Coffee Roasting for a Brand
What if your business was sank before you ever served your first customer? Or worse, you open up your doors and serve a great product but don’t even know how or why its great. Everyday passionate businesses with unique products fail. It is my belief that one of the best ways to avoid this 8/10 statistic is to begin with intentionality. Intentionality in everything you do from equipment selection to how you tell your brands story. For coffee companies that story begins with a roaster.
I remember when we were first starting Lineage and it was so easy to find information on quality issues inside the cafe, but there was virtually no available information on coffee roasters and how they differ in functionality. This seemingly huge area of so many companies was being overlooked as just a thing that was a necessary evil rather than a brand representation. Our goal with this post is to help bring a little food for thought when it comes to coffee roasters.
When it comes to selecting a roaster there are many elements to consider, for this post we take an unbiased look at some of the top brands out there to see how they stack up when it comes to producing amazing coffee. While this simple post is far too short to do a full rundown of each roaster we reviewed, we will work to bring up some questions and ideas for consideration.
Whether you are a customer or a roaster there are a few important things that affect the coffees you drink. Unfortunately no roaster in the market has the ability to take bad green coffee and make it good roasted coffee so as roasters we can only ever hope to bring out the best elements of the green coffee and hide the less desirable. Coffee roasters (the machine not the people) work by providing heat through conduction and convection. These two types of heat will produce very different flavors in the finished cup.
While some roasters are sought after because they roast more conductively, other roasters boast in better convection as their ticket to success. Diedrich roasters for example are very well known for their conductive and even heating that is excellent at producing dense and sweet cups of coffee. Other roasters like Probats of the past, Jopers, and Giesens are better at convective roasting and will produce higher transparency and acidity in the cup.
Coffee roasters are simply a horizontally rotating drum that agitates coffee beans inside of a heated chamber while circulating air through this chamber, however the temperature and amount of air vary greatly depending on the make of the roaster which is why some roasters will speed up by adding more air, and others will slow down by adding air to the drum. In some roasters like the highly sought after pre 1958 Probats, the air is heated before entering the cast iron roast drum and the air actually works to pull heat from the heat source through the beans causing the temperature to rise faster. In other roasters like Diedrich’s IR series the fan pulls cool air into the drum and can cause the climbing temperature to slow down.
Our personal experience has been that more conductive type roasters are easier to produce great coffee. The slower and more steady heating makes it harder to scorch and tip beans and can also hide defects in the green coffee. Like mentioned earlier these conductive focused roasters are stellar at producing dense and very sweet coffees. These roasters work with contact heat that almost reminds me of sautéing onions in a pan and all the great molasses like sweetness produced from this direct heat process.
On the other end of the spectrum, convective focused roasters can be more difficult to produce such incredible sweetness but are very effective at producing high acidity and clarity in the cup. Due to the increased airflow, these roasters will do a better job at evacuating moisture and smoke and will use dry hot air to produce more bright notes in the coffee. These roasters will be better at creating clean bright citrus like coffees like seen in Ethiopia or high elevation parts of Guatemala while the conductive roasters can be better for heavier cups with more density like Kenya or some parts of Colombia.
This research has led us down a rabbit hole of information that we emerged from feeling that the best answer was to have two roasters. One for bright filter coffees, and a different roaster for espresso and more caramelization type roasts. However, the lack of practicality in owning two roasters brings us back to the importance of deciding a long term vision for not only your coffee company but for any brand before ever making your first purchase. At the very least your business will understand why it has started, what its mission is, and how every single piece supports that vision.
We put together this little table to help show some key differences