Did you know that coffee beans are green?
Yes, coffee beans are not brown. It’s the roasting of the beans that makes it achieve its lovely shade of brown and those wonderful fragrances and aromas you smell along with the notes and acidity levels you taste when drinking that cup of coffee.
So what or whom should I say, gives this little green bean its profound characteristics?
The mighty roaster does. The roasting of the beans has more power than the brewing.
It is in the act of roasting that the flavours in the cup are shaped. The roaster manipulates the bean, to an extent (as it also depends on the type of bean). Some beans can be roasted longer, while others should be roasted to achieve their optimal flavour and avoid being burnt.
But it’s ultimately the roaster who holds the power. Through calculating different temperatures and timing, the roaster can take the green bean through the process that will determine its characteristics.
It’s amazing isn’t? That you, yes you, can wield the power and turn this humble green bean into something extraordinary that eventually brews into a damn good cup of coffee.
That is exactly what Juan Carlos did; he started roasting his own beans for his own use and pleasure. Now Juan Carlos runs a small coffee bean roasting production out of his home in Lima, Peru, which I had the pleasure of visiting.
Let me take you through my afternoon with Juan Carlos and share my experience of watching the whole coffee bean roasting process.
So where does it all start?
The soil, the planting, the farmer, the cultivation would be ideally where we would start. However, for the purpose of this article, I will be starting at just before the roasting process begins, after the selection of beans adequate for roasting has been selected. I do this because talking about the origin of the beans is a complex topic of its own. There are different regions where coffee beans are cultivated, north, south, central Peru, not to mention different altitude levels.
But wherever the origin, the roasting process will always start off with the little green bean. The green bean most of us wouldn’t recognize, as we are all used to seeing the final roasted product that is of a brown hue.
If you knew and had seen a raw coffee ground then kudos to you but a lot of people don't have the chance to dig a little deeper. Why? I think its part of the ignorance of us all when it comes to food. The truth is that most of us don’t know where our food comes from. We have become lazy and only see the final product. We don’t dig deeper because well we really don’t have to.
But we should want to.
From food to chocolate to coffee to wine and beer…there is a history there. Behind it all there is a soil, plants, a farmer, and a producer. It’s not just the final product.
And for coffee, the bean starts out as the green bean that through its roasting process looses water content gradually, then passes through a caramelization stage that allows it to release and capture certain characteristics before achieving its roasted “brown” colour.
Some roasts will be lighter and some will be darker. The characteristics will be determined according to the success of the roast, where temperature and timing are major factors.
Factors that a roaster has to learn to control and manipulate in order to achieve the roast he/she desires.
When did food become so technical right? The truth is, since always. Since man discovered fired and started cooking meat along with other foods to achieve superior flavours, textures, and smells. It’s all a science really, chemical reactions, chemistry you know?
I mean why do some foods taste better with others? Sometimes the sweetness of one will counter balance the acidity of the other, achieving some sort of harmony.
In a similar way, temperature can break or make a dish or a product. You can overcook a piece of meat, drying out and making it tough to chew. You can over ferment bread dough, giving it a more sour flavour and a less desirable rise. You can loose control of the heat when roasting your beans and can burn the beans, killing off its aromas.
When roasting coffee, the green beans as they loose their water content and start to achieve a yellow hue, are vulnerable to the caramelization process that is to follow. Controlling the temperature influences the characteristics that the bean will develop and take on. Roast too quickly and you may “kill” the aromas of the bean. This means you will get a flat roast, with close to none characteristics and may be overly strong.
The process Juan Carlos explained to me starts off with the beans that he has selected to be optimal for roasting; these beans are ones that haven’t been damaged. Then the green beans are placed in the roaster machine when the machine reaches a certain temperature. In this case, it was 185 degrees.
Then after that, almost instantly, the temperature starts to rapidly drop until it stabilizes at a temperature around 110-115 degrees. In this case, it was 108 degrees. After it reaches this point, the temperature begins to rise again. However, this is a critical point in the roasting process, as the temperature must not rise too quickly. Ideally it should go up a maximum of 5 degrees every 30 seconds.
The length of the roast depends on the bean. As I mentioned earlier, some beans can be roasted longer as they can resist it and not burn. In this case with Juan Carlos, we roasted the beans a total of 11 minutes.
After that, the beans are dropped to cool down before being transferred to a container where they will remain for a minimum of two days.
During this time, the beans will release its aromas and will be ready for grinding and finally brewing before consumption.
Wow. Like roasting, I also didn’t know how intricate and delicate the process of brewing coffee could be.
Just like temperature and timing play a role in the roasting process, it carries on for the brewing of the coffee grounds.
First of all there are different methods of brewing, from espresso to Pour over (e.g. V60) to Chemex to French Press that all achieve a different cup of coffee. One method may produce a more concentrated coffee, for example the espresso. While other methods will brew lighter, less dense type of coffee. The notes of acidity, sweetness can also be influenced.
Each method uses a different machine where water (temperature) becomes the determining factor along with time for a successful brew.
Juan Carlos taught me that you just can’t “shock” your coffee with boing in for examples a French press.
Yea...I didn’t know that. I’ve been brewing my coffee wrong for years it seems.
The correct way to do it is to add water in increments and at the right temperature. This allows you to soak your grounds and capture those characteristics. For example, in a French press, he told me that I should be adding 30ml of water that is at pre-boiling-point to my grounds and letting them soak for 30 seconds before adding any more water. After I add the water to my liking, I should wait 3-4 minutes before serving. He also indicated that when my coffee is ready to be pressed, I should do it ever so slowly!
Then ending the process by serving and finally enjoying that damn good cup of coffee.
I hope I sparked a little bit of more curiosity from you on the topic of coffee, from its roasting to its brewing process.
This is just scratching the surface though, I am looking forward to the coffee adventures that follow. However, now I look forward to asking questions about the cup of of coffee I am drinking, not just the type of brew but the beans themselves! And of course I look forward to sharing any new found knowledge with all of you!