SAMPLE ROASTING TIPS
Here are tips on how to do our coffees justice through sample roasting. If you feel you can't sample roast effectively, try a 1-2 bag order for a test run in your production roaster instead. We welcome your suggestions if you think we should udpate this advice:
CHOOSING A SAMPLE ROASTER:
Invest in a real sample roaster that can roast 100 grams! What coffees to purchase can be the most important decisions you make for your business. A profile roaster is not a sample roaster. If you cannot afford a beautiful Probat sample roaster, look for similar brands that are more affordable, share the use of a sample roaster with a friend, or in a worst-case scenario get a cheap air home roaster as a temporary solution.
Here are some ideas:
A Probat drum sample roaster (that allows for air-flow control to prevent roastiness), or less-expensive brand that functions on the same barrel (drum) system, 100 grams or less (some can roast just 80 grams). Preferably gas over electric for control. Make sure your purchase allows you to control air flow to help eliminate roastiness.
A Quest M3. We've tasted our coffees roasted on the Quest, and if done right, the Quest can produce great results, at a fraction the price of a more expensive sample roaster. And you don't need a gas line (it's electric).
If you need a stopgap, temporary solution, you can pick up a Fresh Roast air roaster on Amazon for around $180 or $260. This will not do true justice to our beans but with luck may give you a general sense of their potential.
Ikawa: the beauty of the Ikawa air roaster is that it can roast 52 gram batches. It's electric and portable--perhaps the most convenient sample roaster we've seen, making it exciting to the industry. However, we've found it often diminishes many enzymatic (taste) features in coffee compared to a drum. A common misconception is that this roaster has one-profile-fits-all profiles that work well by origin. That is wrong. Each coffee (not just origin but coffee), should have its own profile dialed in (on any roaster)... Sample roasting should always require watching how the coffee reacts to heat and air flow, and adjusting accordingly. This one does let you adjust temperature, but it has no "trier" to easily look at the beans as they roast and react to color (you can see them moving quickly but you can't understand how they're developing until they're done). It is a convenient air roaster! It's way better than other air sample roasters we've seen.
Drum sample roasters
Disclaimer: Your sample roaster will vary at least slightly from ours. Get to know yours. Roast great coffee to the lower & upper limits, and everywhere in between. Cup the results as a learning experience!):
Warmup: Drum sample roasters should be warmed up for at least 45 minutes, adjusting the temperature and air flow during the warm up to reach the equilibrium you will use to roast, not just before you start roasting.
Warm-up batches: Run three test batches with coffee you know, not with the samples you are analyzing. The purpose of this exercise is to ensure your controls are calibrated with how beans will react in the drum before you get to the real samples. Have an identical between-batch protocol (time the door is open or drum is tipped, what you do with the controls, and when you start the next batch) for consistency.
Timing: We recommend a sample roast be 8-10 minutes (SCAA recommends 9-12 but we think 12 results in baked coffees when sample roasting). Go longer than that and you risk destroying the fruit or other notes in the coffee (enzymatics). Go much less and you are likely to taste grassiness and astringency.
Where is first crack?: We consider first crack the middle of the time during which cracking occurs, or else where very strong cracks occur. With just 100 grams the cracks are not as numerous as in a larger production roast.
Development time: We typically go a minute-and-a half past first crack (average) and rarely more than a minute and 45 seconds first crack. If we go farther past first crack, we find we've zapped the fruit notes out of our coffees. We NEVER reach second crack. We NEVER see oils on coffee beans after roasting or the next day. If your temperature is hot, development time will be shorter. For a natural we use less development time (approximately 52 seconds to a minute and 5 seconds).
Air flow in general: We maintain enough air flow to stop smoke from being visible but not so much that we cause the whole air temperature to lower so much that we bake samples.
Air flow at first crack: We increase air flow significantly at first crack, and continue to increase it until pulling. If you see LOTS of smoke coming from the sample roaster (a little is OK), your air flow is not high enough, in our opinion. Adequate air flow can help you eliminate roastiness.
Gas (or amps) at first crack: We consistently decrease the gas from first-crack through pulling.
Bean color at pull: we prefer a nice even brown, not the unevenness present at first crack but rather the brown that comes out during proper development. We do not let the beans get dark. Watch the beans like a hawk with a halogen lamp (not an LED light) to make sure they don't get too dark.
Cooling: Ensure your coffee cools quickly so that it doesn't continue to roast after you pull it.
Restarting: We wait for the drum temperature to reach the correct equilibrium (each roaster's starting drum or air temperature is different so find yours) and start the roast again right when it is reached, adjusting air flow and gas (or amps) to the correct levels.
A note on roast level and taste: Our coffees have beautiful fruit notes, often nectary bodies, and great enzymatics. If you get a deep chocolate, nice body, but not much else, you've probably over-roasted or baked. If they taste like the "strong" (over-roasted) coffee your grandparents had when you were growing up, it's over-roasted. A very common phenomenon is that people over-roast samples. Best of luck bringing out all the hard work of coffee producers at origin!
Common mistakes to avoid
Burning a roast: Too often roasters will burn a roast or over-develop it. See comments on development time above. This is the way your great grandparents may have enjoyed their coffee. If the whole beans show oil, it's way too dark. But they don't need to show oils to be burnt.
Baking a roast: When a coffee is roasted at too low a temperature for too long, it can get baked. This zaps it of all enzymatics (flavorful cupping notes) and makes it taste very bland. Sometimes people will both bake it and also over-roast it, which makes it not only bland but also taste like burnt toast.
Grassiness: If our coffee ever tastes grassy, it's likely because you under-developed the roast or roasted it too quickly. A roast that is 6 or 7 minutes long is too fast. No wonder it's grassy! It should be at least 7:30 or longer (but a 13-minute roast is probably too long). See above comments on timing.