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Are Coffee Roast Profiles and Pink Unicorns the Same Thing?

Not long ago, I received an email where the author had very cynical views about roast profiling. In his story he claimed that roast profiles are overrated, and the general customer does not taste the difference between different profiles. I think this is an excellent and evergreen topic and I know there are many roasters who think the same, but I would like to disagree.o.

WHAT ARE ROAST PROFILES ?

Roast profiling is how you roast your coffee to a given color. By alternating certain variables, you can achieve different roast profiles and highlight different aromatic and flavor properties of the coffee.  Roast profiling is NOT roasting the same coffee to different roast colors (that would be roast color degree). This is a very important distinction and many roasters would confuse them.
The roast profile is often displayed in a form of a curve generated by software connected to a logging thermometer, or in some cases, it’s done manually by the roaster.

Example of a roast profile using variables like Time, Bean temperature, Exhaust Air temperature and amount of Heat supply

WHY SHOULD YOU USE ROAST PROFILES ?

Roast profiles are a roaster’s expression of his or her vision for a certain coffee. The goal is to highlight the most interesting aromatics and flavors in order to impress the most demanding customers. This is what differentiates an artisanal roaster from people who Willem Boot calls “button pushers”.

Are you a Coffee Roaster or a Button Pusher?

Roasters have wide variety of options when adjusting the roast profiles, but the two basic ones are heat output and, if your roaster allows, airflow. With these variables roasters can influence how fast and at what intensity the coffee beans are roasted during the roasting process. This will influence the final flavor.

IS THERE ONE-FITS ALL ROAST PROFILE ?

 I like to use one roast profile for all coffees when I roast the first time or when I roast them as cupping samples. It is the standard roast profile we teach at Boot Camp Coffee. If we decide to have a certain coffee lot as our production coffee, then we start to experiment with different roast profiles.
First we have to determine what are we going to use the coffee for. Is it for filter or espresso? At Green Plantation we have so-called light espresso. Our espresso roast is just slightly darker than our filter roast, but it is roasted to a different roast profile in order to tame the acidity.
We have a whole module on a medium sized roasting company, Equator Coffee, where Kriss Wieser explains their roast profiles and also how they utilize two very different roasters to modulate the flavors. They use a very high airflow roaster, Loring Smart Roast, and a classical drum roaster, San Franciscan.
Roast profiles also come in handy when you roast coffees with different bean density (soft/hard), that are processed different ways or in some cases also certain varieties (such as the very finicky Geisha).  All these coffees acquire heat differently, therefore you have to roast them with different profiles. Check out my article on Soft/Hard beans, where you can find also suggested roast profiles.

Kriss Wieser explains how Equator Coffees and Teas is using two very different roasters to profile their coffee. Kriss talks more on profiling in the MEDIUM SIZE ROASTING COMPANY – BEST PRACTICES course module.

HOW MANY ROAST PROFILES SHOULD A ROASTING COMPANY HAVE?

What does this all mean in production roasting? This is very individual and I can share my experience. Should you have roasting profile for all coffees in stock? In an ideal world, this would be great! If you carry between four and ten different origins or blends a year, it is also manageable. In our case, we carry 20-30 different coffees per year in Green Plantation. Creating roast profiles for each of them would need a dedicated employee and a very patient roaster. Therefore we use just three different roast profiles based on how was the coffee processed and the coffee beans’ density. We slightly alter these basic profiles when we roast these coffees for espresso. Rarely, we might adjust the profile of a specific coffee when we see potential for improvement.
The only way to determine if the roast profile is working is by cupping and tasting. The cupping protocol is a great way to determine if your coffee delivers on your expectations from a chosen roast profile. If not, you can always go back to the drawing table and redesign your profile.

BURSTING THE MYTH

Theoretically I have proven my point that roast profiles do make sense and any artisanal coffee roaster should take them seriously. If you are still unconvinced, how about testing this in practice?
Here is one basic test you could do on any roaster.
Roast the same coffee to the same roast color with these two extreme profiles.
  1. use a very fast 8 minute roast.
  2. use a very slow 16 minute  profile.
I bet a nine-year-old child will be able to taste the difference between these profiles.
Most likely, the 16 minute roast will have a  muted flavor and baked properties, while the 8 minute roast will be very bright and have green underdeveloped properties.

DO CUSTOMERS NOTICE A DIFFERENCE ?

Personally I do not accept an excuse like “the customer will not notice or the customer do not care”. I think in most cases a demanding coffee drinker will notice the difference. I also think that most coffee roasters are doing their craft in the hope of providing the best coffee for their customers. Knowing how to control roast profiles will take them one step closer to this goal.
Roast profiles also come in handy when you roast coffees with different bean density (soft/hard), that are processed different ways or in some cases also certain varieties (such as the very finicky Geisha).  All these coffees acquire heat differently, therefore you have to roast them with different profiles. Check out my article on Soft/Hard beans, where you can find also suggested roast profiles

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