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Thread: Discussion: Bean Quality vs Roasting depth for Different Extraction Methods

  1. #1
    Senior Member nikko.the.scorpio's Avatar
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    Question Discussion: Bean Quality vs Roasting depth for Different Extraction Methods

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    Hi Folks,

    Hopefully this won't come across as a rambled mess - in short I want to open a discussion as to whether high quality (and generally pricier) beans are possibly somewhat 'wasted'(very general & broad oversimplification of a term but it conveys what I mean) when they're roasted to the depth generally regarded as better suited to espresso extraction.

    I KNOW some parts of that above statement are very general and completely open to being spun in a way to make me seem a moron (though don't rule that out just yet). However please allow me to explain how I've come to this junction of thoughts.

    Full disclosure I don't profess to be a great home roaster, nor operator of my espresso machine (Silvia+Compak K3) they're not high end but I know I'm the weak link in any chain well ahead of them. Likewise with my roasting I'd long used a corretto but am transitioning to a KKTO. I know my roasting is of a good level of quality though I'm sure my blending of beans is often VERY amateurish. However, I don't think my shortfalls (and there's loads) are the variables influencing my perceptions - but thats obviously very subjective. :-)

    So for the best part of the last 5yrs+ I've been home roasting. Many moons back I'd had issues with my first serious espresso machine (another Silvia) so I'd researched how to get the best from other extraction methods and ended up doing French Press in a nice dual walled stainless steel plunger. I applied all the best practice 'Aeropress' methods to this and consistantly got coffee which exhibited considerable nuances in taste. You could really taste considerable difference between one blend and another in the cup (we generally drank an Americano style with a bit of warm milk added). Even my wife who pokes fun at her own 'It all tastes the same' palate was able to easily discern how complex & delicate the flavour structure of any given blend might be.

    Anyway as much as I enjoyed drinking my coffee in that manner I missed the 'richness', intensity and body that comes from espresso extractions (though we nearly always add milk). So another Silvia I did obtain and after I got my teething issues out of the way with it we were loving the richness. intensity etc that comes from this style of coffee BUT the ability to really easily discern the details and nuances of one coffee blend to another were seemingly now gone!

    I've been reading several books about coffee (neither anything great) but both of them kind of touched on this same area - in so much as higher quality beans should 'generally' be roasted light-medium to allow the real bean traits etc they have to shine. These lighter-medium roasts tend to convey their qualities best in non-espresso extraction styles e.g french press, vacuum etc. On the opposite end espresso extraction generally works best with a bean taken darker just to or slightly beyond second crack. And as such a lot of the beans qualities are overshone by the roast qualities - as such a lesser quality/cost bean might work just as well when roasted in this manner as a more pricey one. So it seems like one has to either roast the bean to how it performs best or have beans that are roasted to the right level for your extraction methodology - but getting them BOTH is a tad tricky.

    Now again I KNOW there's enough generalisations there to sink a ship - but work with me on the gist of this one before you get agro that I'm deriding that 100% dark roasted Jamaican Blue Mountain you swear by.

    Perhaps the real exception to this is that as a home roaster I'm pre-blending. As such everything gets exposed to the same heat etc. So the base beans that like to be taken darker e.g brazilian - are somewhat at odds with that highlight bean that you want to take to a City+ type level. Whereas roasting multiple batches and then post-blending allows the best characteristics in EVERY bean to be realised - and PERHAPS that would allow higher quality/cost beans to be more evident in espresso type extractions.

    Again sorry for the huge sweeping generalisations (which I had to do to stop it becoming a thesis paper) but I'd welcome others feedback on this.

    Cheers and thanks, Nick

  2. #2
    TC
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    Hi Nick,

    For me, high quality beans are wasted when they deliver lemons or limes, regardless of what they're roasted for. You can do fruit without puckering lemon acidity and when roasted this way, they just so happen to work well pretty much any way. It's all about balance and I choose to take my lemons with tequila and salt.

    As always, it's personal preference, but there is way too much vegetal, highly acidic "premium coffee" out there. It may as well be binned than served to me.

    Chris
    Last edited by TC; 2nd September 2015 at 08:21 PM. Reason: grammar

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    Mal Dimal's Avatar
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    Ditto to what Chris says above....

    Excellent coffee green like that available from CS, is just way too good to sacrifice as light, sour tasting roasts (for me).

    Much better to form your own ideas of what tastes good to you but I wouldn't roast anything lighter than a Medium Roast which is great through various manual brewing methods, or as far along as Medium-Dark roasts for predominantly espresso brews. There's no hard and fast rules though as plenty of roast batches I've taken through to Medium-Dark have been excellent through the AeroPress, Syphon and even Pour-Over brew methods.

    Like Chris though, light grassy roasts are not something I'm very fond of at all. You could always roast a batch or two this way, just for your own education and to form your own opinions. You never know, you might be one of the few who enjoy this style and I'm not knocking it if you do. Just not for me though...

    Mal.
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    Senior Member nikko.the.scorpio's Avatar
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    Dimal, thank you for your reply and I agree.

    It seems that whats an excellent roast depth for other brewing methods isn't for espresso - thats pretty much universally acknowledged. And the lighter roasts preserve more of the bean characteristics (hence I believe when they do a cupping session they'll use lighter roasts of the beans - or atleast are meant to based on the methodology I've read). So if you're drinking your coffee via non-espresso brewing methods there's a stronger likelihood that the better beans in your roast will be noticed in the cup. I definitely found that to be the case over many years.

    But if you roast for espresso brewing - you're recommended to take any given average roast to a greater depth - so those beans characteristics are pushed down and the roast notes are as much or more prominent. Now I'm not saying that that makes ANY great beans totally non-descript especially if drunk as short blacks I'm sure an educated palate could pick out the difference between a so-so blend and one with a star bean. But I think it would be an interesting blind test with average users who drink their espresso brews with milk. I suspect where a very high % of folks would pick the superior bean vs the average one as their preferred option when lightly roasted for say a french press - when they're more darkly roasted for espresso a lot less would say that the higher priced bean was their favourite.

    Haha its not something I'm in a position to test anytime soon but it would be interesting to sit in on.

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    Senior Member GrahamK's Avatar
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    Note the following is pure conjecture (and maybe stating the obvious): But I don't think the extraction method should be ignored from the perspective of what it extracts from the bean. i.e. Espresso style extraction method is possibly able to extract those notes you refer to as "pushed down" which with a lighter roast would cause them to be over-extracted as an espresso. Also milk will add a totally different dimension, with a lighter roast while being enjoyable as a short black, would sour when milk is added ?

    G
    Last edited by GrahamK; 3rd September 2015 at 11:11 AM.
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    Senior Member nikko.the.scorpio's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GrahamK View Post
    Note the following is pure conjecture (and maybe stating the obvious): But I don't think the extraction method should be ignored from the perspective of what it extracts from the bean. i.e. Espresso style extraction method is possibly able to extract those notes you refer to as "pushed down" which with a lighter roast would cause them to be over-extracted as an espresso. Also milk will add a totally different dimension, with a lighter roast while being enjoyable as a short black, would sour when milk is added ?

    G
    I agree 100% that the extraction method is central to how any given bean will end up tasting once in the cup. And I suspect that with a lot of the 'label appeal' that occurs with coffee beans (as with nearly all products - and what I mean by this is the consumers perception that the more expensive item will be vastly superior etc) this somewhat compounds things as average consumers will feel a draw to buy a sexy sounding expensive bean - but then roasting it at its optimum point (often lighter to mid with a lot of them) generally won't really shine via espresso extraction. Whereas it likely would via another extraction type.

    I understand what you're saying as in an espresso machine being able to extract tasting notes etc that a lower temp/pressure technique can't but my understanding both through reading and experience is that this isn't the case. As stated earlier, my understanding is that for a cupping tasting session of coffee they don't use an espresso extraction - and I'd suspect there's a good reason for that - primarily that it doesn't accurately convey the actual tastes of the coffee. I mean otherwise if it were superior at extracting details etc it'd make sense to use this instead.

    Yes, I agree and as stated earlier myself milk coming into any extraction is a huge difference - as it generally does tend to hide otherwise quite unpalatable espresso extractions. I've a habit of dipping a spoon in every extraction I make just to test how it tastes before I add the milk (haha this is only done for my wife and I's drinks) - and whilst I'm not a big short black drinker I do appreciate a good one - but the many of them whilst tasting VERY acidic/sour/bright as an espresso taste excellent with milk. So yes, 100% right it's a major variable though I thought the example you gave might have been the opposite way around e.g light as espresso is sour, but ok when milk added. - Anyway no matter either way. :-)

    Please don't get me wrong - as you've pointed out yourself this entire topic area is based very heavily on 100% conjecture and personal subjection but my suspicion is that IF you're using an espresso extraction then the actual quality & generally cost of the beans is less influential on the quality of the end result in the cup than if you used a non-espresso technique e.g french press, vacuum. Thats done based on the assumption that whatever bean is chosen is roasted to the right depth for that extraction technique. :-)

    Regardless the great thing is Andy stocks a wide range of green beans - from very cheap stuff to very exclusive pricier stuff - and I've never in the many years of ordering detected in any of the descriptions a tendency to 'talk something up' or hype it just because it was a tad more pricey. In fact often on the contrary as it's ever so handy that he often points out that a coffee is sensational value for the price etc.

    That reminds me of a remark in one of the books I recently read which in commenting on how coffee is often compared to wine in how it is appreciated and critiqued. But it pointed out the stark difference that to taste the best (always subjective but lets assume wine/coffee expert ratings are used) wine in the world you'd be up for hundreds if not thousands of dollars PER SERVING (glass) of it. Whereas even the very best coffee in the world can (assuming you can home roast) be enjoyed for no more than a few dollars per serving. :-)
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    Quote Originally Posted by nikko.the.scorpio View Post
    I agree 100% that the extraction method is central to how any given bean will end up tasting once in the cup. And I suspect that with a lot of the 'label appeal' that occurs with coffee beans (as with nearly all products - and what I mean by this is the consumers perception that the more expensive item will be vastly superior etc) this somewhat compounds things as average consumers will feel a draw to buy a sexy sounding expensive bean - but then roasting it at its optimum point (often lighter to mid with a lot of them) generally won't really shine via espresso extraction. Whereas it likely would via another extraction type.

    I understand what you're saying as in an espresso machine being able to extract tasting notes etc that a lower temp/pressure technique can't but my understanding both through reading and experience is that this isn't the case. As stated earlier, my understanding is that for a cupping tasting session of coffee they don't use an espresso extraction - and I'd suspect there's a good reason for that - primarily that it doesn't accurately convey the actual tastes of the coffee. I mean otherwise if it were superior at extracting details etc it'd make sense to use this instead.
    G'day nikko

    FWIW, my initial experience with espresso was a little different from most in CS. I was blessed with a fairly extensive training period in the '70's. There was a mix of 20+ light to medium SOs and a few dark roast SOs & blends via an espresso machine, an Ibrik (Turkish), a Cona (early siphon method), a balance type siphon, several Carmencitas (aka stovetop moka pot), plungers, cold drips and steeps and even using the whole bean and husk in a saucepan (brilliant if done well). The Carmencita guy still called crema "scum" and regarded an espresso machine as the spawn of the devil until the day he (sadly) dropped. The cold "anything" guy hated what any heat process did to coffee. The siphon guy could actually get amazing cuppas from them (I regard myself, along with a lot of other CSr's, as a fail with them). Naturally, the espresso guy hated all the old school methods with a passion. At least they all loved a good Turkish (and what is not to love?).

    Me, I guess my coffee preferences are like my scotch - single malt if I want to savour it, blends (e.g. Old Dimple) if I want to glug it down. In coffee that is SO's for pleasure, dark blends for the caffeine hit. Turkish if I really, really need a jolt.

    Now - my favourite espresso myth appears here again, complete with the same obligatory "wheatgrass" slagoff.

    It is entirely possible to get a stunning espresso out of light roasts (or mediums, or darks) however the difficulty increases as the roast lightens. The only "wheatgrass" type coffee I had was a badly underextracted light roast that was mangled by a (... traditional commercial Italian type) grinder. No, that combo cannot do it! You need an even particle spread (which the same old CSrs say is not relevant) plus a "razor-blade accurate" extraction. So Tim Wendleboe (multiple world barista champion, champion light roaster) and the EK43 (standard grinder used in said championships) must be crap... Somehow, I think not. FWIW, I use Varios at home (disclosure, not recommendation - that is your issue).

    Now, back to your comments. Using a decent grinder (most critical) and a reasonable espresso machine the combo can deliver at least as much subtlety as any other extraction method - and that certainly includes light roasts even more so than dark. The difficulty is, as I stated earlier, light roasts are much harder to master. Also, balancing them with / without milk is also tricky.

    As I get bored easily, I actually change my coffee every 250g anyway. At any larger party or function (which I tend to avoid these days in the "barista of the night" role) I always have at least two wildly different medium SOs, one dark blend and a good natural water decaf (yes, that is also possible) plus at least three or four different milks (plus a skim - shudder). As noted earlier in the thread - different milks suit (or clash with) different coffees. Oh, I never seem to remember soy, as I reckon it clashes with any decent coffee (YMMV). If it is summer, a litre or four of cold steep / drip is almost always in the mix. Very rarely I will pull out the Ibrik (stainless steel, 4 Turkish cup), however it is usually not possible unless there is some extra available people or time.

    I do not know how to bust the myths of
    1) "light roast = wheatgrass" - it doesn't unless you stuff it up via a shitty grinder and then underextract it. The first guy that "proved" that in front of me had to eat his words in a hurry - I used the same roast, my grinder and pulled an outstanding shot (his wife's words) on the second attempt. In one sense he was right, there is no way his grinder could come within a country mile of dealing with a light roast.
    2) "espresso doesn't deliver the same variety in tastes as other extraction methods" - it can, as long as you use a decent grinder and don't stuff it up elsewhere.
    In both cases, scrupulously maintaining the gear is also needed. Even an apparently clean showerscreen can fowl up a really light roast - that happened to me just the other day. When I dropped the suspect's showerscreen in some toluene it turned dark brown in five seconds or so. Strangely enough, the next shot worked.

    Anyway, some food for thought (or an invitation to flame without backing it up again from the usual suspects if they feel the need).

    TampIt

    PS: Would I use a really light roast in a cafe? Almost certainly not, too hairtrigger if you need to pump them out. Medium SOs are so much easier. As for dark roasts - any idiot can get something drinkable with a little practice.

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    Senior Member nikko.the.scorpio's Avatar
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    TampIt,

    Wonderful post and some very interesting and insightful feedback - much thanks for taking the time to share. I don't disagree with what you say, in fact it just reinforces what I'm very aware of that being that for many a moon to come I will be the weak link in my bean buying/bean blending/bean roasting/coffee extracting flow chain........loads of variables there for me to stuff up haha but if nothing else your slant does make me feel not so badly about it.

    Thanks again for a great post - and FWIW while I've seen some of the flaming etc around the place I don't think you've put anything in your post that would be a catalyst to that - all pretty evenly handled by you IMHO anyway. :-)

  9. #9
    TC
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    Quote Originally Posted by TampIt View Post
    I do not know how to bust the myths of
    1) "light roast = wheatgrass" - it doesn't unless you stuff it up via a shitty grinder and then underextract it. The first guy that "proved" that in front of me had to eat his words in a hurry - I used the same roast, my grinder and pulled an outstanding shot (his wife's words) on the second attempt. In one sense he was right, there is no way his grinder could come within a country mile of dealing with a light roast.
    Oh really? The majority of the light roasts that I have had served to me were well and truly stuffed by the time they left the roaster. I pity the poor baristi who had to fight in an attempt to make them drinkable. Funds and beans wasted.

    Quote Originally Posted by TampIt View Post
    ......and the EK43 (standard grinder used in said championships) must be crap... Somehow, I think not.
    That's it then. I have seen the light, joined the adoring congregation of disciples (or was that blindly following lemmings sucked in by marketing schpiel) and am embracing the myth that a heavily promoted bag grinder will align the planets. I'm replacing all of my grinders with EK43! Praise the Lord!

    Do they make a travel version?
    Last edited by TC; 5th September 2015 at 07:06 PM. Reason: grammar
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