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Using Sight to Determine Degree of Roast

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Color is just one of the ways to determine degree of roast. By itself, it is of limited use. When complemented by the audible cues (first and second crack) and the aromas of the roast process, it is extremely informative . Here is a You Tube video showing the color changes that occur during roasting –

Degree of Roast, Temperature, Description

This coffee was roasted on my Probat 12 kilo so I could take advantage of the sample trier. Ignore the times, and take the temperatures as a ballpark figure.

The important thing is here is to see the transformation the coffee goes through as it roasts and what look, colorbean sizeand surface texture, corresponds to the degree of roast. ***(see note from home roaster George Steinert below).

Roasting is more about exceptions than rules. I have this page about bean color vs. ground coffee color that might be helpful. So get to it.

(click on preview for full size image)


Note: The above image is not the exact same beans pictured below. The gray strips on either side of this image are a photographic 18% gray card.

1. Green unroasted coffee 0:00 – 75 f

This is a wet processed, Central American coffee, a accidental blend I have had sitting around. Each photo here are different coffee seeds from the batch I roasted sosize and shape will vary seed to seed.


Click on image for large photo, or here for multi-bean photo

2. Starting to pale 4:00 – 270 f

Drum roasters take a long time to transfer heat to coffee so there is little change in the first few minutes. In an air roaster coffee gets to this stage so much faster because of the efficient heat transference of the rapid moving air stream, so the whole warm-up phase can be as fast as two minutes.


Odd looking seeds – the near one might be a Kona Typica and the farther one perhaps the traditional Bourbon cultivar or Mundo Novo. Click on image for large photo, or here for multi-bean photo

3. Early yellow stage 6:00 – 327 f

At this point the coffee is still losing water in the form of steam and no physical expansion of the bean has taken place. The coffee has a very humid, hay-like smell at this point. All of these warm-up stages leading up to first crack are part of an endothermic process, as the coffee takes on heat, leading to the first audible roast reaction, the exothermic 1st crack.


Click on image for large photo, or here for multi-bean photo

4. Yellow-Tan stage 6:30 – 345 f

The roast is starting to assume a browner color, and a marbling appearance is starting to emerge. No bean expansion yet. The first “toasty” smells (toasted grain, bread) can be detected, and a bit less wet, humid air coming off the coffee. Note that some coffees turn a brighter and more distinct yellow at this time, such as Costa Rican and Mexican coffees.


Click on image for large photo, or here for multi-bean photo

5. Light Brown stage 8:00 – 370 f

First crack is drawing near at this point. Some bean expansion is visible as the central crack in the coffee has opened slightly. The coffee releases some silverskin or chaff.


Click on image for large photo, or here for multi-bean photo

6. Brown Stage 9:00 – 393 f

Now we are right at the door of first crack. The coffee has browned considerably, which is partly due to browning reactions from sugars, but largely due to another browning reaction called the Maillard Reaction (which also is responsible for browning of cooked beef!)


Click on image for large photo, or here for multi-bean photo

7. 1st crack begins 9:20 – 401 f

At this point, the very first popping sounds of the First Crack can be heard. This sound can be similar to popcorn pops (in distinction to the sound of the Second Crack, which has a shallower sound, more like a snap). At the point of first crack the internal bean temperature would be around 356 f.


Click on image for large photo, or here for multi-bean photo

8. 1st crack under way 10:00 – 415 f

As first crack continues the coffee still appears mottled and uneven in color. The coffee starts expanding in size and shows visible cracks. The amount of chaff in the crease of the seed is noticeably less.

First crack is an exothermic reaction; the beans are giving off heat. But then the beans quickly become endothermic, meaning that a roaster that is not adding enough heat to the process will stall the roast at this point …not a good thing. Once caramelization begins (340-400 degrees internal bean temperature) a roast that looses heat will taste “baked”, perhaps due to the disruption on long-chain polymerization. The melting point of sucrose is 370 f and corresponds to this window of temperatures when caramelization begins.


Click on image for large photo, or here for multi-bean photo

9. 1st crack finishes 10:40 – 426 f

This is considered a City Roast. First crack is done and the roast is stopped.

Notice the bean surface is smoother somewhat from expansion but still has darker marks in the coffee, like a finely etched pattern. The edges of the seed are still fairly hard. At this point the coffee starts giving off carbon dioxide.


Click on image for large photo, or here for multi-bean photo

10. City+ roast 11:05 435f

City+ means the coffee has cleared first crack, and time is allowed for an even bean surface appearance to develop.

There are only very small changes between the #9 picture above and this one, notably the edges of the bean are a bit softer. The whole stage between the first and second crack is a short period ( 15 to 30 seconds) where a lot is happening chemically to the beans. The coffee gains heat once again until its woody cellulose matrix, the bean structure itself, begins to fracture … that is, the Second Crack.


Click on image for large photo, or here for multi-bean photo. Check here for the whole bean vs. ground coffee comparison photos or a Macro photos of a single City + bean.

11. Full City roast 11:30 – 444 f
On the verge of 2nd crack

This image represents a Full City roast; the coffee is on the verge of 2nd crack. This might be hard to judge the first few times you roast; after a while, you will have a feel for it. The beans are have a slight sheen of oil and the edges are softer.

The internal bean temperature for second crack normally is 446 degrees farenheit. But in fact second crack is a bit less predictable than first crack, in my experience. Why? It could be due to the fact that first crack is the physical expansion of the coffee seed as water and carbon dioxide split and CO2 outgassing starts. Second Crack is the physical fracturing of the celllose matrix of the coffee. This matrix is both organized cellulose that reacts readily to heat, and not-so-organized cellulose that does not. Since every coffee is physically different in size and density due to the cultivar, origin, altitude, etc., it make sense that the particular cell matrix is different too, and not as universally consistent.


Click on image for large photo, or here for multi-bean photo Check here for the whole bean vs. ground coffee comparison photos or a Macro photo of a single Full City bean

12. Full City+ roast 11:50 – 454 f
First audible snaps of 2nd crack

The darker side of a Full City roast is Full City +, where the coffee has barely entered 2nd crack. A few snaps are heard, and the roast is then stopped. Second crack may continue into the cooling phase – this is called “coasting”. The more effective and rapid your cooling – the better your ability to stop the roast at the degree you want.

Compare the full size images from the Full City roast and this one, and I think it is easy to see a difference. Well, maybe not easy, but the Full City+ roast is a bit fuller, more small cracks on the face (or flat side) of the bean.


Click on image for large photo, or here for multi-bean photo or
a Macro photo of a single Full City + bean

13. Vienna – Light French roast12:15 – 465 f
2nd crack is under way
(This is my darkest espresso roast)

The Vienna stage (also called Continental) to Light French stage is where you begin to find Origin Character eclipsed by Roast Character. A dark or heavy roast is at odds with buying coffee for its distinct origin qualities. Dark roast coffees tend to taste more like each other – as the differences due to distinct origins are obscured by the carbony roast flavors. Nontheless, some coffees are excellent at this stage (our Puro Scuro blend is engineered for this roast range).

By the way; Espresso is not a roast. But Northern Italian style espresso is usually roasted to 440 – 446 internal bean temperature. Southern Italian (Scura) is generally a Light French Roast or a tad darker.


Click on image for large photo, or here for multi-bean photo. Check here for the whole bean vs. ground coffee comparison photos or a macro photo of a single French roast bean.

14. Full French roast 12:40 – 474 f
2nd crack is very rapid, nearing its end.

Sugars are heavily caramelized (read as burned) and are degraded; the woody bean structure is carbonizing and the seed continues to expand and loose mass. The body of the resulting cup will be thinner/lighter as the aromatic compounds, oils, and soluble solids are being burned out of the coffee and rising up to fill your house with smoke. 474 is well beyond any roast I do on the Probat. I will go as high as 465 on a couple blends, and that’s my limit.

Notice how fast and dramatic the change is from the previous photo – all that happened in less than 30 seconds!


Click on image for large photo, or here for multi-bean photo

15. Fully carbonized 13:00 – 486 f
Some call this Italian or Spanish roast, an insult to either!

At this stage, the coffee can be over 25% ash; it is carbonized, dead, charcoal.


Click on image for large photo, or here for multi-bean photo

16. Imminent fire … 13:30 – 497 f

This bean is right at the verge of fire – in fact you can actually start a fire with a large batch once you dump the coffee out of the roast drum into the cool tray. The sudden rush of oxygen might be the needed ingredient for cafe del fuego. Kids, grab your marshmallows! Hope you like ’em smokey!

Needless to say, this roast level is full-on carbon and you can write your name with a coffee bean. The bean size here is smaller that photo 15 due to the randomness of the seeds selected to photograph – coffee does not get smaller at this stage…


Click on image for large photo, or here for multi-bean photo
***Note from George Steinert, home roaster: “I see a lot of new users of the iRoast2 struggling to make sense of roast levels.  I have been using the iR2 since February.  I got the best success when I added the digital thermometer with thermocouple probe (both from SM) and condensed the well-documented “degree of roast” information on the SM web site into a one page chart (below).  By using the temps on the chart (as measured with the thermocouple planted in the bean mass) as a “guide” and when combining that with actual experience of hearing the cracks (when they can be heard through the fan noise), the color, the smell, and the time (when using a consistent load of green beans), I have had very predictable results.  I continue to use the chart as my baseline of understanding when roasting with the RK drum which I started using in June.  I reference the start and end of first crack to tell me how the roast is progressing.  After a while, the aroma becomes a factor.  About 60-90 seconds before first crack begins, I swear I can tell it’s coming because of a characteristic aroma.  Primarily I use the sounds of the crack(s) and secondarily, the time.  With the iRoast2, the temp from the thermocouple gives a pretty reliable indication of where they are in the roasting process…given some flexibility regarding start and end of first crack depending on the type of beans.  With the iRoast, you also have the helpful cues of color and seeing what’s happening on the surface of the bean.  Users should note that First Crack is not going to necessarily begin when your thermocouple hits 401 degrees F nor end when it hits 426 F but after you’ve done a few dozen roasts you will get the feel for how to overlay the progress of the roast onto the temperatures you are reading.

George Steinert’s Degree of Roast/Temperature chart:

Degree of Roast Temp
Green Unroasted 75
Starting to pale 270
Early yellow 327
Yellow-Tan 345
Light Brown 370
Brown 393
1st Crack Begins 401
1st Crack Under Way 415
City Roast 426
City+ 435
Full City 446
Full City+ 454
Vienna (Light French) 465
Full French 474
Fully Carbonized 486
Immanent Fire 497

Please note that both Tom and George emphasize that temperature alone will NOT determine degree of roast. Each roaster is different and different beans roast slightly differently as well. All the information on this page is to be take together to help determine degree of roast – no one element (appearance, sound, temperature, etc) can determine degree of roast. Most importantly – TASTE THE COFFEE – and see what that tells you about how it roasted.

Note about High Altitude Roasting
Having lived my entire life at or near sea level (Chicago, Boston, Ohio, Oakland), I may be chromosomally incapable of understanding the effects of high altitude or cooking or roasting. But I did want to make a note to pass on what seems to be the collective wisdom on high altitude home roasting, which is that in general you will see the roast happen more quickly, at a lower temperature. This is most true in small convection roasters, like a popper, or Fresh Roast or i-Roast, but also occurs in conduction roasting. So expect to adjust roast times accordingly. If you can control the temperature on the roaster at all, adjust target temperatures downward by 20 to 30 degrees.

Here is a representative image I took of the Agtron Roast Color Tiles, and might give you a basica idea of the color scale. There is a bit of glare on the left side though (most visibile on Agrton 45). Since this is such an approximation and the appearance depends so much on monitor calibration, etc, I am not going to put a ton of work into this … I am working on a better method of sharing these roast colors information.

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The JAVA Coffee House. 1 Charles Street Newport Gwent.

  Neatly off the main Drag in Newport town Centre is a traditional Welsh coffee shop. (In featuring the JAVA coffee house, British Coffee Scene is leaving behind the show and display of Baristas at work.) There is no atmosphere of espresso presentation or the fancy latte art so reminiscent of High street chains. (A short walk to the main street will allow you to sample all the popular chains and the variants they produce.) Should you go with the short trip, you will miss out on some genuinely good coffee.

 Alun Jones, a native of Newport, a chef by profession, and his wife Helen made the decision to run their own business a few years ago. When the opportunity presented itself in 2010, they moved into Charles Street and took hold of their dream.  A bit of a traditionalist, and a man filled with passion for good coffee and food, Alun decided to produce excellent home cooking with his own expertise. Looking in the glass display, I could see plate after plate of creations, all made by him, and with that Welsh heritage in cooking looking back at me. While we were talking, Helen plated up some fresh off the griddle Welsh cakes that Alun had just made. They sell hundreds of these every month in the coffee shop and the demand is growing.

 I wanted to sample a cup of J.C.H. coffee and asked for a flat white. The machine they use is a San Marco twin station with quite a few years on it, but thanks to a loving (read expensive) complete restoration, it is as good as any modern machine on the market. In listening to the tone of the milk being heated, there was no lack of pressure in that baby.

 I watched the pour for my coffee and counted a 26 second total time including a pre infusion for a double. The pour itself was of an excellent quality with rich reddish brown crema filling the cup. The milk is whole milk and steamed a touch hotter (149F) because Welsh people like hot coffee. In tasting the coffee, There is a delicious sense of actually drinking a coffee that is rich and full without the, sadly normal, burnt taste of the chains. The depth and reach of the coffee infused the milk throughout. Now, as a coffee roaster myself, I was intrigued that the quality of the coffee was so high, and asked where he got the beans from. James gourmet coffee from Ross- on- Wye. An excellent job on the roasting Peter James.

 Alun and Helen are not trying to out barista anyone. They are concentrating on the original coffee house theme as developed in the British Isles a few centuries ago. A good coffee (or tea if prefered), a savoury or sweet cake, or indeed an excellent sandwich or light meal. Try the Brie and Bacon with Cranberry Baguette. Oh my gosh.. amazing. In my travels around the British Isles, it is getting harder to find the smaller, but determined, coffee houses of yesteryear. This is somewhere I could bring my family, and have all ages catered for without breaking the bank or be confused by the multitude of coffee variations on the market today. I noticed that the clientele of the morning were all greeted by name and drinks were prepared without asking. Alun said that they have a large repeat business which he puts down to the fact of service at the table and the staff waiting on the needs of the customer so the customer can enjoy themselves and know their wants will be met immediately.

Alun and Helen are genuinely warm and caring people people. Nothing is too much trouble for them. Alun shared with me that he is now going to concentrate on making more traditional Welsh foods and fancies. I see only good things on the horizon.

 Before I left, I was given the recipe for his famous Welsh cake. He doesnt mind sharing anything if you ask. The recipe is only half the answer he said with a twinkle in his eye..”being able to cook it like I do is the secret”.

1 lb self raising flour

8 oz butter

4 oz sugar

4 oz currants

2 eggs

Griddle till done.

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