Coffee 101: All About Roasting

Consider this basic information the next time you fall victim to the coffee aisle

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

Coffee is roasted.

“We know, we know,” you say. But what, exactly, does this mean? You peruse the coffee aisle, seduced by the writing on the bag, the notions of a deep, French, bold, rich roast. One would think it’s safe to assume a nice, strong cup of coffee must first begin with a bag of deeply roasted beans.

Think again. The coffee beans gain their distinct flavors and notes from many variables. Like wine, each region produces a unique bean, depending on things such as climate and soil. Also, the different ways of picking, fermenting, and processing the beans produce varying results — they may be washed, not washed, dried in the sun, not dried in the sun, and so forth.

Roasting transforms the beans into coffee as we know it, physically and chemically. Prior to roasting, coffee beans are green in color. The beans may be lightly roasted, turning them a light brown color, or deeply roasted, providing a deep, chocolate brown tint. “French Roast” is a process of double roasting, after which none of the origins of the coffee can be detected. Roasters try to choose a roast that will best bring out a certain coffee’s characteristics.

A common problem found in the local coffee aisle? Over-roasted beans! Over-roasting masks the dynamic flavors possible from each type of coffee. The process of growing and picking coffee is a complicated and tedious task for the farmers. With so many different regions to choose from, and so much hard labor going into each bag — I want to taste my coffee, not my roast.

Many coffee shops boast their own roasts. This way, they have more control over the coffee they sell and brew. If you are a fan of French Roast, perhaps try a naturally richer bean. Kona Coffee from Hawaii is characteristically dark, without much roasting, as is coffee hailing from the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. Also, it is important to take note of when your coffee was roasted. Freshly roasted coffee needs some time to settle — usually a day — but retains its true flavor for no more than two weeks, after which it begins to stale. Companies like Blue Bottle, Joe Coffee, and Colombe provide you with the roast date.

And Starbucks? All roast, no game.