There's so many different aspects to consider when seeking to understand roasting theory. It's a huge topic with an incredibly vast range of opinions... all that to say, this post will only narrow in on the approach Velodrome Coffee intends to take. Hopefully, one day in the near future we can revisit this wide topic and really dive in and examine a few different theories.
So, to start, the established goal of roasting for Velodrome Coffee is simply to highlight the most intriguing facets of each individual coffee we represent. Sometimes this might mean focusing on bringing out juicy sweetness, other times it might mean roasting in a way that displays a sparkling acidity. Essentially our focus will be tuned to each specific coffee. We will seek to understand the coffee's whole make-up then work to emphasize it's most intriguing quality through roasting..... sounds a bit abstract, right? It is... but let's dig in here and see how that actually tangibly works.
Our first consideration in our roasting approach begins with sourcing. Again, this is a whole other topic for another day, but we'll just touch scrape the surface for a moment. Here at Velodrome we plan to only source coffee from farmers we personally know and when we seek out new relationships or buy from farmers we haven't met, we'll always buy through a trusted and transparent importer. In the roasting sense we do this for a few reasons: one, we're able to get to know a coffee year after year. Each growing season will produce a slightly different result in the cup, but working with a coffee from the same farm year after year allows us to build on our knowledge of how to best roast the coffee each time we work with it. Two, consistency. When you build trusting relationships with farmers and communicate to them how much you value quality you're bound to see an increase in consistency of the product you receive from them year after year. Three, when you source from farmers that are also friends you can ask them to try out something experimental for you and there's a good chance they will! Through having a great relationship with a farmer you might get the only little bit of a really special coffee... like a "Wine Process" Sumatra or maybe the only #100 of a natural processed Geisha. One last consideration worth mentioning is having access to any information you need about a particular lot on the farm. This ties into roasting very closely when you start considering density, green age, or varietal when determining an initial roasting profile. If a farmer can tell you that the specific lot of coffee you bought from them grew at exactly 1300m, under partial shade with perfect growing conditions on a north facing hill with mostly volcanic soil, is 100% caturra, was picked on the 3rd pass through the lot on the 12th of December 2016, dried to 13% moisture content and dry milled 2 weeks later - we'll have a GREAT starting point in understanding this coffee! To the consumer most of that mean nothing... but for roasters, the more information you can gather about a coffee the better starting point you have before you even put it over the flame.
Given all that information - we then receive samples of specific coffees, even being as specific as farm lots picked in different areas within the farm and on different days. We sample roast and taste dozens of great coffees for each single coffee we decide to purchase. We pick coffees that have a uniqueness within their context and also will fill what we need in our current line-up. We will always have 4-5 coffees that fit our consistent categories... more on that in a future post, but basically we have a method to maintain the variety and price points of our seasonal menu.
After we've landed on a single coffee, we take all the information we have on it and compare it to anything else we've already gathered about this particular coffee in previous years or any other similar coffees. All the above steps give us a really great starting point for a first batch.
As mentioned earlier, the goal is to highlight the most intriguing aspects of a coffee... so our first roast of a new coffee is usually right in the middle of our time range that we roast all our coffees in and drop the roast to start cooling just several seconds into first crack, so fairly light. For all you roasting nerds out there, we always have a descending rate of rise, progressive increase in airflow, and a development time ratio of around 20%. From here we taste. What we are looking for is a nice development of sugars and also we taste very closely for the presence of any off flavors. If we notice any off flavors such as tipping, baked, or grassy - we first work to change our roasting approach to get rid of those. Typically this isn't an issue unless working with a really wild coffee. Then we roast again, taste again, roast again, taste again... and with each batch we hone in on that most interesting and intriguing quality. More airflow here, a little less gas at this point, a steeper curve... all these subtle changes can be used to highlight exactly what we want to bring out of a coffee. Again, we are working within context and seeking to bring flavors out of the coffee, never forcing to add something that isn't there or taking away a flavor that is present.
The craft never stops, we taste each batch with an inquisitive mindset and are always seeking to understand each coffee we work with from the day we get it until the very last batch. Farmers work extremely hard to produce the finest coffee they can and we want to present it to our customers in the best way possible... when we can highlight a really interesting nuance through focused roasting, it's a nod to the farmer and their due diligence.
So to sum up our roasting approach, we've developed a few statements we roast by:
- Our goal for roasting is simply to highlight the most intriguing facets of each individual coffee we represent.
- We seek to understand each individual and unique coffee through constant tasting and tweaking.
- We feature a flavor profile from within the coffee and never attempt to add flavors by roasting (no smokiness, no baking)
- We believe coffee is more then a commodity, it's a livelihood... we honor sustainability and seek to only buy coffee that upholds the highest standard of traceability.
- We see ourselves as ambassadors for coffee farmers to the local consumers and will do everything necessary to tell farmers' stories and exalt the hard work and beauty of their product.
- We seek goodness and strive to do our best to play the small role in allowing humans to EXPERIENCE specialty coffee.
"Roasting Approach Manifesto", all rights reserved, Brice Sturmer, 2016