Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Roast Master

I loved my little, red 1979 Volvo 242 - her two doors and wool seats and lack of air conditioning - she was always dependable; an absolute joy even in 100 degree heat. On sunny days, I'd get into my car and go to the café where I worked to amp up on some double espresso shots for an hour or so. When I got back into my boiling car, I was buzzing. Everything had that 60's high-school yearbook fantasy picture fuzz on it. Driving while impaired on caffeine, I tried not to hit anyone while flying through the city in my ancient, beat-up Volvo, singing and restlessly agitated by the caffeine.

That café had an unbelievable machine from space. The agtron control system and mass spectrometer used to determine roast degree was impressive. She was dialed in, roaring, turning, and exiting. Blue, silver, chrome, brass, and coffee oil. For some, a coffee-roasting machine is like a big steam engine.... like a huge tractor when you were a kid. Some people when they see it say, "Wow, that’s a big coffee maker!" or "Hey look, a gigantic coffee grinder!"

Roast science has been evolving for a while now, and people discovered that coffee is the most aromatically diverse food or drink on the planet. There are over some 850 volatile aromatic compounds, many of which are still misunderstood. The roast master controls the induction of heat and air over a time period, and this determines how these sugars,chemicals, and compounds react with each other, and ultimately determines the quality of the roasted product.

Density and moisture content are major factors when roasting. Also, barometric pressure and humidity effect how air and temperature work with the beans in a roast chamber. Whether you are using a drum roaster or a fluid bed air roaster, this technical information can affect the quality, finish, and degree of roast.

Each coffee from its different growing region has unique properties and is analyzed, tested, tasted, graded, and so on. I take information like density and moisture content and roast the coffee to magnify its individual characteristics. I try not to dark-roast coffee because it loses a lot of delicate aromatic and taste properties due to carbonization of sugars and other factors. Many customers favor a dark roast, so I do try to make a blend of a few coffees with different taste profiles and roast them a slight degree darker then a medium roast to get a rounded full-bodied cup while still preserving the aromatic and taste properties.

If this information is useless to you - don’t worry! My French roast rocks! Try it!

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