Sample Roasting: Learning the ways of the bean

November 18, 2016

Since my last blog post was about an amazing experience at Royal NY, one of our green bean suppliers, I would like to continue chronologically along the life of coffee from bean to cup.

When we buy green coffee, it arrives in large burlap bags weighing around 150 pounds. Such a large amount of coffee is a big commitment, so in order to ensure that we like the coffee and would like to roast it, we always order a small sample size before any full bag purchase. Here at Boston Common Coffee we are graced with a beautiful piece of technology called the Ikawa Sample Roaster. The Ikawa roaster roasts 50g of green beans at a time, so we are able to experiment without wasting large amounts of precious coffee.



There are two main steps to the sample roasting process. The first is to decide if we would like to carry the coffee. The second step is to decide the roast profile of a coffee once we’ve selected it. When tasting a sample, we roast the coffee very light. When a coffee is incredibly light it is easier to understand and taste as many characteristics of the bean as possible. The darker the roast, the more roasted flavor is developed, masking the natural bean. To decide if we like the bean or not, we roast it to a light degree that very often is not the most enjoyable roast profile for that coffee, but we are sipping for defects and tasting notes, not trying to roast the best cup of coffee. Yet. That is the next step.


Once we pick the coffee and receive one or two full bags of it, we begin to understand how it’s characteristics develop over different degrees of roast. The most basic way to understand a roast profile is a spectrum from light to dark. Within this simple understanding, there are more considerations about the way to apply heat over time, and the temperature of which to drop the beans into the roaster, but the most important during the sample stage is merely trying to understand how the bean reacts at different finish temperatures.


We sample roast each new bean three times. We roast very light, medium, and very dark. This is the first step in narrowing the final decision for the bean. This stage requires a lot of time discussing and tasting, trying to see how each element changes with the different degrees of roast. Some of these characteristics include body, acidity, sweetness, and the varying tasting notes of fruit, chocolate, and grass to name a few. After many sample roasts and many loud  slurps, we are able to bring out exactly what is best in the bean. The process is not about forcing our opinion of what we think the bean should taste like, instead it is about understanding what the bean does best, and bringing that out as well as we can.

Every single bag of beans is different. So many factors have already contributed to their quality from the moment the plant is put in the ground to the moment it arrives in our roasting facility. Our job as roasters is to constantly be aware of the roasting process, understanding that just because a specific batch is from the same country or farm as a previous batch, it doesn't guarantee we can approach it the same way.  It is our job to bring out the individuality of each bean, and to eventually bring a smile to the many faces drinking our coffee!

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