Art Meets Science

The art and science of roasting coffee is fascinating. There are over 200 chemical compounds which have been identified in the green coffee bean. The contribution of each of these to our coffee experience as measured through our five senses is a mystery. These 200 compounds are converted to 800 during the pyrolytic roast process. The presence or absence and proportional constituency of these new compounds is greatly effected by the roast profile; that is, the time vs temperature plot of the roast cycle.

Our “flashroast” equipment is truly unique – in that it is homemade. It combines the use of small batch hoppers, fluid bed circulation (hot air suspension), continuously variable heat input and high volume cooling trays. Our micro-batch roast machine allows a faster warmup, closer proximity with the bean ( sight, sound and smell ) and a near instant “air quench” cool down. It is a roastmaster’s dream machine and it has made it possible for us to optimize roast profiles not available to most small roasters who use “drum type” machines.

Conventional machines are based on a rotating horizontal drum, somewhat smaller or larger than a home clothes dryer, with a direct heat source underneath, usually natural gas or propane. Typical roast times are in the 12 to 18 minute range. Drum roasters take longer to bring the batch to final roast temperature, as they must be careful not to scorch the outside of the bean. Batch sizes are often 20 to 50 lbs or more. These roasters can not respond quickly to adjust the batch temperature and beans continue to roast for several minutes even after they are dumped into the cooling tray. During these extended roast times, many vital oils are evaporated and lost up the flue.

In our machine, the roasting beans float gently on a bed of hot air. The primary advantage is that the bean’s core temperature can be raised faster than with a conventional drum machine, reducing high temperature flavor loss. We roast in small batches, with an average roast time of about 6-7 minutes.. Our accelerated roast profile cannot be equaled in a drum-batch machine. This roaster delivers energy faster, with relatively lower temperatures due to the a more efficient heat transfer principle. We are convinced that much of the exceptional flavor intensity our customers rave about, derives from our unique roast machine and the rapid “flavor locking” roast profile it enables.

Our roaster is not computer controlled. In our shop, each roast is monitored by a processor which is infinitely more sophisticated than those used on mainstream custom roast machines – the human brain. We are traditional artisan roastmasters, making roast profile decisions based on cupping our coffees every day. We are constantly tweaking the time / temperature curve to gain a wee bit of liveliness from this new lot of Costa Rica or to add depth to the body of our favorite Sulawesi. We experiment constantly because it is second nature, and because we have to – there are NO AUTOMATIC settings to rely on. The benefit emerges in the cup. The roast for each new lot of coffee balances it’s character attributes to deliver the best flavor. We are happy only when we get the richest body and the most pleasing finish.

Computer controlled machines are superbly consistent. This could be a good thing if the “roast program” is skillfully developed and perfectly matched to a particular lot of coffee AND if the green beans never change. The fact is, each new delivery of green beans is a delightful challenge. We cup each new roast and make subtle changes to the profile, chasing the magic sweet spot for each variety. In practice, the automatic settings used in modern drum roasters are rarely revisited in any meaningful way. Coffee roasting becomes a routine production process. Results are often less than exciting.

The technology employed by the large “mega-custom” roasters are modern computer controlled fluid bed and auger-driven continuous flow machines. This commercial equipment is capable of high throughput, often many thousands of pounds per hour. Their typical roast profile is considerably longer than ours and every second spent at high temperature looses precious flavor. We roast fast and lock in the flavorful oils and volatile compounds. You will find our coffee produces a thicker “crema” or layer of foam in both the espresso machine and French press. The fullness of flavor is enriched in all varieties, origins and levels of roast darkness.

The big mainstream coffee roasters have done us a great service.  They possess marketing genius and have introduced millions of Americans to specialty coffees. Knowledgeable coffee enthusiasts rightly attribute their spectacular financial success to this marketing ability rather than the quality of their roasted bean. No doubt some of these large franchise “specialty” coffee roasters were founded by totally committed, coffee loving fanatics like the Scott Brothers Coffee Company. But how do you grow a company so big and so fast and retain the soul of the business? How do you ensure that every person who comes into contact with the bean reveres the quality of its innate character? How do you consistently deliver the best coffee experience to your customer every time? Regrettably, “bottom line” profit motive drive corporate decisions and guarantee mediocre results which eliminate them from consideration by the most discriminating purveyor of coffee excellence. For all these reasons we consider our competition to be the small, custom roaster. These are almost always dedicated, knowledgeable, opinionated, colorful, quirky, owner-operated businesses. We hope to prove we are among the best of these.

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