Before we dive into the world of roasting, let's start with some simple basics.
All coffee is scored and graded on a 100-point scale.
Among the highest quality coffees available.
|85-89.99||Upper Specialty Grade|
|80-84.99||Lower Specialty Grade|
|>80.0||Commercial Grade / Regular Coffee|
Other requirements for specialty grade coffees include sorting for defects and water activity etc. If you want to learn more about Green Coffee Standards and specialty coffee in general, you can check out SCAA Green Standards.
Most specialty coffees are of the Arabica species. However, this is akin to saying that wine is made with grapes. This statement generalizes the source of wine since there are many different varieties of grapes which result in radically different tasting wines; from pinot noir to chardonnay and more which can taste different in itself as well. Within coffee, there exists hundreds of different varieties of arabica coffea along with multiple processing methods, terroirs, altitudes and climates which all have an impact on the flavour of the resulting coffee. Just labelling a coffee as 100% arabica is not an accurate representation as Arabica could very well be non-specialty as well.
So why is this important? It's because the resulting coffee from each coffee roaster can only be as good as the ingredients they use. If they are roasting commercial grade coffees, it will tend to be bitter and lack the complex flavour profiles and fragrant aromatics of higher quality greens. Similarly, if they are starting off with better quality ingredients, the ceiling and potential of the coffee is significantly higher and will allow for distinct and unique flavours unattainable from lower grade coffees. This is why coffee sourcing is incredibly important, because the final coffee in your cup can only be as good as the quality of the raw ingredient.
Because attaining higher quality green coffee is such a paramount task, transparency and traceability has become important factors for coffee roasters to consider these days. Larger companies have taken things one step further; dealing directly with farmers, forming relationships with them and shipping their coffee direct from origin to their roastery, aka Direct Trade. This is not an easy feat as it takes a long time to form deep trust with the farmers and there are many obstacles in the way of direct trade from shipping logistics and risk management to government policies and corrupt practices. Exporters and coffee co-operatives can also offer access to wider markets and purchase on a larger scale than many companies. Thus, direct trade is rarely an option for smaller and new start-ups. Majority of coffee roasters still work with importers and exporters and a single visit to a farm does not constitute direct trade, much less if they have never even travelled to origin.
Once green coffee arrives at the roastery, the roasting magic begins. The main difference comes from the approach that each roaster takes to their coffees. The quickest way to discern roasters is from their general roast colors. Coffees can be roasted from light to dark and everything in between. Here's a chart from Roast Magazine detailing the different roast colors:
As we can see from the chart, the darker the coffee is roasted, the lower the acidity of the coffee and the more pungency from bitter compounds increase. Sweetness is also at its peak in the middle towards medium roasts while green coffee distinctiveness lends itself best to lighter roasts. However, this is more of a generic chart and does not apply exactly the same to all coffees. Some coffees might experience peak sweetness later or earlier in the roast whilst others might experience greater green coffee distinctiveness later in the roast as opposed to earlier etc. The bean temperatures are also determined by location of the thermoprobes in the roaster, probe sensitivity etc. and can be very different from those recorded in this chart.
If the coffees from a roaster tends to be on the darker spectrum, you can expect more pungent and bittersweet flavours with heavier bodies but lesser aromatics and acidity. Likewise, coffees from a roaster that lends itself more to the lighter end of the roast spectrum will boast greater acidity, complex flavours, aromatics and green coffee distinctiveness but lack the heavy body of darker roasts. If the roast level is not labelled on the coffee bag, you can always ask your roaster /barista and they will usually be more than happy to converse with you about their beans.
Each coffee roaster has their own philosophy and approach to roasting coffee. Compound Coffee's first priority is to preserve and highlight the distinct and unique flavours of each coffee origin that we source, whilst balancing the acidity, aromatics, complexity and sweetness of the coffee to make them even more enjoyable. Can you tell which roast colors on the chart we usually fall in?
To check out our coffee offerings, head on over to our online shop!