Snap, crackle, smoke

January 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

Coffee roasting like many things comes down to a mixture of art & science.  There’s not really a perfect formula because it all depends on personal taste.  I have been playing around with both the art and science of it, and for me, I think I’m leaning more towards the art.  If I were to buy a more expensive roaster, that might change, but when you’re dealing with a stovetop popcorn popper, there are a lot of variables you just don’t have a ton of control over to make it too scientific.

In terms of the science, I use the thermometer to tell me when the popper is ready to start the roast at 400 degrees on medium gas heat.  I also use it to monitor the beans to make sure it stays at a roasting temperature vs falling too low and baking the beans which sucks out the moisture & oils (i’ve been keeping it around 350-375 degrees).  That’s about it on the science side for me.

Most of the instructions I’ve read tell you to try to start judging based on your senses.  From a smell perspective, you can tell when the beans start to roast because they smell grassy.  Then they start to smell like coffee and finally you can smell the roasted smell (not a burnt smell).  You start to notice steam turning into a lighter smoke and if you’re roasting darker a lighter charcoal colored smoke.  You can also just flip open the lid now and then to see what color the beans are (you want to remove them when they’re slightly lighter than you want as they’ll keep roasting after you remove them – a mistake i’ve made a few times now)

My favorite thing about roasting coffee is the sound of it – the snap and the crackle.  It’s that happy sound like popping popcorn or rice krispies in a bowl of milk.  I was a little too nervous to rely upon this the first time but today it was the way to go.  In roasting you have what are called the “first crack” and the “second crack” which when you become familiar with them, make it as easy to roast coffee as it is to pop popcorn.  You’ll know more or less when it’s ready.  The first crack sounds more like a pop and it will build momentum much like popcorn does and then die off.  For light roasts, you can stop roasting after the crack begins and go to a more medium roast as the crack reaches its end.  As you get into the second crack this is where the dark roasts begin. You can go from a dark viennese at the beginning of the second crack to a darker french roast as it reaches its crescendo. Most do not recommend going darker as it will just be burned.

Today I roasted El Salvadorian Finca La Florida and roasted it a couple of ways.  First I did a darker roast where I let it go a little bit after the second crack.  It goes from sounding like snapping during the first crack to crinkling of paper.  For the second roast I stopped before it was at the end of the first crack for more of a breakfast roast.  I do think I like the lighter to medium roast since you can take more of the differences in the coffee.  I think El Salvadorian coffee is much more similar to what I’m accustomed to drinking.

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