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What’s in a Roast?

The Roast Dimension

We have five different roast levels in our coffee range, and the level of the roast greatly influences the final flavour of the bean. It’s a common misconception that darker roasts are stronger, but in fact the strength of your coffee depends on the amounts of water and coffee that you use. It’s the flavour of the bean that’s affected by roasting level—in a big way.

A coffee bean looks simple, but packed inside that little bean is a complex mixture of sugar, oils and acids. When you roast coffee, that changes the chemistry of bean, converting starches to sugars—different beans will respond differently to roasting, meaning that there a huge range of final results when you combine the original bean with the roasting process.

What is coffee roasting?

Coffee begins as a cherry, before the fruit is removed, leaving the bean. The bean then has to be dried before it’s finally ready for roasting.

On a very simple level, coffee roasting is no more than heating coffee up until it changes colour, shape, aroma and flavour. Early roasters used pans held over a fire; nowadays roasting can be done on every scale from vast rotating drums to a wok over the stove.

As the beans begin to roast, they lose moisture and turn from green to yellow. It’s not until the bean is dry and has lost about 20% of its weight that the first browning reactions start—at this point the sugars and acids trapped inside the bean begin to react. That’s when the magic happens.

Journey into the Heart of Darkness

Yellowing: The beans lose water, and start to turn yellow. The amount of weight they loose depends partly on the speed of the roast. This process starts to happen around c. 160°C.

First Crack: At around c. 200°C, the beans literally crack open, making a popping sound as carbon dioxide and water are released from inside. This is the moment that the coffee becomes drinkable: light roasts, like our Jamaica Blue Mountain, are cooled shortly after first crack.

Second Crack: The beans crack again at about c. 240°C —this starts to happen around a medium roast, so a coffee like our San Agustin Colombia would be roasted to around second crack and no longer.

Dark roasts: After second crack, coffee becomes dark and oily, and the rich roasting flavours start to overtake the flavours of the coffee’s origin. Coffees like our Monsoon Malabar and Guatemala Elephant are darker roasts.

Fire: The beans catch fire at anything over 250°C, leaving you with a heap of charcoal and an embarrassed face as you try to explain to the fire department how your search for the perfect roast went wrong.


Matching the roast to the bean

Roasting dramatically changes the flavours of the bean, so it’s vital that we select the right roast for each coffee based on the bean’s origin and type. Each roast is designed to bring out the best of each individual bean.

Roasting is no walk in the park. Get it wrong, and you risk spoiling the bean—at best you’ll lose key flavours, at worst you’ll end up with charcoal on your hands. We work with suppliers who understand the roasting process down to every detail, from the speed of a roast to the crucial temperature inside each bean.


Our Light Roast Coffees

A lighter roast keeps the bean closer to its original flavour—the aspects influenced by the soil and atmosphere at origin. These coffees tend to be sweeter and fruitier, with a slightly lemony taste, and are ideally suited to an espresso. A good example is our Kenya Peaberry, which showcases the delicate lightness of its soil alongside the fruitiness common to many Kenyan coffees.  

Our Medium Roast Coffees

When a coffee is medium roasted, flavours from the roasting process begin to mix with the original flavours of the bean. A good example of this is our Guatemala Antigua: its complex flavours of honey, spices, chocolate and grapes are perfectly balanced by the roast, resulting in a richly layered cup. Medium roasts are pretty versatile, and well-suited to cold-brewing.

Our Dark Roast Coffees

As the flavours of the bean’s origin are overtaken by the flavours added during roasting, the coffee loses its bright fruitiness and becomes rich and smoky. The intensity of this level of roasting makes it popular in Europe—it’s a good choice for a latte or cappuccino, as the rich roasting flavours can be heard above the milk. Our Café Français is a classic example of a dark roast, with those characteristic chocolatey notes and hard-hitting body. 

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