Quick Recipes and Easy

Roasting 101- an Idiots Guide to Reality!

The beans. Warm and seemingly glowing in the palm of your hand. Ahhh…freshly roasted you say outloud. The product of an artist. You settle down into your tall stool and question the barista to grind the freshly roasted coffee…cupping time…the romance of it all sweeps over you.

OK. So most of the above is the image that a newby or wanna-be roaster has of the industry. The lure for the guy sitting in his office and dreaming of another life- one he can do something he likes- coffee, or more specifically crafting green beans into roasted specialty coffee.

The reality checks for someone looking at entering the coffee roasting business are many. From the outside it does indeed look glamourous. In truth- reality carries a huge stick and bites.

For an insight into coffee roasting one should look at historical texts about coffee. In the late 1800′s and early 1900′s the huge roasters of the world were based in the USA. Their factories were designed to pound out tonnes of coffee. It was hard, hot and sometimes perilous work. Roasting machines were heated by coals and fires- making the work place unbearably hot. There were often injuries from serious burns and also from smoke inhalation. All-in-all the roasters, the men who pysically roasted the coffee, had a hard life.

Quick forward to the pioneer days of Specialty Coffee in the USA. Suddenly huge roasting machines were replaced by small drum roasters. Gs heating was the order of the day. The roaster was not ofter bulk, but quality. The subtle change was that the days of quantity over quality were over. The typical roaster(y) of today may have as small s 4 employees and even the larger specialty roasters in the USA do excellent volume on 10-12 employees. Its this new breed that beckons more to join the roasting crusade.

So how does one become a roaster? Presumably the first criteria to be meet is the would-be roaster must like coffee. That being a shoe-in, what are the other very vital traits a new roaster must have?

I would list, in no particular order, the following- be physically strong, be patient, be a excellent learner and willing to question questions, be able to work long hours, be prepared to work in a hot and loud work environment, be analytical and precise in work practices, be able to work long hours (x2)! and be prepared for many, many hours of study and repetition.

Some of the above can be bypassed- but by doing this it is to the detriment of the roasters development and also the end product. Many new drum roasters have computer control systems which make the theory of putting beans in green and pulling them out roasted simple. But most of the really decent quality roasters around the world still manually roast coffee- probably always will.

So, lets say you have ticked off all of the required attributes listed above- what is the next step?

Learning to roast is perhaps one of the last challenges for a new comer. Firstly resources on the internet are scarce, secondly books on the subject are rare. Finally- and most importantly- learning by doing, and by the guidance of a skilled roaster, is paramount to learning the skills of roasting. Most master roasters will tell you that roasting is an art that is never fully mastered- you are always learning something new everyday. Whether it be a new green you are roasting, or unexpected results with beans you have been roasting for years.

Finding someone to teach roasting will perhaps always be the greatest hurdle to overcome. There are some roasting schools around the place, but to learn successfully you need to spend perhaps a minimum of one year under an accomplished roasters guidance. Many postings on websites such as coffeeforums.com are from new entrants wanting to learn the trade- most complain that no-one will teach them. This has to be understood- a master roaster teaching the art and tricks of roasting is giving up not only his/her hard earned knowledge, but also potentially helping develop a future competitor.

If a new roaster is lucky enough to be taken under the wing of an established roaster, he/she will start at the bottom. This means all the hard grunt work of lugging 60kg sacks, roaster maintainence, sorting (if it is done) and then watching, noting and learning tempertaure ramping etc. The first 3-6 months could be monotonous, but are very vital in learning the trade in the long-run.

Here in Indonesia most roasters are still traditional or semi traditional. This means the machinery and the methodology applied to the science of coffee are not those found in the USA. Roasting is hot. It is hard. It is strenuous… you do not see any stout roasters in this part of the world!

Anyway for those who dream of roasting, do a reality check first. If it all adds up then try and follow your dreams. Coffee is a fantastic field to be in.

Alun Evans is a New Zealander who has been living and working in Indonesia since 1998. His passions are Indonesian Coffee nd helping to develop the small hold growers- from the kampung of Java to the villages of Flores and Sumatra. He can be contacted for comment at mailto:alun@merdekacoffee.com alun@merdekacoffee.com

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