Among the professional events that bring various factions of the specialty coffee community together over the course of a given year, few are as intently focused on the outcome of the roaster’s craft as the Golden Bean roasting competition, which happened for the fourth time in Portland, Oregon, last month.
With scores of roasters huddling together to taste hundreds of coffees brewed various ways, DCN seized the golden opportunity to ask a few questions — pulling the trier, as it were, from a drum full of thoughts and perspectives from professional coffee roasters.
We asked the same five questions of six different roasters representing four different corners of the USA and one from Australia, of experience levels from relatively new to seasoned, award-winning industry veterans. They are:
Adrian Capra of Art of Espresso, based in New South Wales, Australia
- Roasting experience spans 15 years
- Currently roasts on a Diedrich IR24 (transitioning to an IR30)
Brandon Bir of Crimson Cup Coffee, based in Columbus, Ohio
- Roasting experience spans 5 years
- Currently roasts on two Probat L12’s, one 60-pound-capacity machine made in Spain, and a two-barrel Probat sample roaster.
Emily Smith of World Cup Coffee, based in Portland, Oregon
- Roasting experience spans 6 months on a production-size machine and several years of sample roasting
- Currently roasts on a Diedrich IR-12
Deaton Pigot of Tectonic Coffee, based in Los Angeles, California
- Roasting experience spans 13 years
- Currently roasts on a 12-kilo Joper and an Ikawa sample roaster.
Calvin Patching of Five Rivers Coffee Roasters, based in Tillamook, Oregon
- Roasting experience spans 1.5 years
- Currently roasts on a 25-kilo Toper
Scotty Angelo of Oceana Coffee, based in Tequesta, Florida
- Roasting experience spans 9 years
- Currently roasts on a Giesen W15
To begin, we asked:
What was the most difficult coffee you’ve ever roasted and what made it such a challenge?
Scotty Angelo: The first one that comes to mind is a Nicaragua. It was the most difficult coffee I had to roast. This was when I was roasting on my Diedrich. It was just one of those coffees that I could not hit the profile. No matter what I tried, it wasn’t coming out in the cup the way I wanted it to. I brought in six bags, and after the first two bags I gave up on it. I’m always a student of the game, so I thought it was me, and whether it was my palate or whether it was my profiles or what — I thought the coffee had a lot more to it, and maybe I was expecting more than I was able to get from it.
I looked at myself first and wondered, was I getting the profiles? Was I hitting the coffee the right way? You know, all those questions roasters ask themselves and keeps you awake at night and drives you crazy. I couldn’t hit it no matter what I did. Some of my customers really enjoyed it, it came through as a brewed coffee, but it wasn’t where I wanted it.
Calvin Patching: I’d say Ethiopia Makumba. It was probably because the beans that we get in for it have such a variety. Maybe the quality of it could be up a little bit more but the variety of the beans that come in makes the roast, no matter where you roast it, it comes out with so much different color in it. It’s just all over the place, up and down the board.
Emily Smith: We’ve got a Kenya Mahiga AB right now, and that was such a challenge getting dialed in. It just didn’t play by the rules. It his first crack really early, so I was just giving it these really long development times, and it was still coming out really tomatoey. It was either underdeveloped, or it would just go straight into being overdeveloped and start getting some carbon on it. Trying to pull that back carefully was nuts. That was definitely the hardest coffee that I’ve roasted production-wise. When I was sample roasting there was a period of time where I had to roast a lot of commodity coffee, and that was absolutely the most terrible thing to roast, it was just all over the place.
Adrian Capra: There are two. One was a Robusta. I just kept burning it. I don’t know why. I tried to reduce to reduce the heat and so forth. I believe the Vietnamese robustas now have come a long way — this was 15 years ago. The other was a Monsoon Malabar, which is a very dry bean. It was difficult to roast. Those two are the two that I’ve found challenging, and in fact I’ve never revisited them and I don’t plan to at the moment. I’ve put it on the shelf, and it’s always in the back of my mind, because it’s that little challenge — the shape, the size, the lack of moisture.
Brandon Bir: Right now we have a Colombian Moka variety and it’s such a small bean and has such a high water activity. The moisture’s good, it has a lot of sugar on the outside. It’s just really hard to get a good read on that coffee. It was the density for sure. It was a super high-grown coffee, but just the sheer size, it was just so small, it looked like little tiny pea berries — hard to gauge because it’s you just can’t see it very well. But that’s one of the coffees that we actually entered into the Golden Bean. I think it turned out really, really well.
We look back at our records for some of the other naturals that we’ve done — smaller varieties out of Ethiopia and just took notes from that. I mean we’ve been around for 27 years, so we’ve roasted so many coffees, we have records of how we’ve approached different coffees. So we kind of just say, ‘Oh we did this with this coffee, and we did this with this Ethiopian or this Colombian’ and just match it up together and kind of take an educated guess.
Deaton Pigot: Roasting for Intelligentsia Coffee in LA, it was the first Fine Foods Festival happening in San Francisco, in maybe 2008 or 2009. They flew in 28 pounds of this really expensive Colombian coffee. They wanted me to roast it for the Fine Foods festival on a 40-kilo, so I had one shot, one opportunity to roast it and get it right for this showcase in San Francisco. I remember the farmer was there, we met the farmer, and he thoroughly enjoyed it, so that’s all that matters. That was a lot of pressure.
Howard Bryman is the associate editor of Daily Coffee News by Roast Magazine. He is based in Portland, Oregon.