Think about the coffee you drink each morning. What do you taste? Are you adding cream, sugar, sauces or syrups? Our vision to bring you the best tasting coffee is only half the process. How you like your coffee is entirely up to you, and we only seek to compliment ‘how you like it!’ It is also our desired responsibility to share some of coffee’s best kept secrets. Did you know that a lot of the flavors we replicate, naturally occur in coffee? When you know what flavors you enjoy and understand what creates the taste of coffee, you can probably find those flavors in the cup right in front of you! In this short series, we’re talking about the different things that impact the taste of coffee, like origin, process, roast, and brew method. Today, we’ll be talking about how the roast impacts the taste of your coffee.
There’s a common misconception that the darker the roast, the higher the caffeine content in the coffee, the opposite is actually true. This is because the more heat you apply, the more caffeine compounds are eliminated from the beans. The majority of people select their coffee based on roast, but they don’t always know how roast impacts the flavor of their coffee. The flavors of the coffee have already been sealed in at origin, as the producers tend, harvest, and process the coffee beans. Roasters now have the task to unlock and reveal flavor, taking the compounds that have been sealed in at origin, and applying their craft with just the right heat, time and finesse.
What is at the Heart of Roasting?
Coffee flavors and aromas are unlocked during roasting. Like Pandora’s Box, these volatile compounds are carefully revealed from the chemical compounds that make up the molecular structure of green coffee. When heat is applied (roasting) to the green coffee, there is a breakdown of simple sugars and polysaccharides that create sweet and caramelized aromas. Coffee has more than 850 aromatic and flavor compounds, (compared to approx. 200 in wine), and a roaster has to walk the tightrope that balances taste, flavor, and aroma that ultimately is a true representation of a farmer’s toil over the last 9 months. Part of being a roaster is knowing what origins lend themselves to each roasting style. Sometimes this means blending coffees and roasting them at different temperatures to achieve specific flavor profiles, and there are some roasters who are legendary in this art form.
How Roasting Impacts Flavor
The longer you apply heat in roasting your coffee, the fewer diversified flavors you’ll taste, and here’s why. Think about flavor compounds as if they were standing in a queue. The first compound standing in a queue will be the first to vanish when it is introduced to the heat, and as it disintegrates, the second compound starts to feel the heat and begins to sweat, eventually evaporating. As each compound gets its respective place in queue closer to the heat, the flames eliminate them. By the time you reach the 200+ compounds, you’re in the realm of the espresso roast. The preservation of taste and flavor that has been put together by farmer and nature, can easily be compromised when met by heat, and it’s a balancing act for a roaster to listen to the bean, and carefully hear what nature and farmer have created together over nine months. The sweeter and more beautiful compounds are first and second and third in line. Think of flavors as little nodes standing in a queue waiting to be warmed up to survive their grip on the bean so when you get the coffee wet you can finally taste the flavors that are warmly revealed - this is where the art of roasting comes in.
How Do You Choose the Right Roast for You?
Geography is a flavor, and finding the right roast is a journey. In each hemisphere where coffee is grown, there are a multitude of climatic variables and conditions that have to all come together perfectly, season over season, in order for coffee to adapt to its surroundings. In a majority of coffee growing latitudes in Africa, flowering happens slowly, thanks to the cool nights and warm days, and the flavors have more time to develop. These beans have a longer time to evolve, are softer, and produce sweeter flavors. They are typically roasted to reveal high levels of diversified compounds, with the goal to reveal a complex treasure of flavors locked in at origin.
At other latitudes where coffee is also grown, because of warm nights and warm days, the flower falls off and the bean matures quickly, thereby making the bean harden. When a bean is hardened, it becomes more dense, thereby requiring a different roasting method to extract the flavor. It is here, yet again, the art of roasting is a craft that pays homage to origin and all her variables.
How Does an Espresso Roast Impact the Taste of Coffee?
When you order a shot of espresso, it doesn’t mean you're getting espresso roast. A lot of coffee shops use espresso machines to make their coffee drinks, but they can use any type of roast. So always keep in mind, espresso roast and espresso shots are two different things.
Espresso roast is a beautiful way of expressing a coffee’s smooth texture. It is also ideal if you’re looking for a coffee you can modify with different additives like cream, sauces and velvety foam/milk. The flavors are usually earthy, introducing silky texture on your palette. The appearance of the roasted coffee bean usually appears oily because the heat has made the beans ‘sweat.’
Like an artist, roasters will take considerable time selecting their coffees, combining different origins with different roasting temperatures in order to achieve an espresso roast that defines their signature roast. So, when buying your espresso roast, see if you can find its origin and roots, and then, dig into how it was processed, and ultimately, how it was blended and roasted. What story is your coffee telling?
How Does a Medium Roast Impact the Taste of Coffee?
A medium roast has been roasted between 415F-435F, with a dry and caramel (color) looking appearance. Its acidity is medium to high, depending on the origin, with a medium body, and typically, exploding with aromatics. In some roasts, there is still a hint of green coffee, and sharp sweetness; a typical third-wave coffee roast profile. A medium roast is as close as you can get to having your cake and eating it too. The aromatics have been preserved, there’s some acidity, and the flavor is pronounced enough that if you add milk and sugar, it won’t be lost.
As soon as you grind a medium coffee, you’re breaking compounds you haven’t burnt out and you get to smell those explosive aromatics. The coffee was pulled from roasting just before burning out those flavors, and they’ve been intentionally preserved for the moment when you grind your beans.
Another little fun fact for your coffee tool belt is that medium roasts lend themselves to cold brews because they cool nicely.
How Does a Light Roast Impact the Taste of Coffee?
When you’re looking at a light roast, the surface area of the coffee is typically pretty dry. It’s been roasted at around 400F. Light roast actually has the highest caffeine content of all the roasts.
From an acidity standpoint, a light roast is as high as it gets. Its body is faint because you haven’t applied heat long enough to burn through the compounds. There are aromatics that have started to bubble on the inside of the bean, but have not exploded yet. And when you grind your coffee the aromatics pop and engulf the air. Light roasts typically have high complexity. There’s a high green coffee distinctive flavor, and this coffee may be lower in sweetness, but due to its high acidity, the sweetness is substituted by juicy traits.
What Roast do you Enjoy?
After learning about the different ways roasting coffee impacts flavor, what do you notice about the coffee you drink? What roast is it? Can you taste complexity in flavors? Do you think there’s another type of roast you’d now like to try? At Stori Coffee, our Founders Series Coffee is a medium roast. What do you notice about its flavors?
In our next post, we’ll be discussing the last mile. This is the crucial step, where you get to unlock all the flavors that have been developed throughout the journey of your coffee.