Roasting is necessary to take that seed from the cherry, which is dense and grassy when “green,” to that sweet, complex, brown bean that is capable of being ground and brewed. Roasting’s importance is akin to baking bread instead of serving a loaf of dough.
Roasting for specialty coffee is done by hand and carefully monitored throughout the process- adjusting the heat, airflow, and time of each roast to affect the acidity, body, balance, mouthfeel, and overall taste of the coffee. How a roaster applies these variables will produce a specific flavor profile with a specific roast level. Start to finish, roasting takes only about fifteen minutes per batch.
Coffee is first dropped into a preheated drum roaster, with the heat usually coming from a gas flame. The beans first dry for three or four minutes, or until the temperature reaches about 270 degrees Fahrenheit.
In the next four minutes, the sugars within the beans begin to caramelize. You may be familiar with this concept, the Maillard reaction. If you cook or bake, you’ve encountered the Maillard reaction; it’s the small chemical reactions that occur when heat transforms proteins and sugars, creating colors, flavors, and aromas.
Around 360 degrees Fahrenheit, as gases in the beans release, the coffee beans begin to pop like popcorn. This is known as “first crack.” Roasters are paying attention to the color and aroma of the beans as they develop and listening for this sound.
In the final stage of the roast, the coffee develops. The roast level descriptions of “light,” “medium,” or “dark” are referring to the color of the beans based on how long they have been exposed to heat.
Introducing less heat at a lower temperature or for less time will result in some caramelization of sugars, and the flavors will often be much brighter and acidic, usually having a tea-like lighter body and mouthfeel. Some light roasts are roasted just enough to allow the coffee to become something we can grind and brew, without going too far past this point so that the coffee can taste nuanced. Lighter roasted coffees do not pair well with milk.
The goal of a medium roast is to find the best of both worlds. There is a balance in introducing enough heat to develop flavors like milk chocolate, toffee, graham cracker, caramel while not going too far that you lose these flavors to the stronger flavor of roast. With a medium roast, you can really taste the berry or smell the chocolate, for example, while starting to taste the roast. It also retains more of the beans’ natural caffeine. Angler’s lightest roast is medium, also called “full city.” Beans are medium roasted when they reach around 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Depending on the flavors of a medium roast coffee, you may find that adding milk may overpower the cup.
The more we increase the temperature, the darker the coffee beans get, the more the roasting flavor and aroma take over and the caffeine decreases. Medium dark, or Viennese roast, happens around 410 degrees Fahrenheit.
You may be able to see where we are going with this by now. Adding more time to a roast will increase the heat of the bean and take the process beyond the Maillard reaction into carbon town. These coffees will be richer in body and mouthfeel, often times syrupy and will have flavors of char, smoke and burnt sugar. These coffees are perfect for adding milk, and sugar if you are into it, and of course you may like it black.
Dark, or French roast, happens around 425 degrees. If you’ve bought dark roasts, you’ve probably noticed that the beans look and feel oily; that’s because the high temperature has pulled the beans’ fat to the surface.
In the final stage of the roast, the beans are cooled quickly, in as little as two minutes, depending on the size of the batch, with stirring and fans that pull the hot air away.
Think about roasting marshmallows. Some people like to just heat the marshmallow up ever so slightly, lightly browning the outside and warming the inside. A lightly roasted marshmallow still has a lot of the same sugar sweetness and flavors it had before roasting. Medium roasting the marshmallow will move away from that straight sugary sweetness and yield more of that toasted caramelized flavor. And then there is the dark roasted marshmallow, where some sweetness may exist, but the flavor you are really after is that smoky char. Everyone has a marshmallow roast preference, and most people have a coffee roast preference too.
Discovering which roast level you like best will help you find the perfect coffee. Think about the best coffee you have ever had - what flavors were present? You can trace those flavors back to the roast level.
You can taste the affect of roasting with our new Roast Sampler Box, which offers medium, medium dark, and dark options.
- The Elk Hair Caddis is an extremely popular and versatile fly. Like its namesake, our medium roast Caddis Blend is a crowd pleaser that doesn’t make you choose one facet over another—it’s the perfect balance of body, aroma, and acidity with flavors of praline, toffee, and cocoa powder.
- The Royal Coachman, a classic “attractor” dry fly featuring colorful materials, contains medium dark roasted beans from the Americas and Indonesia, with balanced flavors of dark chocolate, molasses, and some slight smokiness.
- Savvy Anglers know that it’s often best to fish deep for the big ones, which is where the Muddler Minnow is often a top choice. Muddler’s Blend is our darkest roast - deep, rich, like a scotch with a warm kick.
Happy Tasting, and Tight Lines!