An important and certainly interesting dialogue has developed since green coffee importer Cafe Imports announced a new program that shares the company’s in-house roast profiles for specific coffees.
The program is an extension of what Cafe Imports terms Beanology, an informational guide to roasters on each of the coffees it sources. The company has partnered with roasting software provider Cropster, which provides the charts on each of the Beanology profiles after work with Cafe Imports’ own Probat L5 in Minnesota. Click here for an example of a the Beanology roast profiles.
Praise for and criticism of the program have come in many forms, and I will not attempt to cover all of them here. But some of the heaviest criticism of the program came on August 13 from James Hoffmann of London’s venerable Square Mile Coffee Roasters. On his personal blog — which happens to contain a wealth of interesting content on all kinds of coffee industry issues — Hoffmann leveled some more technical criticisms:
Probe type, probe placement, probe depth in drum and percentage of full load will all yield different temperatures on a display for roast’s actual temperature. We call them bean probes but that’s mostly a lie. They very rarely are giving us an accurate picture of the bean temperatures – you can get pedantic and argue that all roast graphs should start with the bean temperature at room temp, instead of having a 60-80 second period of decrease before it bottoms out and starts to increase again.
Even the general shape of a profile – something you could argue is mappable from Cafe Imports’ roast profiles – will be different on different roasters. I don’t really know how to translate the profile from a full batch 5kg Probatone to a Loring running a half batch, let alone to something like a Sivetz fluid bed roaster.
As well as some more philosophical objections:
The demand for roast profiles makes me a little sad. It is a stark that people are buying coffees just to fill holes in offering lists. They just need a Guat, or El Sal. They want one that is traceable, with a good, saleable story (nothing wrong with that, I should add!). They want a shortcut to make sure they get reasonable value for money, but in many ways it is an admission that cup quality isn’t the most important thing. You might even be more successful working this way. Focusing on selling a story, a product, a service rather than just focusing on the experience in the cup.
To his credit, Cafe Imports’ Joe Marrocco took the time to write his own well-reasoned response to the criticisms put forth by Hoffman and others. Much of Marrocco’s justification for moving forward with what has quickly proven to be a contentious program relates to building a sense of collegiality and shared learning in a roasting industry that has historically felt somewhat divided, whether for proprietary reasons, or simply due the nature of smaller business. Here is a section of Marrocco’s response, in which he addresses roasters:
We do not want to tell you, our clients, how to roast. We do not want to tell our partners who are growing coffee how to manage their farms and process their coffee. However, we do want to be your partners and help in any way we can to set you up for success. We do not wish to insult you, or unveil any trade secrets. We want to encourage communication and collaboration to spur on innovation in coffee roasting. We want you to see the intent with which we approach turning these green beans brown internally and the power of sharing experiences and building community. This is meant to be collaborative and start discussion.
I don’t want to strip too much from the original posts written by Hoffmann and Marrocco, respectively, if only because both are worth a read in full.