A coffee roast profile is a promise you’ll get your fave cup of coffee each time you crave for one. Over 1 billion people worldwide drink their coffee daily. Americans own about 400 million of those cups. Truth be told, however, the majority of these coffee buffs never really go the extra mile to roast coffee on their own — and make the most of a coffee roast profile.
Let’s face it. Roasting coffee to perfection is never for the faint of hearts. The bevy of variables can certainly be overwhelming. But consider for a minute. What lies ahead as you master your craft is a dream come true that would make every certified coffee drinker drool in envy.
First up, roasting empowers you — so inch by inch you stay closer to a cup of coffee that tastes exactly as your heart desires. And that opens to a whole new world of possibilities. Think of the bigger picture. Think business for one. Wouldn’t it be a lot easier for you to refine your brand of coffee to serve a niche market when you do?
And that’s why coffee roast profiles should be top of your mind. They allow you to create superb cups of coffee that are as consistent in taste as the light of day. Think of them as a road map, your road map to coffee perfection.
Now, a roasting job may seem like a mountain to climb. But fret not. We are giving you exactly the tools to help you master the craft and jumpstart your New Year 2022 like no other. That way, you shorten your learning curve and make sure each cup of coffee you and your patrons drink from this point onwards opens up to better days ahead. Read on.
Coffee Roast Profiles Explained
Strictly speaking, a coffee bean is not a bean at all. It’s a seed: the pip inside the purple or red fruit of the Coffea plant (of the family of flowering plants Rubiaceae). While botanists refer to all the seed-bearing plants of the Rubiaceae family as coffee plants, the coffees we drink come from two particular species: Arabica and Canephora.
The two main varieties of Arabica we use are Bourbon and Typica. On the other hand, we drink the Robusta variety of Canephora. So, you’ll understand why in the world we live in, people talk about only two types of coffee sources: Arabica and Robusta.
Bear in mind that coffee as a plant is affected by the environment and the care it receives. So even with one type of coffee bean, factors such as the weather makes the ultimate flavor and quality vary.
Fun fact: The word coffee became part of English language in 1582 through the Dutch which referred to the drink as koffie. The Dutch borrowed the word from Ottoman Turkish word kahve which in turn is borrowed from the Arabic word qahwah, a word derived from the action word qahiya (‘to lack hunger’).
Of course, it’s but apt. We all witness a cup of coffee’s ability to suppress appetite. And yes, it’s highly likely the legend could be true: It was a herd of goats that first show mankind the potential of coffee.
The Magic Called Roasting
You could be wondering why do we need to roast a coffee bean. And the simple answer there is you really can’t enjoy the great taste and benefits of coffee if you don’t. For one, unroasted coffee when drank tastes bitter and is very acidic. It’s essentially undrinkable.
By applying extreme heat, moisture is forced out of the green coffee beans. Plus, a host of chemical reactions follow (e.g., natural sugars in the bean caramelized while some are converted in CO2) transforming the bean into a certifiable cup-of-coffee material. That heating process is called roasting.
The roasting process is meticulous but over time by virtue of hit and miss, coffee roasters observed a general set of coffee characteristics depending on the roasting process (e.g., heat applied, duration heated) applied. Each particular roasting process define the coffee bean characters.
Thus, all the things that a coffee roaster did to arrive at a particular roast becomes a roadmap — specifically called the coffee roast profile. Think of it as lamppost instructions to ensure your roasting stays on track. Knowing a coffee roast profile, therefore, allows you to recreate a particular set of coffee character.
Below is a table of the most common roast profiles with the ensuing coffee characteristics:
Table 1: Coffee Roasting Profiles based on the National Coffee Association
There are many factors that affect a particular roast. Technically, heat is one of the key factor to a successful roast. Take note that the longer you roast, the greater the chemical reaction those coffee beans undergo. This explains why the color of the beans is one indicator of a particular coffee roast. The lighter the color, the lighter the roast. And yes, if you roast it long enough, your green coffee beans turn black — burnt and bitter.
Coffee Roasting Profiles in Detail
Needless to say, roasting is a complicated process with a lot of moving parts. To be able to create a roasting profile that fits your taste buds means being able to poke a finger on a truckload of data that could put your head to a spin. It’s certainly the reason why for a serious coffee roaster, putting key data on record is a must. That allows you to trace your steps, replicate and improve on the processes to perfect a particular profile you long for.
At its most basic, however, roasting has two parts: heating the beans to a particular temperature and stopping the heating process. Obviously, the amount of temperature each coffee bean is exposed to and the duration plays a central role in the roasting process.
If there’s a coffee roast profile that stays true to the original, natural flavor of the beans, then light roasts are on top of that game. As these beans are roasted the least, the chemical make-up and organic compounds of each bean stays relatively intact. As a result, the lightest of these roasts harbor tastes which will remind you of seeds, nuts or grains. On the other hand, those that are slightly more light roasted will carry hints of spices, fruits and sometimes, even brown sugar.
PRO-TIP: Typically, a light roast happens when you gun for internal temperatures between 356°F to 401°F. Light roasts carry many names such as light city, cinnamon or half city. But one thing common to them is that they usually fall at the start of the first crack. At which time, the beans do not ooze oil yet and their surface are clearly dry. Also, they still remain hard and rather dense — especially true if you remove them before the first crack.
Light roasts are recommended for home use. You don’t need as much temperature and the process is far shorter compared to the other roast's profile. You should go for this profile if you want higher acidity brews. Know the lighter the roast, the higher the acidity of the coffee beans.
A medium roast profile may still carry the original, organic qualities of those coffee beans but they’re starting to get scarce. Accordingly, acidity levels are prone to mellow a little bit giving out some of those fruity and sweet hints of lighter roasts.
At this stage, however, the roasting process starts to get obvious. So medium roasts will leave a taste of roasted fruits, honey or caramel. Don’t look now, but this roast profile is the most sought-after in America.
PRO-TIP: To arrive at a medium roast profile, shoot for the 410°F up to 428°F temperature window. Relatively, the beans would still be dry but the effect of the heat becomes apparent making them more distinguishable. Usually, this level of roasting is achieved from the middle towards the end stage of the first crack.
Medium Dark Roasts
All the heat starts to introduce bitterness with smoky flavors into the coffee beans with a medium dark roast profile. The oil also starts to manifest. At this point, you’re bound to get a taste with hints of vanilla, pipe tobacco, or bourbon. You’ll highly likely experience a bitter aftertaste engaging a cup.
PRO-TIP: Dark medium roasts carry a lot of roast distinctions which include American and City. To achieve the profile, you need to go for roasts temperatures of 437°F up to 446°F. Apparently, it’s a smaller temperature window that should make it a lot trickier.
This is when the natural flavors of the beans could be lost entirely. The end result is you get to enjoy coffee at its purest with defining characteristics depending on the chosen level of roasting. And yes, the flavor is fairly bitter as the beans lose acidity.
Don’t sell a dark roast profile short though. Part of its appeal is how magnificent it can be to your taste buds when mixed with the right flavors (e.g., creams, syrups, milk). Just take a quick look at some of the most popular drinks on the planet: cappuccinos, lattes and espresso. These are all based on dark roast profile coffee.
PRO-TIP: Dark roast profile carries a host of popular roasting names. Italian Roast, French Roast and Espresso Roast are just some of these. The key to zeroing in on a Dark Roast is to go for temperatures around 464°F. However, you’d do yourself a favor if you keep the temp below 482°F. You could end up with an army of coffee beans that is too bitter for consumption.
As the heat is overwhelming, the beans will don an oily surface. For best results, pull your beans out as soon as the second crack happens.
Table 2: Five Stages in Roasting Coffee
Your Road to Roasting Profile Consistency
Consistency is people developing trust in your coffee brand. Any regular coffee drinker will tell you that the last thing he needs is to order a particular cup which is way off his expectation. This works even if you’re just a coffee enthusiast who wants to refine your coffee roasting skills for home consumption. To a large degree, a consistent roast profile empowers you.
Roasting is all about highlighting the best qualities of coffee. In the heating process, over 800 compounds (e.g., anthocyanins, chlorophyll) are broken down and transformed from largely flavorless into mouth-watering delicious roasted coffee beans. Exactly the reason why heeding tried-and-tested methodologies from the world’s best coffee experts below can go a long way in helping you succeed.
You really can’t roast coffee beans without applying heat. Or to put it more aptly, you really can’t roast coffee beans right without applying ample heat. Too much or too little heat can ruin your plan to hit a particular roast profile.
That’s why part of your journey to master a roast profile is the tracking of temperature data. You must log them. Bear in mind that there are two important temperature data you need to track:
- Charge temperature
- Roasting temperature
Simply put, charge temperature is the temperature of your roaster drum before you place your coffee beans inside them. This temperature is key. It should jumpstart the roast generating needed momentum in the process.
If the charge temperature is too low, your beans may fail to properly develop. Too high and you could ruin your chances of a good roast profile.
Know that you will have to make a judgement call here. There really is no one-size-fits-all charge temperature to observe. The volume of coffee beans (i.e., batch size) and the ambient temperature of your particular roaster can be crucial in arriving at a good charge temperature number.
With that said, it’s important you get to accustom yourself with your roaster and bean probes. Different roasters, different results.
Added to this, you need to look into a particular bean’s density and age to arrive at your ideal charge temp. For one, fresh beans would require a lower charge compared to older beans. Moreover, the thicker the body of the bean, the greater the need for higher charge temperatures.
Another key temperature data you need to keep an eye on is roast temperature. As you roast, you must monitor your roaster drum’s internal temperature. To achieve a good roast, your roast temperature must not be too high. Moreover, the heat must not rise too quickly. If it does, your beans will not be processed right as their journey through the Maillard Zone is severely shortened.
Thus, it’s essential you monitor your roaster drum’s Rate of Rise (ROR). Quite simply, ROR is how fast the temperature inside the drum increases. Ideally, you should observe a decreasing ROR to ensure your beans develop right.
However, at the onset during the Drying Phase, ROR should be increasing to counter the cooling brought about by the room temperature as the beans are dropped into the roaster.
It must be noted that after you apply heat to the beans, they must be cooled right away. If you’re using a roaster, you need to release the beans to fall to the cooling sieve. Be wary about the process. If you fail to quickly cool them, your beans could end up over roasted and falling short of the coffee roasting profile you’re gunning for.
To facilitate monitoring of high temperature, it’s paramount you engage the right temperature probe for your coffee roaster. A most dependable probe, one that can monitor very high temperatures without costing you an arm and a leg, is the thermocouple. Here’s a comprehensive look at its merits.
Small wonder thermocouples are today’s most sought-after temperature probe in the food industry. An excellent example of a sturdy thermocouple probe for coffee roasting is PerfectPrime’s 2-Channel Digital Thermocouple Probe Sensor. It’s no accident the device is a certified Amazon hotseller.
Relying on thermocouple probes is even wiser when you’re roasting at home. As your resources may not be as robust, keeping an eye on extreme heat while roasting is a cinch with a nifty probe that can bear all that heat. When you use not-so-standard machines such as popcorn makers or the oven, getting bean temperature right is a must. The same holds true when you use a pan/grill.
So powerful are thermocouples, government agencies are using them to monitor volcanic lava which are several degrees higher than roasting temps.
Table 3: Rate of Rise (°F) and Bean Temperature over Time
Consistency is the name of the game. It is paramount, therefore, that you come up with a standard framework so a roaster can measure up to that level of quality. It’s easy for a particular roasting to deviate from one experience to the next. But maintaining your own standards help you maintain consistency in your results.
Also, this allows you to continuously improve your roasting. With your recorded data and timely sensory input (e.g., tasting and seeing the beans), you can finetune your roasting process.
Take note that there are spreadsheets and software to ease your burden in keeping track of your data and your roasting. Most importantly, this will help you zero in on the temperatures for each roasting phase.
Remember there is a heap of variables you need to take into account each time you roast. For one, each batch of beans is unique and each roasting machine has its own quirks.
Some of the variables you need to take into account (and log) are:
- Size of the batch
- Ratio of bean mass over ambient air in the roaster
- Temperature charge number
- Duration of roaster warm up
- Amount of airflow to apply
- Expected time of first crack
- ROR rate
- Duration of development time
- Roast profile to achieve
- Planned development time
- Time needed to cool the roasted coffee beans
It’s important that comparing data alone isn’t the only key to unlocking a consistent roast profile. True blue roasters must depend on their palates to be able to make a sense of the changes the beans are undergoing in every phase.
Being organized in your work area leaves tons of benefits for your roasting process. When you do, you provide a more favorable place for your roast profile to happen. That’s because you can focus better when you have your workplace in order.
One particular study highlighted how doing simple tasks can be effectively done with far less missteps in a workplace that’s clean and in order than otherwise. And that means regular equipment cleaning should be pursued. That way you reduce distractions while roasting. For one, undealt-with residue in your roaster can limit airflow, leaving you with a machine that’s nowhere near its 100% efficiency.
When you put order in your workplace and the equipment you use, you lessen the occurrence of errors. In that sense, you increase your chances for a consistent roast by leaps and bounds.
You’re bound to commit mistakes here and there. No doubt about that. In fact, you could say the only difference between an expert roaster and a newbie one is the former owns a lot more roasting blunders than the latter.
It’s important, therefore, that you seek to continuously improve your craft. Like a child learning to walk, you’ll have to stumble and fumble before you can walk straight with confidence. When you treat mistakes as lessons learned (and not as reasons to quit), you’ll hone your skills and master your roasting craft faster.
To do that, you need to educate yourself and do your due diligence along the way. Reach out to people who have mastered the craft if you have to. Study your data and let them guide your palate. If you’re willing to learn from your past mistakes, you should be a better roaster every time.
It may sound rather obvious but your beans hold a most crucial role in the roasting process. Being able to obtain a quality supply every time you need one is spot on. That’s if you’re truly serious about developing consistency in your roasts.
A brilliant way to go about this is to develop robust working relationships with your suppliers. This facilitates more effective communication where your supply needs for fresh, green coffee beans are better met. Imagine how hard it would be for you to keep quality supply coming, if you can’t even talk details of what you want in a batch of beans to your dealer.
Know defects found in your green coffee supply could mean throwing roast profile consistency out the window. This can easily be remedied when you have a strong relationship with your suppliers.
Moreover, you need to store your beans right from the moment they’re in your hands. If not, these seeds will develop molds or defects slimming your chances for profile consistency in the process.
It’s essential, therefore, that you establish a storage system for your beans. For one, putting up a staging room where humidity and temperature can be controlled is one big step to ensure coffee roasting profile consistency.
Exploring the Wonders of a Thermal Camera
In the kitchen, whatever it is you’re cooking, a thermal camera always comes in handy. For starters, these handy devices can check the integrity of your kitchen. Knowing if there are leaks in your gas lines, for instance, is a breeze with the infrared sensor.
Plus, you can use the electronics to ensure the foods you’re prepping are processed right. It’s certainly not by chance that the food industry has thrived using infrared technology. Some of the applications a thermal camera serves in food processing are:
- Monitoring freezer/refrigeration compartments
- Ensuring the integrity of package materials (e.g., cellophane seals)
- Monitoring ovens for temperature consistency
- Checking on microwave cooked meats
- Checking on oven-baked foods
Thus, it should come as no surprise that a thermal camera can be most useful in your quest to achieve coffee roasting consistency. For the uninitiated, the advantages of a thermal camera over traditional probe-type temperature sensors are manifold.
Non-invasive Wonder Worker
In roasting, for instance, a thermal camera’s non-invasive nature can prove to be a huge asset. You need not poke a probe just to know how hot your coffee beans are. On a side note, infrared tech’s non-contact nature has been vital in keeping the COVID-19 virus at bay during the current global pandemic.
What’s more, you can see how well distributed heat is for your batch of beans.
Take note that if you’re not using a standard roaster and are using alternative home roasting mechanisms (e.g., popcorn maker, frying pan), ensuring you have heat evenly distributed amongst your beans will pose a huge challenge. In which case, constant stirring is needed for your roast to be consistent all throughout.
A thermal camera can make the job easier for you. It can show you the heat distribution in the beans in no time. In fact, no other temperature sensor can do so in record time. For the uninitiated, here’s a brief on how a thermal camera works and its general uses.
By the same token, you can check the temperature of your roasted beans at any time in the process using a thermal camera. It’s faster. It’s easier. And it puts you out of harm’s way.
So amazing is a thermal camera’s ability to monitor heat that Indonesia, one of the top coffee-producing countries in the world, is using thermal cameras built in the coffee roasting machines themselves. By employing such a fascinating methodology, the Asian country hopes to solidify its bid as a leading frontrunner nation in providing quality roasted coffee beans to the world.
Now, another advantage of using thermal cameras to monitor your coffee bean roasting is greater precision — and in turn, better consistency. There’s no doubt that traditional temperature probes are very helpful. But these devices come with their own limitations by nature.
An Instrument of Greater Precision
Roast profiling is when you plot the bean’s temperature specs over the roasting time. More often than not, temperature probes are the main measuring devices used to generate such a graph. The problem is when you measure using a probe, there is bound to be an anomaly. You are getting the temperature that is but the proxy of the bean temperature and not the actual bean temperature (which could be slightly different).
Remember, that these probes are heated using conductive heat energy coming from the beans. So, if you’re roasting a smaller batch of beans, you’re highly likely getting your first crack at lower temperatures compared to bigger batches. It shows a small anomaly if you’re to plot the first crack temperatures across all batches big and small.
The position of the temperature probe can also cause a reading anomaly. Where the probe sits when the bean mass is churning can drastically affect the heat it absorbs. Plus, different metal thickness casing these probes can generate different temperature readings.
But not if a thermal camera can help it. As they measure the infrared light emitted by the beans, the readings are far more accurate. Most importantly, they’re not affected by the batch size.
- In fact, you’re going to witness your coffee beans crack when reaching the same particular temperature when using a thermal camera. No matter the batch size.
Just make sure you adjust the emissivity of your infrared device to that of the coffee beans and you should be able to measure the temperature of your roast more accurately no matter the batch size. All throughout those coffee beans. Even better, you can check on how hot your roaster drum in no time at all.
PRO-TIP: Here’s a quick look at an array of quality thermal cameras from PerfectPrime that can help you in the kitchen without putting a huge hole in your wallet. In short, giving you value for money.
Without a doubt, there’s no such thing as a coffee roasting profile consistency that’s achieved on your first roast. By the same token, there’s no chef that became a chef the first time he handled the cooking. But as many have before you, you can certainly achieve such much sought-after consistency with experience. And in the process, make your mother (and everyone around you) proud with your perfect cup: a delectably delicious coffee roast profile.