture content in the beans. This is something I will explain in more depth for my next blog post but the higher the moisture content the higher the roaster temperature must be to extract all that moisture within the desired time frame (for our roaster it's between 13 - 13.5 minutes on avg.) during the roast.

     With some quick background information at hand it was time for me to roast my first batch of coffee!  I was given a stopwatch and the target time & temperature for this particular coffee (Honduran San Vicente used for our North End Blend) and off I went.  I tracked my readings on printed "roasting charts" every 10 degrees to determine how the roast was progressing.  For me it was a challenge to check the watch, write down the time & temp and then make a decision on what the roaster was telling me before the next reading had to be recorded (about every 30- 35 seconds).  With years of experience our roastmaster could tell what was happening without even looking at

the numbers but I didn't have that luxury. So I decided to create a spreadsheet that would allow me to enter the required information and be able to make a quick adjustment on the roaster using a chart I created.  Simply put, if the time was over my target time that meant the roast was stalling and I needed to add more heat.  If the time was under my target time the roast was running hot and needed to be slowed down so I would lower the heat. I looked at it as a marriage of old school craft roasting with technology roasting.  Using this spreadsheet ensures me that every roast is consistent and within our desired "finished weight" which is a marker for how light or dark each coffee is roasted. 

     Now with several months of roasting experience under my belt I have a great appreciation for both the art and science behind roasting coffee.  This has been an amazing experience for me and a great boost for our business as well.  I hope all our customers have been enjoying the coffee we have been sending into our cafes as a lot of hard work and care goes into every bag we sell and cup we pour.


Peter Femino



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