Why I Get Out of the Way When I Roast
Hey, everyone! It's been a crazy new year so far, both for Sarah and me personally and for Tag. It's been a good start to the year, and we hope you have had a good start as well. Today, I am going to answer a question we received from one of you!
"How do you (Levi) know to roast Guatemala one way and Ethiopia another way?"
This question is interesting because the question assumes that these coffees are roasted differently. I wish I could ask what part of the coffee makes him assume this -- maybe the flavor, the color, the smell? Maybe just logic, I don't know, but I'll do my best to give a satisfactory answer.
I have to qualify first by saying that I try not to shove different coffees into specific roast "profiles". I really try to get out of the way as much as possible to let each coffee flex the muscles it was created to flex. Ethiopia and Guatemala are very interesting case studies. These coffees are usually incredibly different. So naturally, you would think that a roaster is trying to make Ethiopia one way and Guatemala another. Some roaster do that, and that has its place for sure, but with probably 85% of the coffee that I roast, I don't try to force anything. I do have metrics that I use to measure each roast, and I record every single roast, but this is mostly for learning about the coffee and about roasting -- not really about figuring out how to make an Ethiopian coffee classically Ethiopian.
Each coffee has a sweet spot, and most sweet spots have some overlap. The big thing is that sweet spots don't usually group together based on origin. They usually group together based more on elevation of growth, sometimes coffee variety, coffee density, and most of all, processing method.
Based on these factors, I have a very good idea of how a coffee is going to react while it is being roasted, and this gives me a great initial target for the first roast. When I first started roasting, this was terrifying. I hated new coffee because I was afraid my first roast (or first 5 roasts) wouldn't be any good. But that was like 11 years ago, and by making 1 million mistakes I am fairly confident in the first roast of a new coffee.
I find that washed, highly dense coffees can handle heat very well. They tend to heat evenly and be very responsive to the roaster's controls. On the other hand, less dense, natural coffees tend to be far less predictable which requires a gentler hand and making more predictive changes than responsive changes.
I guess the short version of the answer is: yes, they roast differently, but it's more the coffee's choice than mine. For the most part, the goal of the roaster stays the same; uncover as much pre-existing goodness as you can and keep yourself out of the spotlight. Let the coffee shine.
Let me know what else you are curious about!