A Real or Imagined History.
We don’t know why or by whom coffee seeds were first roasted but we think it was a really good idea.
The theorems of how people came to roast coffee are shrouded in lore. Legend has it that 9th century goat herds in Ethiopia were seen eating unknown red berries and soon after were allegedly seen to be ‘dancing’– naturally, their trusty shepherds followed suit. Down the line, this coffee cherry was named diabolical by monks, thrown into the fire, and the fumes emitted therein were deemed divine. The only thing we can confirm is the nature of that holy roasted coffee bean.
Throughout history, people have roasted coffee beans over fires and in stoves. Later arrived the inventions of larger batch roasters and many of the machines built in the early twentieth century are the grandpaps of what we use now – in fact, most of the Probat roasters we use in our roasteries today were built mid-century. We currently have seven Probat drum roasters. Working with these old guys is like using a seasoned and well-loved cast iron skillet.
A First Crack at Roasting Coffee.
The roasting process is essentially a chemical decomposition of green coffee beans by heating. Things are both lost and created while roasting coffee. A green coffee bean changes as it is heated in many ways, but three of these changes are common in kitchens everywhere. They are known as Maillard reactions, Strecker Degradations and Caramelization – we have these guys to thank for roasted coffee’s aroma, flavor, sweetness and rich brown color. The Maillard is a browning reaction – it’s what makes toast taste different than stale bread. Caramelization is the breakdown of sugar molecules under high heat, which unearths an array of sweet, bitter and nutty flavor molecules. These processes change starch into sugars and then caramelize those sugars.
What We Mean When We Talk About Roast.
Very broadly speaking, at Stumptown, we tend to roast coffees at a ‘medium’ roast. The whole truth is that we source really high quality coffees and roast each coffee just enough to bring out the best and full potential of what’s inherent in each particular coffee already. Through roasting, we aim to draw out things like acidity, floral notes, chocolate, molasses, and earth. All of the coffee’s flavor potentials are presented at the first crack – an audible signal that happens at a particular point when roasting coffee. After that, we’re roasting enough to add the right amount of body and sweetness, without degradation.
In other words, the goal is to bring out the best acidity, flavor and sweetness in each coffee that’s brought to the surface through roasting, without tasting what we’ve done to it. If you continue to roast past that point, you’ll begin to taste the roast. Now some people love that roasty flavor, and for you fine people, we make our French Roast. You can still taste some of the lovely inherent qualities of the coffee but you also are tasting the actual roast.
“We don’t have a roasting approach in general, as much as a general guiding principle in which all the coffee’s potential is revealed to you with nothing standing in the way, ” says Jim Kelso, head of Quality Assurance in our Roasting Department. “We want to honor the coffee producers. We don’t think what we’ve done on a machine is more important than what they’ve done to grow and process this coffee.”
As always, we’re here to help! Ask your cafe barista, give us a shout at email@example.com, or tweet us @stumptowncoffee for more specific roasting questions.