Are you a rookie coffee roaster? Here’s what three experts say makes for the perfect cup
Every time you drink a cup of coffee, the fate of your taste buds lies within the “black magic” of a coffee roaster. But while roasters give each cup of coffee its taste, the process involves much more than a love of coffee and a finely tuned sense of taste and smell. So what does it take to become a coffee roaster?
We asked three roasters about their experiences in the industry and share their tips for those who are just starting out.
Understand the art of the roast
“Coffee has always been something of a dark art,” says Raihaan Esat, General Manager of International Coffee Traders. “The perception of non-roasters to roasters is some sort of wizardry.”
Roasting is in fact a highly systemised and highly organised process. By becoming a roaster, you are in charge of creating and developing the taste of coffee, a procedure that starts from analysing the raw green bean.
“We receive the coffee the farmer sends us and prepare it for tasting. We need to work out what the coffee tastes like and how to enhance it by roasting,” says Raihaan. “The specifications to prepare the coffee beans for tasting are quite elaborate. We use a very precise sample roasting machine to do that.”
Once the green bean samples are roasted, they are left to sit for 24 hours before tasting the next day. A formal score sheet is used to break the flavours down into multiple characteristics.
“We mark each characteristic accordingly, coming away with a score and some observations around it,” Raihaan says.
“Was the coffee uniform? Was it sweet? Were there any unique characteristics – fruitiness, a pleasant acidity? How did it finish, was it a nice taste or a harsher mouth taste?”
But, he says, it’s not about looking for defects in the bean.
“It’s important for us as roasters to approach coffee analysis with the right attitude. We’re not looking to punish the coffee, we’re looking to reward it as much as we can. Can it be suitable for a purpose? Our attitude towards that is really important. We’re looking for every possibility to say yes to that coffee, not to say no.”
Origins matter – for beans and people
Raihaan first got into roasting in 2014, but he has been in the cafe and hospitality industry for more than 15 years. “I started working part-time in my university cafe while studying for a degree in finance and economics, taking shifts between lectures,” he says.
“When I graduated in 2007 there was no work in finance [due to the financial crisis], so I looked for more coffee jobs.”
Raihaan became a barista at weekend markets in Brisbane where he met Phillip Di Bella, who offered him a full-time job at his cafe. “Working with Phil was where I first developed an interest in roasting and where the green bean comes from,” Raihaan says.
Brad Meteyard from One Man Roasting also started out in a different industry before falling into the coffee business.
“I’m an industrial electrician by trade, so I have a vast understanding of machines and how they work,” he says. “I always had a passion for coffee and making it. One day I got fed up with roasted coffee prices constantly going up. And not just because of inflation – I’m talking about a $5/kg overnight increase at one place I used to purchase from,” he says.
It was his background in electrical equipment that helped Brad along the way. “I started with absolutely no roasting experience at all, but my knowledge of machines and how to operate them, both electrically and mechanically, helped a lot when starting out.”
It truly is a daily grind, so be ready
Raihaan says roasting can be a hard job if you don’t thrive in a production-oriented environment. “I like systems and predictability. I feel calm in a structured environment. If you’re a creative type that loves to take every day as a new day, roasting may not be for you.”
It makes sense then that Raihaan studied finance and Brad is an electrician by trade.
“Finance has definitely helped me with budgeting and forecasting. When you are sourcing coffee from overseas, I use a lot of finance and economics knowledge,” Raihaan says.
Brad says it’s the endless combinations and variety available from all corners of the globe that he loves the most about coffee. “It’s a cool feeling roasting specialty coffees when you stop and think about the distance those coffee beans have travelled to get to me.”
Ian Abidiano from Coffee Mentality likes to source his coffee beans a little closer to home – right in his backyard. “I want to help people everywhere gain fresh perspectives on how coffee is grown, processed, distributed and brewed. So that every step of the way, it’s better for people, and better for the world.”
Get your palate ready
While sourcing your beans directly offers an intimate knowledge of coffee characteristics and flavours that can be produced, it is the roasting process that ultimately determines how the green bean will be transformed into a great cup of coffee. A roaster needs to be able to make adjustments during the roasting process, so developing your palate is crucial.
Brad recommends joining The Coffee Commune, where regular cupping sessions will be held to help roasters and coffee enthusiasts train their senses. “Sample and drink as many coffee varieties as you can – no amount of coffee is too much coffee!”
Brad’s advice to anyone starting out in the business is to start small and learn the craft first. “Look for people with a wealth of experience that you can learn from by watching and talking to them.”
Ian says it’s important to pay close attention to your customers. “Listen and observe what your customers are looking for. Then give them the product. This is the only way you can ensure you can operate a business sustainably and promote quality over quantity.”
Find your coffee alliance
For roasters who are just starting out in the business, a roasting machine is key. Ian says one of the most economical ways new roasters can access roasting facilities is through The Coffee Commune, where amateurs can roast a kilogram of coffee beans to take home or professionals like Ian can use the machines for larger commercial batches.
“It is a one-stop shop for coffee roasters, whether you’re just starting out or expanding your business. It offers another way for me to roast my coffee economically and ensure long-term operation,” Ian says.
Brad agrees. “Another benefit of being a member of The Coffee Commune is that I will be able to access larger roasters to produce bigger volumes of roasted beans using my own recipe, should the demand increase beyond what I can manage currently with my machine,” he says.
If you are in the business of brewing and serving coffee, the ability to roast your own beans will give you more control over the quality and consistency of the coffee used in your brew – which can open up many new possibilities for your business.