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How to Roast Awesome Dark Roast Coffee – BTW Is It Still Trendy?

Dark roast is not dead. Actually, most of the population of the USA are still dark roast fans.

Lighter roasts are trendy, but still represent only a specialty niche in the coffee market. Many coffee brands now offer various roasts and if you decide to roast your coffee dark, it is important to master the craft.

In this video, Willem shares some of his tips on how to tackle dark roast.

VALERIAN’S NOTES: I filmed this video a while ago. Since then I’ve started my USA coffee brand Unleashed Coffee where we decided to carry dark roasted coffee.

Last time I was roasting dark was in 2001-2005, still in Central Europe roasting on a Probat LG3 (1938). Ok, I would not call it roasting back then but I would say I was “putting color on the beans”. I did not time the roast, didn’t record development or anything. All I did I was wait for the second crack and counted until 30. That’s it! Coffee is ready!  🤣 I have to admit I knew very little about roast profiling back then.

So doing a dark roast in 2016 was very new for me. In the past 10 years, I had been working very hard on my light roasts but never thought to venture into a dark roast. In this video, Willem mentions that he tries to avoid “bitterness” in the dark roast. But isn’t this the main feature that dark roast lovers want from their morning joe? And how about smokiness? Isn’t smokiness another feature the dark roast lovers crave so much? Smokiness would also mean roasting really dark, well beyond the second crack. Finally… shiny beans… aren’t those the ultimate beauties for dark roast lovers? Again, if so, then it would mean that we have to roast far beyond the point that Willem suggests in this video.

I had plenty of questions and no answers. The best way to test this was our customers. We started to roast on a Loring Falcon 15, a high airflow roaster and I used to drop the beans ~445° F (230° C). On the Loring, at this point you are just entering the second crack, but one of the features of the Loring is that the beans are not shiny. You get much fewer oils then one would get from a classic drum roaster. For me, this represented an amazing dark roast. In Unleashed Coffee, we use Brazilian sundried natural beans from my farmer partner (Unleashed Coffee is 50% owned by a farmer). At this level, the coffee has the traits of a dark roast, deep chocolate notes with the sought-after perfuminess, but the aftertaste is not bitter and the beans aren’t shiny.  During demos, consumers loved the fact that there is no bitterness in the aftertaste, but a few of them commented on the look of the beans: they missed the shine. We were able to explain the disadvantage of shiny beans: volatility and mess when it comes to your coffee gear.  On Amazon Marketplace, we got one review when people mentioned that the coffee is “blah, low on flavor” which I assume meant that the dark roast did not have strong enough punch.  You can check other reviews here: Unleashed Coffee – Farm Blend

We got similar but more constructive feedback from one of our office customers who loves dark, dark, dark coffee. I adjusted the end of the roast slightly, changed the dump temperature to 450°-453° F and made some small changes in the initial part of the profile to make sure I finish the roast in 12½-13½ minutes. This helped a lot to satisfy our wholesale account, although we don’t know what “Handy Andy” from Amazon would think. The bitterness is not present, but it is starting to creep up, so for me this is the darkest I would go on the Loring… why Loring?

LORING vs GIESEN

After creating the “ultimate dark roast” for our company, we started to roast small batches in Willem’s lab on Giesen W6. The reason was simple, his lab is closer to my home and sometimes we did not get enough orders to go all the way to Co-Ro Berkeley to fire up a Loring.

Using a Giesen and trying to replicate our profiles from Loring was challenging, but in the middle of the of the game, we realized that if we roast on the Giesen with a similar profile as on the Loring and use the same drop temp, we end up with a much darker looking and bitter dark roast. Roasting lighter did not bring out the perfuminess of the dark roast which was so intriguing for our customers, most of whom enjoyed the lack of bitterness … so what now?

To make the situation even more complicated, all our coffee roasted on the Giesen to light or middle roast were much better than the same coffees roasted on the Loring.

Don’t get me wrong. I love to roast on the Loring. It is like driving a Ferrari, but it seems for our coffees, other than for dark roast setting, it does not deliver the same rounded flavor profile as the Giesen does. On another hand in the dark roast, the Loring enabled me to create a truly unique dark roast without the nasty bitterness.

I discussed this issue with a few of my industry colleagues and I got some interesting but not conclusive feedback. Perhaps our coffee at light and medium level works better on a traditional drum roaster, perhaps I have an acquired taste for coffee coming from a drum roaster because I was working on those for most of my life… or perhaps I am a noob. 🤓

For me personally, getting out of my comfort zone and playing with dark roast in the past 3 years was a very interesting experience and an intellectual challenge which left me with some answers, but also plenty of questions.

My conclusions from this experiment are:

  • Your customers might like different dark roast then you do, it is always a good idea to test different recipes on your customers and to fish for feedback.
  • Not everybody will like your dark roast. That’s ok. Make sure most of them do.
  • It seems to me that dark roast does like convection. It makes sense. The sugars get more gentle heat via convection rather than conduction. If you roast very dark, conduction might burn the sugars on your surface faster as a convection would do. This is why Loring makes such a great job with the dark roast, but in our case does a good but not great job with our light and medium roast.

What is your experience with dark roasts? What is it that you or your customers are looking for in a dark roast? Let us know!

November 7, 2018

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