Reading time: minutes ( words)
A couple of weeks back now I ventured over to Horsham Coffee Roasters for their coffee roasters course. Roasting coffee has fascinated me ever since I started buying the whole bean last year, the process the green bean goes through, the science involved and the skill and passion of the roaster collectively coming together.
Horsham Coffee Roasters started out back in 2012 with Bradley its founder roasting out of his garage on a tiny 1kg roaster. He’d then take his labour of love down to Horsham’s food market every Thursday and Saturday come rain or shine! The business grew and HCR now operates out of much larger premises in Horsham, combined with a much larger roaster that’s for sure.
If a successful coffee roasting business wasn’t enough, Bradleys also recently achieved his Q grader certification. A certified Speciality Coffee Association Q grader I recently learnt, is someone who has mastered olfactory (smelling analysis) and sensory analysis skills. In other words, they know a good coffee from a bad shall we say!
It’s by no means easy to attain Q grader status, however, it’s these individuals that ensure the coffee we enjoy meets every standard.
HCR has a great setup! Front of house is dedicated to their cafe area and home to a beautiful custom Spirit Triplette. I later learned this is the pride and joy of Stephen which he explains was his midlife crisis kicking in very early. These machines cost upwards of a family you know! What’s apparent is Stephen has mastered this machine, with each flat white comparable to the last and precisely executed. If it wasn’t for the roasting you could quite easily spend the day sipping each of Horsham’s blends and reading old issues of Caffeine Magazine :-).
We kick off the course with a complete rundown of the various factors which can affect the coffee we drink. It turns out there are so many, milk, water, the coffee machine, barista, grinding, I could go on…
We discuss how coffee is grown and then how the cherry is processed to uncover the bean itself, and from this bean how it ends up in the UK ready to be roasted. With each of these steps playing such a big part in the overall quality and taste of our coffee, it’s important a roaster understands them all.
I’d little understanding of the various processing methods of the cherry, be it natural or washed, aside from knowing I was a particular fan of Kenyan coffee I was now able to understand how the region it was grown in and the process that was carried out had lent itself to the flavour and my liking.
After covering the fundamentals it was time to taste some coffees. Moving into the back of the roastery where HCR have an area dedicated to cupping the coffee, Bradley had set up the Ikawa test roaster. An Ikawa is a small electric roaster that simplifies the traditional test roast process, looking more like a gadget you may buy from the apple store its a desirable piece of kit. Using the Ikawa’s is as easy as opening up an app on your phone and dropping in the green beans. In a matter of minutes, we had a few roasts matching various profiles ready to try. This allowed us to look at how the roast time affected the flavour of the coffee and with samples from various regions around the globe, discover the distinctive flavours the processing methods create and release upon roasting.
Up to this point, Bradley had been laying down the fundamentals, building upon our knowledge in all areas of coffee roasting, but the time had come for us try our hand at roasting our very own coffee. With the beans selected for us and a suitable profile, it would be our responsibility to ensure the green bean didn’t die a horrible death! Our roast time would be in the region of 10-11 minutes yet this was still plenty of time for either success or failure to triumph.
The roaster, in this case, a Joper is connected to a couple of monitors and a computer running software which would visualise and log our complete roasting activity. Bradley explains they take a scientific approach to all the work they do, every detail of the roast cycle is recorded. This kind of attention to detail means they can monitor stock more accurately and if required recreate a past roast and also understand if something doesn’t quite go to plan.
Being handed the controls and tasked with following a series of lines on a graph is a daunting thing. If you let your attention wander for only a few seconds you run the risk of sending your roast to the bin!
Reassuringly Bradley remains close by, ready to step in if necessary. He projects a carefree approach that sets you at ease, however, you get the feeling his experience tells him exactly whats going on inside that roaster at any point in time.
The first sign that our coffee is almost ready is marked by what is known as the first crack. The first crack is the point at which the coffee bean has roasted just enough for any remaining moisture inside to force its way out. Its this escaping of the moisture that causes that distinctive cracking noise, not too dissimilar to the popping of popcorn.
The release of moisture also provides a typically unstable period of the roast process. The temperature inside the drum has been building up to this point, and now with the moisture releasing it drops unpredictably. Managing this I can only describe as when you’re bringing a pan of pasta to the boil, you need it to boil but equally, you don’t want it to spill over. It’s as much judgement as it is managing the software and machinery.
My first batch
Lifting the hatch on the front of the roaster signifies the end, the beans begin to rapidly pour out of the drum and into the cooling tray below. It’s at this stage you don’t want any more temperature to build up in our beans for they may ruin, so a large fan on the underside of the tray draws air down through them so they cool as is quick as possible.
The noise from the fan is deafening, but it creates a white noise almost calming perhaps, like that of a hoover. Instantly followed by this is the warm powerful smell of the beans, and the sense of achievement is apparent within me.
You can check out Horsham Coffee Roasters courses here.