Coffee Bean Roasting Terms

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Roasting coffee beans actually triggers an amazing complex chemical change that helps create the wonderful aromas and flavors that we love as coffee Drinkers. Green (raw, unroasted) coffee beans can maintain their flavor over a year. However, once you roast coffee the clock starts ticking on freshness. Stored properly fresh roasted whole bean coffee will taste incredibly fresh for about ten days. Once ground, coffee should be brewed (having a grinder, any grinder, is the first step to having fresh coffee). Even the best storage methods can NOT keep Ground coffee really fresh tasting for more than a few hours. If using a single cup brewer just get a reusable filter.

Roasting coffee can be as simple as popping corn.

Measure quantity of beans to be roasted, place in heavy skillet or popper. Apply heat, medium on stove (a little over 400 degrees F). Stir, shake, or move beans to heat evenly. Watch, smell, and listen; Roasting usually takes less than 10 minutes:

Cool in a colander or roasting pan over a small fan to remove chaff and cool. Place fresh roasted coffee in an air tight container for at least 4 to 8 hours. Enjoy your very own fresh roasted Coffee!

With very little experience you can actually achieve very very good home roasted coffee. For more detailed roasting directions see our page – How to Roast Coffee for Beginners

A few things you should know before you roast.

Besides your lovely roasted beans, roasting produces new aromas and possibly smoke if you like dark roasts, and a tan skin called chaff that may float off.

The aroma of roasting coffee is not the same as brewing coffee. It starts out rather grainy or grassy, becomes hot oven smelling, and eventually will reach a roasting coffee smell. From this point on an experienced sniffer may select when to stop.

If you are roasting indoors use the fan on the hood of your stove or open a window, after a few roasts the odor or smoke can build up in your home.

Coffee makes two distinct sounds as it roasts.

First Crack – Begins when your beans reach around 380 degrees F, this may take from 3 minutes to 15 minutes to begin and can last up to 3 minutes. The sound is similar to wooden toothpicks being snapped. Like popcorn, it will start slowly, increase in intensity, and then taper off. End of first crack is a good point to remove your beans from the heat if you like fairly light to medium light roasted coffee. The pace of your roast quickens as first crack begins the beans start generating their own heat caused by chemical reactions, pay close attention.

Second Crack – Begins near the end of First Crack to 2 minutes after first crack ends, when your beans reach about 435 degrees F. If the sounds blur into continuous intense crackling the heat may be too high. Second crack should sound like crispy rice cereal when you pour on the milk. It will start slowly and intensify. Dark roast lovers should watch very closely because second crack may allow a very short period to remove your beans at that perfect dark roast. Much past second crack and you may have charcoal.

Depending on your roasting method it may be difficult to hear the cracks, simply watch for color as described below.

Roast levels – Some terms of endearment

One of the many reasons to roast your own coffee at home is control over just how YOU want your coffee roasted. Your desired Roast may be different for each origin, or type of process, how you plan on brewing, or for special guests you may be serving.

No one roast level or style is perfect. Even though beans may look the same they can have different flavor characteristics if roasted using different methods, at different temperatures, or even in different climates.

Color is the easiest way of determining and labeling a level of roast within a range of very light brown to almost black. The SCAA uses the Agtron color scale to describe each coffee roast level from the lightest at #95 through the darkest at #25. At home we recommend using your own experience, and available materials to record the colors associated with the roast levels you prefer. You can download our helpful Roast Levels spreadsheet which relates colors to roast levels to start.

Temperature of the beans can be used to determine roast level but depends upon the accuracy of your measuring devise. Whatever thermometer you use be sure that it can read up to 500 degrees F. Use the same one each time you roast and record your results. If you have an unobstructed view of your beans an infrared thermometer will work well. Temperatures given below are approximate.

Roast Level Descriptions

Cinnamon Roast or Very light – very light brown, bean temperature of 375 to 395 degrees F. May taste a little grainy, very little body, high acidity. Beginning first crack.

New England Roast or Light – Light brown, bean temperature 390 - 405 degrees F. Light body, high acidity, Varietal characteristics are noticeable at this point, usually well into first crack.

American Roast or Medium Light – Medium brown, bean temperature 405 - 420 degrees F. Body developing, acidity still bright, Varietal characteristics clearly evident. Near the end of first crack. A very popular roast with many Americans.

City Roast or Medium – Brown, bean temperature 415 - 435 degrees F. Body still developing yet becoming full, acidity rounding off toward richness, Varietal characteristics still present but delicate tones are becoming slightly muted. From the end of first crack but before second crack.

Full City Roast or Medium Dark - Medium dark brown and dry appearance, bean temperature 430 to 445 degrees F. Body full, acidity rounding off, Varietal characteristics all but lost to the emerging bittersweet nature of the dark roast. Second crack just beginning. The flavors created by the roast are beginning to overtake those inherent in the bean.

Vienna Roast or Dark – Dark brown starting to appear shiny with light surface oils, bean temperature 440 - 455 degrees F. Body full, acidity muted, Varietal characteristics lost to the bittersweet caramel flavor brought on by the roast. Mid second crack.

French Roast – Really dark brown and definitely shiny with oil, bean temperature 450 - 465 degrees F. Body thinning, acidity not discernable among bittersweet dark roast tastes. Near the end of second crack. A popular roast for Espresso (a drink not a roast level).

Italian Roast - Call it light black, shiny with oil droplets, bean temperature 460 - 470 degrees F. Body quite thin, burnt taste noticeable. Also a popular roast for Espresso.

Spanish Roast – Black very shiny with oil, bean temperature over 470 degrees F. Body thin, flat, charcoal and burnt tastes dominate.

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