4 Scenarios to Determine the Way You Do Sample Roasts

In the last email round we got a question from Isaac: “How to handle sample roasting?”. BTW if you are not subscribed to our mailing list, do it now! It is full of coffee stories and useful tips. Subscribe by clicking here
Now, back to sample roasting. First, you must ask yourself the essential question — WHY? What is the purpose of your sample roast? Different occasions call for different approaches. Here are four sample situations.

1. Roasting Samples for Evaluation

This is the most common reason for roasting samples, when you want to make sure that the coffee is free of defects or you want to discover the coffee’s sensory properties (smell, aroma, taste etc.) to decide if it is right for your customers. The key word here for the right roast profile is CONSISTENCY. Depending on your roast style and product, you should have a set profile for all your samples and get as close to it as possible. If you are working with specialty grade coffee, I recommend getting familiar with the SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) cupping protocol, which gives some basic guidelines for sample roasting:

“The sample should be roasted within 24 hours of cupping and allowed to rest for at least 8 hours.
Roast profile should be a light to light-medium roast, measured via the M- Basic (Gourmet) Agtron scale of approximately 58 on whole bean and 63 on ground, +/- 1 point (55-60 on the standard scale or Agtron/SCAA Roast tile #55).
The roast should be completed in no less than 8 minutes and no more than 12 minutes. Scorching or tipping should not be apparent.
Sample should be immediately air-cooled (no water quenching)”

This is a very good starting point. At Boot Coffee, our recommended roast profile for samples is hitting the first crack at around 10 minutes and have rate of rise  around 5 degrees C so your roast development time is 1:30minutes-2:30 minutes to achieve Agtron 58.
You can create your own roast profile, but make that you roast all your evaluation samples the same way so you compare apples with apples.


2. Roasting Samples to Find the Ideal Roast Profile – Product Development

Once you choose a coffee sample, it is time to play with the production profiles. You might have a few basic profiles that you use for all your coffees, depending on the process, origin and purpose of the coffee.  If this is the case, try them out on your coffee.
This is also the time for experimentation. Try out a few new profiles. Go crazy! Experiment — feel free to ignore all the best books and courses (including ours) on coffee roasting and put YOU in the profile. The worst thing that can happen is that you discover something new.
Try different roast profiles on ONE coffee at a time. This is important so you don’t get lost. Unless you are a person with superb multitasking abilities (which nobody is, according to thisNPR story) experiment on just a single  lot.  The idea is that you will not be distracted by other roast profiles and sensory inputs and your mindset will be devoted to that ONE coffee. Your creative process will be much more transparent and efficient. This is a strategy used by top managers in many fields, and if you are interested in improving your quality and quantity of work, I recommend grabbing the book by  Gary Keller and Jay Papasan The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results which can change a lot of things you do in your life.
When developing roast profiles for production, use a sample roaster, which gives you a more consistent profile than your production roaster so it will be easy to transfer the experiment to a real product.


3. Roasting Samples for Wholesale Customers.

This is one of my most controversial topics: how to roast samples for wholesale customers. I bet most of you think that giving one or two bags of your regular portfolio coffee would be enough. Possibly, but I would take this up one notch.
I think we agree that the first impression is extremely important when pitching your portfolio to a wholesale customer, especially if your brand is very new or little known.
First, get to know your customers and their products. In the marketing world, they say create your customers’ avatar. What kind of coffee do your potential customers serve now? How do they serve it? Do you know how you could improve their coffee and make their customers happier? Based on these and similar questions, you know what the potential customer is looking for and how you can improve it and help your potential customer generate more sales. Creating this avatar also helps you understand if this customer is for you. If you do light roasts and your potential customer serves exclusively dark roast, this partnership may be doomed.
Based on the avatar you can prepare personalized roast profiles and roast levels for the potential customer.
This is when your skills of creating roast profiles and highlighting specific properties come in handy.  A little extra advice: if possible, present these samples yourself or by your trained barista. There are still too many coffee shops and especially restaurants that do not know how to prepare proper coffee.  Do you think this is too much? I get it. You can always give your wholesale customers your regular portfolio coffee and leave it at that.
PS: Can you send me the address of that customer? Let me try to pitch… I guess you get my point.

4. Roasting Samples for Public Cupping.

Which profile would you use for public cupping? If I ask myself why do I do public cupping, my answer is “to introduce my portfolio to my existing and potential customers, to convert non-believers and increase sales.” If your why is the same as mine, then the CONSISTENCY mandate for this situation is not true. You will roast each sample differently, because your goal is to make the best of every lot you present. You will roast each sample with the most appropriate roast profile so it can shine on the cupping table.

These were only 4 sample situations when you might do sample roasting. I’m sure there are many more situations, but in every case ask yourself WHY are you going to do the sample roast?  What is the purpose and what do you plan to achieve? This will help you to plan your next step.
Let me know, what are the situations when you need to do a sample roast and what is your way of approaching them?  Let’s learn from each other.
March 7, 2016

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