Drop by your local café on a sunny, spring morning, and you may very well find the employees behind the counter roasting beans while chatting up the early risers.
Boutique café roasting is growing by leaps and bounds nationwide, as popular demand for artisanal coffees and advances in roasting technology continue to intersect.
But Orinoco Coffee & Tea master roaster Juan-Carlos Ramirez believes this fad may ultimately fade.
Visiting a coffee house where beans are roasted on-site is a novelty for the public, he says, particularly for those who have never experienced the process firsthand.
There’s a certain nuance to the café roasting scene; a sense that consumers and shop owners have more control over their coffee when in reality the five or so pounds of coffee they’re cooking are going to roast at a certain temperature for a certain amount of time, yielding a predetermined result.
Still, says Orinoco’s Vanessa McCallister, it gives them a sense of ownership; a feeling that “this is my coffee.”
And boutique roasting can certainly be successful, says Ramirez – if the employee in charge of roasting is knowledgeable of the craft and exercises exemplary control over quality and inventory.
If the café in question does not have a dedicated roast master on staff, however, issues can arise. Imagine five or six part-time baristas behind the counter, each of whom believes they make the best cappuccino or latte – or roast. Should friendly competition between coworkers begin to take precedence over quality control, inconsistencies could soon creep into the process.
And inconsistency is the No. 1 coffee killer.
What About Home Roasting?
In Ethiopia, coffee is still roasted at home the old-fashioned way; in a skillet on a stovetop, with a wooden spoon.
Home roasting has been a thing since the beginning of coffee, says Ramirez. In the U.S., however, the skillet is increasingly being replaced by high-end, software-driven home roasting devices – many of which fit right on the counter next to the microwave.
The biggest issue, however, is that these small batch, ventless coffee roasters are still prohibitively expensive for all but hard-core coffee lovers. Because of this, Ramirez believes home roasting will remain, for now, a pricey hobby.
“We can’t dismiss the fact that when you’re roasting coffee you are essentially baking – or cooking. And like any other recipe, freshness is paramount. It is the key,” he says. “The flavor of your coffee is determined by how even and how fresh, or how old, the coffee bean is.”
Capacity and, again, consistency are prevailing factors. Coffee beans must be homogenous in size, Ramirez says. They can neither be too moist nor too dry.
For that reason, alone, a ventless home roaster – while doing the trick – is not going to be efficient as a commercial roasting machine. Additionally, few local vendors sell green coffee beans in small volumes. And first-time home roasters may not know how to store large batches properly or will store them for too long, impacting freshness.
Software-driven devices, too, while outfitted with various bells and whistles, are also somewhat problematic, says Ramirez. A coffee roaster is essentially a turning oven, which relies to a large degree on the human factor. Because coffee is so sensitive to its environment, a successful roast will always depend on the roast master – the person who is looking at the green coffee bean to determine its uniformity.
And those master roasters are typically not found in a small café or your home kitchen.
At Orinoco, our handcrafted specialty coffees are custom roasted daily using SAMIAC or PROBAT roasters, largely considered the best roasting equipment on the market, and delivered to shops within the Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and New York metropolitan areas. Before investing in high-end roasting equipment, reconsider the convenience and quality of Orinoco, and try a bag today.