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How do we know we have reached the maximum potential of a coffee bean?

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  • How do we know we have reached the maximum potential of a coffee bean?

    For the past 6 months or so I’ve been primarily roasting an Ethiopian Sidamo for the better part of my traineeship. When I first arrived it practically didn’t have its own profile, actually they gave it the same profile that they used for the decaf. However, with the determination to do the coffee and farmers justice and through researching and trial and error I’ve managed to just about highlight and exhibit all l of the desirable traits that a Sidamo is known for. But…now I’m kinda lost! Taste wise I believe that it can only be improved in one tiny micro adjustment, but otherwise I don’t think I can enhance or bring out anything else, there is nothing else left to bring out. Does this mean I’ve achieved the fullest potential of my Sidamo? Do the micro adjustments matter if 9/10 people can’t detect it? Sorry I can’t post graphs or anything (the place I work hasn’t implemented that yet, and I gotta learn how to use it sometime).

    like if I had to rate it right now it’s like a 7.3 out of 10, is it sensible to micro adjust to an 8 if people don’t notice?



  • #2
    Are you roasting it for filter brewing or as espresso?


    • Lappy447
      Lappy447 commented
      Editing a comment
      A middle ground of sorts, but primarily more towards filter. It’s super caramel like in espresso and persists throughout the entire shot. It’s a bit watery apparently in espresso and at cool temperatures it kind of mutes off subtly towards the end also.

      When it’s brewed pour over or filter it really shines its potential and characteristics. Significantly more fruits and sweetness and such.

      I really want to have seperate roast profiles for espresso and filter brewing like how Patrik Rolfs roasters does it…but…its kinda out of my control. So gotta settle on one of the other, or that middle ground. I chose like the middle but slightly in the favour of pour over style to bring out all those delicate characters.

  • #3
    Wow this is a really simple, reasonable and excellent question!

    I think the TLDR is that you will probably never know that you've reached the max potential, but you can get to more potential by developing a good frame of reference and experience.

    First, before even worrying about the green, probably you need to learn to identify roast defects. You need to be very confident about what is caused by roast and what is caused by green, so that you aren't confused. This sounds easy, and some of it is, but some of it is not. It's probably pretty easy to identify something that is totally incinerated or totally underdeveloped. But if you're getting astringency, for example, how do you know if that's due to bad green or bad roast? The best way to do this is probably to buy and taste a roast defect kit from a reliable source. If you don't want to do that, next best is probably to get some green specifically for self-education purposes and do a number of different roasts, specifically trying to capture over developed, under developed, baked, flicked, etc. Then taste them all against each other and you should hopefully learn to identify the roast influence as opposed to the green influence. I think it depends on the machine, but if you are starting, it's very easy to fall into a trap where you make small adjustments, but the entire range of your settings is no good. For example, you might try roast times between 14:00 and 16:00, but, in fact, for your roaster and the results you want to achieve, the best results might be with a 9:00 roast. If you don't overshoot and undershoot everything at some stage, you'll never know what the window of sensible roast settings for you is, and all of the adjustments that you make might be shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic.

    Next, you probably want to taste as many similar coffees as possible. You will build up this experience over time. There are many different flavour profiles that you can get from Sidamo. Ethiopia has civil war raging as well as COVID and many difficulties, and I, and many roasters, have notices a bit of a general quality dropoff across the board over the last three or so years. Of course, anyone who is selling you Ethiopian coffees isn't saying this, but, behind the scenes, industry people that I know tend to agree. You can expect that anyone selling Ethiopian coffee will tell you some variant of "yes, it is indeed difficult, and we have used our skill and experience to find diamonds in the rough." Setting aside coffee quality, I hope things improve for Ethiopia; it doesn't sound fun. Having a broad taste experience will give you some idea of what to look for in the particular coffee that you're looking at. For example, you're probably not going to expect a washed sidamo to be redolent of hazelnuts and dry spice.

    Next, you probably want to do a roast with the goal of maximising aroma. I guess some people would call this a cupping roast, but I'd be a little hesitant to use this term, since professional roasters and coffee brokers can use that term to describe a few different roasts. Some of them will roast super light to make it really easy to pick green coffee defects, but the roast might be so light that it doesn't actually have good aroma development. Others do sample roasts in a standard way that might not get the best out of a coffee - I mean, if you only have one shot at a sample, you're probably not going to - but they rely on their experience to "taste through" roast defects. For example, they might have a fast and light roast, but it might taste bitter and charry on top of being aromatic, and roasters might rely on their experience to know that, say, if it's a kenyan coffee sample that tastes like that and it has a bit of roast beef flavour to it, that is imposed by the roast and not from the green (hence the importance of the exercise I set out above). For most people, I suspect that they will want a darker roast colour than the roast that maximises aroma and it's probably likely that you will need to sacrifice some of the aroma to achieve other desirable roast characteristics that you want, so this exercise may give you a good frame of reference for the coffee to make an informed tradeoff.

    Finally, it's probably worth making sure that you taste your roasts (including the max aroma roast) at different ages. I've often had light roasts that tasted bland when consumed too early and that became very aromatic later, and you'd kick yourself if you missed that window.

    I'm not a great roaster, but that's about the best ideas I've got.


    • #4
      Amazing response and advice! Reading your reply has inspired me to further research into identifying roast defects. I would like to think I’m good at identifying the common defects and have delved into how to identify even the harder ones to detect like Quaker’s post roast or tipping, etc. and I can definitely notice how some of these defects can translate to poorer cup quality. This is of course from the experience of trial and error and lots of bagging coffee by hand, lots of slurping as well.

      I used a lot of theory and logic to make up for my lack of experience as I just seem to really get it, like how some people excel at formula equations and others look in utter bewilderment…coffee roasting theory and just science regarding the art makes sense in my head. So when I create my profiles I make sure to do it in the most logical way possible. Which means gathering information, measuring density, reading up on the latest books on the theory, listening to podcasts and watching the pros and leaders of the specialty industry discuss the specific aspects of coffee roasting and hearing how they would approach it. Even referencing older stuff to see how roasters of the past progressed and were thinking at the time just to see if there’s something I can identify in person, flaws in our ways, and how I can implement newer methods or better ways of approaching and solving my problems. Eventually after 3 versions I reached to where I am now, where it’s actually more about consistency and where any improvements I try to make just seem to be too much of an overcorrection or result in a less tastier result imo. Like the roast is pretty textbook.

      I wasn’t aware of the current political state of Ethiopia, I do know that they have been facing so many varying problems over the past years, and touched on the history of coffee in that main producing area but now I want to learn more for sure. I love Ethiopian coffees so it’s definitely something I feel sad and privileged to be able to roast even despite the facts.

      as for my aromatic and flavour window I definitely notice a drop off specifically after 9 days and 13 it drops off considerably. And yeah those 1-4 days whilst smelling fresh and tasting fresh as hell, it does lack that development regarding sweetness, and flavour, aromatics too.

      I drink my batches regularly and especially if something didn’t go to plan, I’ve probably drunk like 20kg not going to lie and that’s a running number. Usually just a bit that’s left over like 300g each batch, not always just when those hiccups occur. I write up a google doc, and test each and everyday after 24 hours, noting down my observations and my dissatisfactions, or about what I find pleasant.

      We haven’t implemented graphs yet, but I aways time myself during the different stages, and weigh after roasting, but is something we will be implementing for sure.

      but yeah, it’s like 2am. I think the answer for my problem lies within the question itself, because ultimately taste is subjective, but so long as the final product is objectively and subjectively tasty than yeah it’s as good as will get. Consistency is the next stage, constant consistency, actually because it’s summer and the temperature has risen I’ve noticed the dramatic effect of environmental temperature effecting my TP and roast profile in very slight annoying ways. But I solved it. I think I was just too focused on the weeds and not the forest with the original question, but your information was very useful and it’s pasted into my google doc of roasting knowledge.

      Thanks a megaton!



      • #5
        Sounds like you’re approaching it the same way. On the decent espresso forum there is a group they buys the same coffee each month to dial in and share tasting notes.

        These are all Australian roasters, but over the last year there have been multiple underdeveloped, baked, and over roasted coffees. Like more than half have been defective to the point of not being drinkable.

        so focusing on consistency and not screwing the roast will automatically put you into the better roasters


        • #6
          Originally posted by Budgiesmuggler View Post
          Sounds like you’re approaching it the same way. On the decent espresso forum there is a group they buys the same coffee each month to dial in and share tasting notes.

          These are all Australian roasters, but over the last year there have been multiple underdeveloped, baked, and over roasted coffees. Like more than half have been defective to the point of not being drinkable.

          so focusing on consistency and not screwing the roast will automatically put you into the better roasters
          Yeah, this is a point that I've been making for a long time, and I'm on the decent forum and am probably one of the most critical of the monthly rotating coffees. The coffees that have been chosen have basically been chosen off the roaster's marketing descriptions, and trying to go for roasters that seem like they are credible and quality focussed. And there have been lots of misses.

          So, reading that, there's basically two responses I'd expect that people could have. One might be "yeah, of course, commercial coffee roasters suck; I do a much better job at home." Or "wow, well if people whose one, full-time job is roasting coffee can deliver such poor results, how can I possibly hope to do well at home?"

          So, which is the case?

          First point, as has been discussed, to some extent, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So, you might have (or be) a coffee roaster that consistently bakes or under-develops everything, but if the customers (or you) are happy with that, that's not necessarily a bad outcome. The question there is with what consistency do they deliver it, and that's not something that the decent group addresses, since we don't repeat buy the same coffee over and over again. The idea is to try a lot of new things to give people a chance to discover things they like. But I would observe that I have a lot more respect for a commercial roaster that consistently makes their coffee taste awful in the same way than I do for a commercial roaster that flails about, erratically delivering one batch that's too light, one that's too dark and one that's perfect.

          But, what about your coffee? Is it better than commercial roasters? Or worse? Well, I don't know; I haven't tasted yours. And you're not going to know either, unless you taste a lot of things to establish a really good benchmark.

          What I would say is this - the poor results on the Decent COTM are not unusual. I'm sure there are lots of people in Australia who are very vocal about how great the coffee that they like is, but who could probably improve it if they put in some work tasting alternatives, learning more about the universe of possibility and benchmarking.

          One thing that's quite opaque to most consumers is just how much coffee and coffee roasting seems to have changed over the past 20 years. For example, there are commercial roasters around now who have basically halved their roast times from what they might have had a decade ago, but who have never substantively changed the way they describe their coffee. A decade ago, they described their coffee with the three aroma descriptors from a cupping evaluation of the green, despite the roast totally obliterating them, and now they continue to describe their coffee with those same three aroma descriptors. And the mainstream media has been utterly oblivious to it, since most mainstream media articles that touch even slightly on how coffee tastes basically consist of reporters repeating what the roaster that they interviewed told them. I'm sure those reporters also ask their barber if they need a haircut.

          Taste many things. Take notes. Maybe even save some samples from your roasts in the freezer so you can taste multiple roasts next to each other.

          Good luck.


          • Dimal
            Dimal commented
            Editing a comment
            Great write-up and advice Luca...
            Wish I could be as descriptive and as erudite with my attempts at expressing my experiences and conclusions.