You roast too dark

August 4th, 2010

There it is. One of the most often thought, but least often spoken things in coffee.  It is unsaid because it is a phenomenally self righteous thing to say, because it assumes a correct roasting degree.  Roasting too dark is roasting badly.  ”Darker than what?” you may well ask, and this is something that has been on my mind for a while now.

We’ve all at some point cupped a coffee and wondered why on earth the roaster has taken to such a high end temperature – surely, when they cup it, they taste that the flavour is utterly dominated by roast notes. “Why”, you think “would they do that?!”

Usually we can dismiss the very dark roasted stuff under the idea of “They are just trying to cover up the flaws in their low quality coffee by roasting so dark that any negative flavour/defect is turned into charcoal.”  More recently though I’ve come to think that given a certain period of time you pretty much stop noticing a group of flavours, resultant from roast rather than being an intrinsic flavour to the bean.  These flavours may be the result of very light roasting, through to very dark roasting.

I remember reading a comment online from someone who worked at a roastery in the US remarking that they roasted in a way that resulted in absolutely no bitterness.  I can see their point – I often taste coffees where I don’t really perceive bitterness unless I think about it.  Yet all coffee is to some extent bitter – caffeine is a bitter tasting compound, as are many other resulting from maillard reactions etc.  The coffee simply fell below the level of bitterness that was habitual and therefore was ignored.  If you’re reading this then you’ve probably recently had coffee where you didn’t notice any bitterness at all.

We talk about how complex coffee is – from an aromatic and chemical point of view.  These 800-1000 near mythical flavours that have been idenitified (across the entire range of coffee I should add, rather than in a single cup) are brought out as a statistic to brag to the wine people about.

Chances are that we can’t possible perceive everything there is to perceive, so we look for what is interesting – we look for what is new.  My thought is that if you roast to a certain depth/degree/temperature regularly then there will often be a very similar group of flavours.  This will come to be ignored.  What I am thinking is that that group of flavours is very much learned, and continues to be malleable – depending on what you regularly drink and cup.

For me there are bags of coffee that we taste over the course of a year that have noticeable roast notes to me, and there are also many that have a certain grassiness to me. 1

With the super light roasts I think that some flavours become habitual, just like with darker roasts. I am not sure at what point one flips. I don’t know where “the consumer” has its preference, if indeed it does at all.

I should probably add a couple of links here. Peter Giuliano’s comment from an earlier post 2 and a blog post that Chris Tacy posted earlier covering similar ground in a much more concise fashion.

  1. For want of a better word!  I should probably state now that the whole development in roasting thing is something for another blog post, probably one where I ask a lot of questions….  ↩︎
  2. every time I link to a comment of Peter’s – and it is pretty often – I think he really ought to have a blog….  ↩︎

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