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Roasting and Blending

Roasting
Once the quality green coffee beans arrive at the roaster, the most critical tasks can begin. A skilled roaster is both artist and scientist: Scientist in the sense of understanding the complex chemical changes that occur during roasting. Artist in the ability to follow the progress through subtle changes in color and aroma as the roasting progresses. During the roasting process volatile compounds within the beans are released and the sugars and other carbohydrates in the bean are caramelized, creating a water soluble oil within the bean that gives the coffee its flavor and aroma.

Specialty coffees are roasted in relatively small batches. Most specialty roasters choose drum-type roasting machines which roast the coffee beans at about 400 degrees F as they tumble in a rotating drum typically heated by gas. When the roaster decides that the desired roast has been achieved, the beans are quickly moved to a cooling hopper to keep them from over roasting. Roasting causes the coffee beans to swell and increase in size by over 50%, while at the same time greatly reducing their weight. A lightly roasted bean may range in color from cinnamon to a milk chocolate color. Light roasts produce a sharp, more acidic taste than dark roasts and will also retain more caffeine. Lighter roasts are primarily for brewed coffee. Darker roasts, preferred for espresso, will provide a fuller flavor with lower acidity and less caffeine. Dark roasts range in color from medium chocolate brown with a satin-like finish, to very dark brown with an oily appearance. In addition to the change in color, longer (darker) roasting also forces more of the oil to the surface. Darker roasting will also add a smokiness to the flavor, or a charred taste if carried too far.

The most common terms used for describing the roast are:

Cinnamon or American Roast

A light roast used by most commodity roasters. This roast can be done with minimal weight loss in the product, making the coffee economical to produce, but it leaves most of the rich coffee flavor under developed.

City Roast

A slightly more costly roast that offers some additional flavor development. Commodity roasters use this level for their high-end "specialty" coffee labels.

Full City Roast

Full city roast is the break point between commodity roasters and artisan, or specialty roasters. Small batch processing allows the roaster to complete the roasting when the beans reach their peak flavor development. Doing this requires the careful attention of an experienced roaster.

French Roast

Continued roasting to a rich ebony brown intensifies the flavor while reducing acidity and caffeine. This roast is used for both brewed coffee and espresso.

Italian Roast
The darkest standard roast adds a smoky touch to otherwise mellow coffee. It is the mainstay of Italian espresso blends.

It is important to remember that these terms have no relationship to where the coffee is either grown or processed.

Once roasted, coffee deteriorates rapidly with exposure to air and humidity. Even though a retailer may advertise "Freshly Roasted Coffee", you as the consumer really need to ask when the coffee was actually roasted. Roasting equipment sitting in the store, or even someone roasting coffee at the moment, doesn't mean that the coffee being scooped out of a jar into your bag was roasted any time recently. If it is sitting in a bin at the supermarket, you know it wasn't roasted recently. Coffees from MyMorningCup.com are roasted and packed on a daily schedule specifically to fill orders placed, and are shipped with 24 hours of roasting. It may take a little longer to get there, but the freshness is assured.

Blending

There are over 100 coffee-growing regions in the world, and each produces coffees with distinctive characteristics. Add to this variations from one year to the next, and the need for blending coffees to give a stable result becomes clear. Whether the blend is intended for espresso service, or a "signature" blend for a coffee house or restaurant, proper blending can maintain a consistent balance of flavors. The experienced roaster uses his knowledge of each variety to consistently create the desired flavor profile for each roaster's stock blends. The actual content of any specialty blend is usually a carefully kept secret.

Blending can be done either before or after roasting, although roasting first may produce more repeatable results. Roasting each variety separately allows the roaster to maximize each coffee's flavor characteristics, and to know the final contribution that each component will add to the blend.