Coffee roasting is an incredibly nuanced profession. There’s a great deal that goes on behind the scenes between the time that the green coffee is harvested and the moment an aficionado cracks the vacuum seal on a fresh bag for the first time and is overcome by that unmistakable aroma.
A coffee’s flavor is determined by its freshness. Its quality is determined by the meticulous protocols that are implemented by roast masters at every step of the process.
Below are just five little-known facts about coffee roasters that make a big difference in crafting a successful product.
Consistency is the key.
According to Orinoco President and CEO Pedro Ramirez, the roasting process is always the same. And that is paramount.
“You roast the beans for a specific amount of time or up to a certain temperature to come up with the final product,” he says. “This doesn’t sound all that complicated, in and of itself. And it really isn’t, right? But the key to that is you need to be consistent.”
Coffee roasters must start with quality beans – “good, clean coffee,” says Ramirez.
“If the coffee is from last year’s crop, the humidity will be different. They could roast quicker, or they might have a different flavor and different notes. So, you need to start with the freshest coffee available.”
Not all roasters are created equal.
Several roasting techniques are employed throughout the world. But Orinoco Coffee & Tea specializes in batch roasting.
Here, coffee is placed within a rotating drum and heated. After the proper temperature is achieved, the coffee is dropped into a cooling tray where it rests until it is no longer hot.
Batch roasters, Ramirez says, are typically classified by the amount grossed into one lot. To produce the optimum flavor found in its gourmet coffee beans, Orinoco’s handcrafted specialty coffee is custom roasted daily using two distinct coffee roasters – a German-made PROBAT machine and a French-manufactured SAMIAC – widely considered two of the industry’s best.
“Our coffee roasters use a solid drum, meaning it is not perforated,” Ramirez explains. “This allows them to retain heat much more efficiently. Perforated drums expose beans to direct heat, which we believe creates an inferior product.”
Coffee and metal don’t mix.
After green coffee has been harvested overseas and has been washed, the beans are typically placed on large concrete floors to sun dry.
“As it is swept back and forth, the coffee ultimately picks up rocks, stones, and debris like nails, nuts, and bolts, and things like that,” Ramirez says.
For this reason, steps are taken before and after roasting – and before being ground and packaged – to remove any foreign material that may be present.
Ultimately, the coffee is sent through a metal detector, where ferrous metal is extracted, as well as a destoning machine – which does exactly what its name implies, says Ramirez. This is essential to protect coffee grinders from being inadvertently damaged.
Coffee roasters can be eco-friendly.
Both coffee roasters used by Orinoco Coffee & Tea are equipped with afterburners that help to keep emissions clean.
“What this does is it takes the exhaust out of a roaster and heats it to 1200 degrees, burning any particles that may be floating within,” Ramirez says. It not only reduces unpleasant smells, but also any smoke produced.
“This way, when it comes out into the environment, it is not contaminating anything,” Ramirez says.
Orinoco’s coffee roasters are gas-fired.
“It makes a difference,” Ramirez says. “There are hot air roasters and infrared machines available, but the gas-fired machines are more old school. And there’s a reason for that. You have more control over the flames, you can control the heat, and it’s a cleaner burn than other fuels.”
Roasting requires a skilled professional.
Ramirez says it can take up to a year to achieve proficiency as a coffee roaster operator.
“It’s not only learning how to roast each origin or each bean, you know? You also have to learn how to take humidity into account – the humidity of the bean and the environmental humidity.”
“Outside temperatures affect roasting,” he continues. “In the wintertime, it takes a little longer to get the machines going. The first couple of roasts in the morning probably take twice as long, because the equipment is not up to temperature. All of those nuances must be learned over time.”
When it comes to hiring roasting specialists, you must separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.
“You don’t want an inexperienced person using a roaster, for many reasons,” Ramirez says.
“First, there’s the product. You want a quality product, which requires consistency. There are also many safety concerns. Coffee roasters are essentially ovens. They use gas, they have an open flame. You want someone that is paying attention and who will keep the machine clean all day long.”
Speaking of chaff, this common byproduct of the coffee roasting process can be problematic.
“Chaff is a thin skin on top of the coffee beans,” says Ramirez. “As you roast coffee, this skin gets separated and floats to the surface because it is so light.”
The chaff eventually gets sucked into the exhaust and is then gathered at the rear of the machine in what is known as a chaff collector.
“The chaff collector needs to be cleaned constantly throughout the day after so many batches of roasts, to make sure that it doesn’t catch on fire,” Ramirez explains.
Coffee roasters, and the professionals who operate them, are a highly specified breed.
“You need someone that actually knows how to roast and extract the appropriate flavors from each origin and each plant, but also someone who is vigilant when it comes to maintaining the machine,” Ramirez says. “After all, they can be dangerous if you’re not paying attention.”
Attention to detail is Orinoco Coffee & Tea’s stock in trade. Offering a wide variety of regular, decaffeinated, flavored, and Organic/Fair Trade coffees, Ramirez and the team take great pride in their work, and in the coffee roasters, they use, guaranteeing a fresh, evenly roasted bean and a great-tasting cup every time. Find out for yourself. Try a bag today and discover the difference.