How to Get the Most Out of Your Beans
It’s a secret. Every bean has a little treasure inside and none of them seem to want to share this info. You need to learn it by planning and often trial and error. This is why keeping track of how you created your roast is so important. Add this to waiting to taste the results, and a notebook becomes vital.
There are some basics which we can apply to every roast and typically get decent results, or at least a good enough result that we can learn from it and apply subtle changes.
When starting a new bag, roast on medium heat, straight through with no changes to heat or airflow. Dump the beans out when the crack ends. Take note of when the bean turns yellow, when it begins to brown and starts to smoke, at what point does it crack, how long is the crack and at what point does it end. Weigh in and out to see what amount of moisture is lost, or simply examine the end product to see how dry it is by feeling it. Steal a few beans right at yellow for later examination, looking for signs of early heat damage. Are there scorch marks, does the skin look weird and rougher than expected? Now do the math and determine your total development time. By definition, this is the total crack time, however actual development can happen before the crack begins, depending on how you add the heat. 20% is a target, with different beans needing different amounts. Acid is muted the longer the bean is roasted, so a bean with enjoyable acid may do well with a shorter development time.
A roast done this way might look like this:
- 6 minutes yellow
- 8 minutes brown
- 8:30 crack
- 10 minutes done.
This is going to be a bright, fairly acidic and possibly underdeveloped roast, but we will have learned a lot from it.
THE KEY TO FLAVOR DEVELOPMENT
The key to flavor development is to extend the roast only during the time when it matters. And when it matters is during development. Damage can occur anytime during the roast but building flavor only happens once the beans are starting to brown. Using the above roast as an example, you can drop your heat down at 8 minutes, just when the smoke starts to appear and this will reduce your rate of rise dramatically to where your crack will happen at 9:30 or perhaps 10 and then go on for a full 2 minutes or more. I personally really like roast times of 12 to 13 minutes for most beans.
When reducing heat to extend development, it is important not to stall the roast or worse, develop a negative rate of rise. This is a period of a little stress, because the development period is so important but you can ruin your roast if you do it wrong.
The Hive Roaster for the home makes this pretty easy by learning to calibrate your heat source with the roaster. A key thing to understand is that the smoke incinerating properties of the roaster only work with a certain amount of heat input. This directly corresponds to rate of rise. If your hive is actively incinerating smoke, and you have a full load of one cup of beans, you are likely still progressing. If the roaster is not incinerating smoke even when held mostly still over the flame (careful of the scorch!) it is possible that you are stalling. At some point, this may be what you need to do because you are running too hot and need to put the brakes on, but as a rule, keep that rate of rise positive. This can all be made a little easier by adding a data dome, but its not the final solution.
At some point early on when you get your roaster home, figure out where low is. Do this by waiting until the roast is actively smoking, near or at crack and move it away from the flame and view the amount of smoke produced. This allow you to see how much smoke is actually happening vs how much is being incinerated. Now, put the roaster back over the heat and reduce your flame until you see that same amount of smoke. Take note of the flame volume, control knob position and your height and now you will know where low is. This is where to lower the heat to develop.
This is an important thing to understand. With a fully loaded roaster you have 6 ounces of beans and about 11 ounces of steel. When this is hot it will retain its heat for quite a while. It will even continue to increase in temperature without any heat input. This is based on the principals of thermal mass. When you are trying to slow the heat down to develop your roast, you need to anticipate the crack and start early. Once you begin crack, its really too late, so as you begin to brown, really pay attention to all your senses so that you know when that crack is coming and you are able to reduce the heat at just the right time to get a nice strong crack and full development.
In my personal opinion, coffee which has not cracked is not roasted enough, however there are countless coffee shops out there to prove me wrong. Beans are getting lighter and lighter as fruit forward, citrus and floral flavors are so popular. It is difficult to get this right as just stopping your roast early when the beans are yellow is not going to work out and will taste gnarly. “notes of rotting fruit with an astringent sandpaper finish” is how I would describe this. So to get it right, you still need to develop your roast and mute the acid, you are basically just bypassing the browning. The way to accomplish this in the hive is to reduce the heat very quickly after yellow and try to roast for as long as possible without increase the end temp too much. Don’t worry as much about baking when doing this as there is going to be plenty of moisture left. Again, this is pretty tricky to get right and it’s a very tight balance between delightfully fruity and compost. It does not have to be so severe however to still gain a floral or fruity flavor, and even fully roasted, fully cracked roasts can retain a nice balance.
TIMING AT THE END OF THE ROAST - COOLING DOWN
The time when you dump the beans is super critical and really needs to happen at the right second. Watch a really good commercial roaster at the end of roast and they will seem almost frantic pulling samples and smelling the trier, then suddenly dumping the roast. This is because they are smelling for a certain smell and they know the leaf blower and can cool beans as quickly as 30 seconds total time. This may be a bit extreme, you can use a variety of different ways to cool them, and at the same time remove the chaff.
The way I do it when I don’t have a power blower is to use two sieves and dump from one to the other, using as high of a drop as possible. At the same time, rotate around in a circle so that the beans fall straight down and you catch them, but the chaff will fall slower and not into the lower sieve.
I’ve also cooled pretty effectively by floating a bowl in another bowl of cold water. Put the beans in the floating bowl and they will cool pretty fast with a little gently stirring. Folks used to spray a light mist of water onto beans to halt the roast, I have no experience with this. Until I come up with a cooling tray for you, this is up to you to figure out, so be creative and share your techniques.