A Personal Journey in Coffee Roasting: Part 1

Beginnings

A personal journey in coffee roasting: part 1

If you told me three years ago that I would be the head roaster in an
up and coming coffee company, I might have argued with you. More likely, I
would have entirely ignored your senseless ramblings. For the better part of 
my life my tongue has swooned over the mysterious chemical mixture
known as Dr. Pepper. Dr. Pepper, or one of its many cheaper imitations, has
been by my side through nights either spent in a flurry trying to finish a term
paper, or just enjoying some recreation with friends. I have been solely
committed to its sweet, bubbly flavor.

Although I have been offered coffee in various forms, and in various
circumstances, I never was able to appreciate the totally “other” nature of its
taste. I wrote off coffee full of milk and sugar as anathema. Surely those
who drink that coffee are also the ones responsible for ruining perfectly
good banana bread and chocolate chip cookies by adding nuts or other
obscenities. Coffee just wasn’t my thing.

In an effort to abandon my unhealthy Dr. Pepper habit, I tried coffee
time and time again, only to further solidify my preference for a sweeter,
albeit deadlier, drink.

Observations


During the summer of 2017 a new friend came into my life who
suggested that I simply hadn’t dedicated myself to coffee enough to enjoy it.
He recommended that I drink one coffee each day for a month and then
make a decision. So I did. Well known coffee shops, gas stations, grocery
stores, church lobbies. Each of these places offered up their version of
what coffee was supposed to be, and at the end of that month I had noticed
several things.


First, I noticed that coffee is not to be judged by any single
representation. I experienced stale coffee, burnt coffee, old coffee, weird
coffee, etc. My uneducated palate didn’t have a proper vocabulary yet, but I 
knew there were unique qualities to each of these cups of coffee. Some
would have a smooth mouth feel but a bad aftertaste. Others would give
fleeting moments of sweetness only to be washed away by an astringent
sensation. Rarely during that month did I drink coffee that had an
overwhelmingly positive response from my tongue.


Second, I observed that wherever I bought coffee there were others
buying the same coffee and they weren’t amateurs. With hypnotic precision
they added the same amount of creamer and sugar they had added for
decades. They almost seemed to enjoy the process. Why wasn’t I receiving
the same fulfillment and satisfaction from my now daily cup? Did habit
conscript them into a routine so tyrannical that they were fearful of change?


Did their need for energy or warmth force them to amend this bitter cup into
drinkability? I witnessed a lot of people drinking coffee and I sincerely
doubted that it was primarily due to the quality of the coffee itself. Did coffee
culture exist solely to caffeinate people or was there a coffee that could
stand purely on its own merit?

Craft and Culture

The last thing I became aware of was something I almost missed. I
blame this mostly on living in the midwest. As I rubbed shoulders with other
coffee drinkers I began to notice that a select few of them had peculiar
coffee routines. Some measured their coffee to within a half-gram previous
to brewing. Others employed man-powered pulverizers (hand grinders) to
dissect their coffee just before brewing. Why wasn’t I seeing widespread
use of these techniques?


Intrigue led to interrogation and the curtain slowly receded. There it
was. The coffee culture I had hoped for. A community of fanatics who
pursued excellence through rigorous testing, precise measuring, and
methodical experimentation. They even had a rating system for the quality
and consistency of different coffees. It all began to take shape when I
began reading about the whole process of coffee. I’ll detail the life of a
coffee bean in coming articles, but know this, whoever you are and
wherever you stand in relation to coffee. Don’t write off coffee because of
bad past experiences. There is a world of fresh, flavorful enjoyment just
waiting for you.

Jeremy Layden

Jeremy is currently the Head Roaster at Redemption Coffee. He studies coffee crops, roast development and flavor profiling. He also consults with cafe owners and other roasters in the industry. You can reach him at Jeremy@redemptioncoffeeco.com

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