Have you ever had the luxury of running your hand through a big bag of coffee beans? There's something incredibly decadent, sumptuous, yet comforting as they emit their warm, scented glow. As you engage all your senses, you're amazed what this little bean can hold. 

Having said that, an unroasted bean is a dull, flavourless thing. In the last blog I spoke a bit about the growing and harvesting of coffee, but at this point, whether you have an Arabica or a Robusta bean, means little. Raw coffee beans contain acids, sugars, protein and caffeine (thank goodness!), but it is the roaster's challenge to draw out the full potential of the bean and bring out its flavour range through the heat and precise timing of roasting. 

Neil Maree is the founder of Genio Intelligent Roasters and has a wealth of knowledge about roasting and coffee in general. "Roasting is a progressive process," he says, "it's not a simple matter of throwing the beans into the tumbling drum, turning on the heat and letting it go. Every minute of that 15 minutes in the roaster counts to bring out the best in the beans. We look at many parameters - things like gas pressure, temperature, airflow - which are used to develop a specific roasting recipe to bring out the best flavour combination in a particular bean, also called, its profile.

"We don't want to burn the good stuff away to hide bad quality beans, rather, we want to showcase the good quality beans and bring out their best flavour and aroma," he says. Darker coffee has more body, he explains, with more of a chocolate, caramel flavour. Lighter coffees tend to be sweeter, with more character. "In a high quality coffee, you're paying for how well the sugars have been maintained and brought forward," he says. But some beans are better for a darker roast and some have better potential as a lighter roast. "Brazilian coffee is often darker and better for body, whereas Ethiopian coffee is better if light or medium roasted. It takes loads of experience and experimentation to create a really good roast."
Blending of beans is done before or after roasting - each method has its pros and cons and I'll talk more about blending in the next blog. Once the cleaned beans are sorted, they're placed in the roaster and heat is turned on - depending on the recipe they can go up to about 210 - 228°C. The beans are tumbled in the drum for equal roasting and the roaster will watch and listen. As the oils rise to the surface, the beans will begin to crack, a bit like popcorn, and this is the sign for a light roast. Unsurprisingly, a dark roast requires the beans to go through more roasting and a second crack. Some say: no crack, no flavour.

As The Coffee Co, we're incredibly excited to have started our own roasting journey in the Johannesburg office. We've been doing all sorts of experiments and in the next few weeks, we'll be launching our very own house blend. Without going into too much detail, here are a few pics of what we've been up to on the roasting front. Watch this space...

Until next time


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