How to roast coffee: An Interview with our Roastmaster

Ever wanted a custom house blend for your shop? Wonder what happens during the process? Need more background on our Roastmaster for your customers? Stockton Graham & Co. answered these questions from a curious customer and you will find some interesting answers after the jump.

1. What is your definition of craft roasting?
Craft roasting is a combination of art and science.  It is art from the perspective of years of accumulated coffee knowledge and roasting many batches of coffee, and science from keeping up with cutting edge technology in regards to roasting processes, and those outcomes.

 2. What possessed you to become a Roastmaster?
A standard industry definition of roastmaster is still being developed as this is an ever- changing industry based on new knowledge and innovations.  However, it generally means someone who has had hands-on roasting experience, sample roasting, blend development, green sourcing, origin visits and instructing on coffee.  My first coffee boss began to let me cup coffee samples and production lots for quality control purposes and this opened my eyes to all the wonderful flavor, taste and aroma attributes that coffee can embody.  I kept cupping coffees, learning more about the coffee processes and the people responsible for producing the coffees.

The more I learned and experienced, the more I wanted to continue to learn.

3. Any special training needed?
The best training for roasting great coffee, no matter the size of your business, is constant cupping and tasting your coffee.  Once you begin to understand what is happening in the roaster, and begin to understand the modifications you make for different origins, you can start to catalog those results and build upon that knowledge as time goes by.

The coffee industry, Stockton Graham & Co. included, now has a number of groups offering training on cupping, sensory development, roasting processes, green sourcing, etc. Working with your co-workers and peers is an integral part of learning and keeping your skills fresh.

4. As a roastmaster, do you have a number of steps to follow in order to create a great blend? If so, what are those steps?
In creating a blend for someone, you first need to understand what they are looking for in a coffee.  Then you begin to taste different varietals with them that highlight desired traits that are wanted.  After several varietals are selected, you begin to blend several together to see what you can make.  This is where your experience kicks in because over time you begin to understand what works well together, and what doesn’t.  In this industry, you constantly learn something new, so it is important to approach developing a coffee blend with a balance between what you know, and what you can learn.

5. What are the benefits of roasting in small batches?
The main benefit of small batch roasting is that you get to really hone in on each individual coffee varietal, and make it the best it can be.  Even the smallest modifications to a roast profile can dramatically change the flavor of the coffee, so roasting in small batches allows you to give each coffee more focused attention, thus perfection in each roast.

6.  What is the process you use when creating a custom blend for a customer?
Before we start with any roast, we ask questions of the customer and we listen.  We need to know what they like in the coffee, who will be drinking it, when and how it will be prepared and served, etc.  We seek to know what coffees the customer thinks are good and why they liked them, as-well-as coffees they may not have liked as much. After these initial discussions, we usually try several coffees to benchmark the customers’ preferences.  We listen to their feedback and tweak the coffees, roast levels and blending ratios to find the perfect balance, flavors, acidity, body and overall cup appeal for the customer.

7. Do you have any advice for our customers on how to serve and enjoy the best cup of coffee?
In order to enjoy great roasted coffee, you need to start with cold, filtered fresh water. The proper water-to-coffee ratio must be correct, too.  No matter what style of brewer you own, we recommend using two tablespoons of coffee for every six fluid ounces of water.  This will provide the best flavor extraction.  Grind only what you need and keep the rest stored in an airtight, dark, cool location.  Never store coffee in a refrigerator; a pantry is typically the perfect place.

Additionally, coffee is perfect to share with friends and family, to savor and enjoy over conversations.  So do not keep it all to yourself, but invite a friend over or send some as a gift.