So how do we choose coffee?

How to choose coffee to roast?

Choosing great coffees to roast can be a really complex task.

When people visit and we’re roasting, they’ll often ask what the computers are for and I frequently use the analogy of a piece of good beef fillet. You could give some of that fillet to 10 different cooks and ask for your steak to be cooked to your liking. It might even look close to identical on the plate and yet when the time comes to eat it, 10 different outcomes. The same applies in this coffee endeavour.

With coffee, the nature of the roaster might have an influence on the outcome as will the time the roast takes, how and when air and gas are applied as will the roast depth of the final product. Even then, there are times when a customer may rave about a particular coffee and yet another my find it less satisfactory. There’s a whole heap of Art and Science and computers can assist us to profile a particular roast to achieve a good outcome and then log what we do. Profiling software allows us to repeat a great result and deliver consistency in the cup- more or less.

But where does it start? Back to that fillet….

Roasters might choose green coffee by hoping that what a supplier says will translate to a good result, by requesting roasted samples to “cup” or by obtaining green bean samples and then “cupping” them. All good and well…

  • Suppliers do need to sell coffee, so some will “talk up” particular coffees. Therein the risk of assuming that something someone says about a fillet will deliver your perfect steak.
  • You could try the steak…but what if the chef was not that good and ruined your sample. Was it a dud steak or just a dud chef?
  • You could work out how you like the steak, get it raw and then cook it yourself. All you’d need to would be to find a way of being consistent in the way you work

For roasters who prefer not to cook, many suppliers have sample roasters and will showcase their coffees in cupping events. You visit, you try, you like, you buy…

If you have never seen a cupping, it looks a little like this ritual… We do it for coffees we may be considering for purchase and then again to check that we are happy with our roasts of those coffees.

….but I have always wondered about sample roasters…

Drum sample roasters look like this. Set a temperature, throw in some beans, roast them to the “right” level

For me that brings us back to the cook…

Let’s say you were trying a selection of different Ethiopian coffees to choose the one you liked, or the one which was going to be best in your blend: The right one. Even with a batch of conventional drum roaster samples, has the cook influenced the final result? We need scientific method here. We need a sample roaster which will replicate our chosen way of roasting those Ethiopian samples so that we have a level playing field. We have finally found that roaster and we love the clarity of the roasts it produces.

IKAWA Professional Sample Roaster

We are excited to have an IKAWA Pro on the way and this is the way we hope to remove the chef effect. We can roast samples as we please on profiles which we know work for us and then replicate the profiles for the other samples from the same origin. The level playing field allows for a fair comparison. Better still, we get to join and learn from the network of professionals all around the world using this roaster and and sharing profiles and data. Everyone wins when collective intelligence is shared. After all, we’re all just learning and those who believe they know it all have long since closed their minds.

A sceptic may say “that’s the most expensive popcorn popper I have ever seen!” I say we have just removed the chef effect, with each 50g of sample coffee… Big Excitement!

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