The Process of Roasting

The coffee bean follows a long journey before it ever reaches your cup. After the cherry is picked (yes, coffee is a fruit!) and meticulously dried, it is placed in burlap bags and shipped to the roaster, who will eventually send it to the person who creates the final brewed product.

Every step of the journey requires careful handling and is approached with many different strategies. The roasting process is no exception, and the roaster must make decisions such as the size of the roasting batch, the type of heat used in the process, and whether to use a water quenching method or not.

A benefit to being a small batch roaster is that you can choose to roast smaller batches of beans at a time, which allows the roaster to be more precise with the process. With smaller batches it is not necessary to water quench the beans. Water quenching is done primarily with large scale and commercial roasters. The beans get so hot in the roaster that they will burst into flame within seconds of completing the roasting process, so they are doused in water to instantly cool off the bean. Although this is effective, it damages the bean and just like forgetting your dinner on the stove and burning it, it will ruin the remaining flavor the beans have to offer.

The Vectors crew recently took a trip to visit our primary roaster, Cascade Estates. They are located in Eugene, and although they can roast a few hundred pounds of beans each week, they are considered a small batch roaster.

Mike, the owner of Cascade Estates and a man who has been in the roasting business for many years, is a prime example of someone who is knowledgeable and invested in his field of expertise. While answering our questions and offering a steady stream of coffee facts, he operated the infrared roaster in front of us.

Infrared roasting is not a common approach to roasting. Traditional hot air roasting is done by gas-powered machines that heat a rotating drum that tosses the beans around, similar to a clothes dryer. The infrared roaster tumbles the beans in a similar way, but the heat is much more gentle and will roast the beans evenly (traditional roasting has a tendency to heat the outside of the bean much quicker than the inside, resulting in an unevenly roasted bean). Infrared has also been shown to reduce the acidity levels in the finished product, making the coffee gentler on the consumer’s stomach.

In just a short visit with Mike, we learned about how the beans are packaged and shipped to him, as well as the many processing steps he takes after he has received them. From there, the roasted product is distributed to baristas, restaurants, and home-brewers where the life of the bean continues.

 

Words by Kaitlyn Sledge

CoffeeFest 2015

For the last 20 years, CoffeeFest has been attracting coffee lovers from across the world. The 3-day event is held in various regions around the United States, and offers workshops, competitions, and a tradeshow floor. The wonderful thing about this event is that it has something to offer for everyone – from the coffee newbie to the seasoned veteran – and each of us walked away with something new to share. This was the second year that Portland has hosted the event, and the Vector’s crew had the opportunity to venture into the world of CoffeeFest.

These are some of the things that most excited the team:

Anna: I had only worked at Vectors for a total of about three hours before going to Portland with all of my coworkers, and it was there that I was introduced to the big wide world of coffee. There is so much to learn!

Jess: In the morning workshops, I learned to think about customer service as bringing the best out in the customer. On the trade show floor I discovered nitro cold brew coffee, explored lots of products and teas, and had the chance to taste different espressos.

Ryan: The shots I tried inspired me to come back to Vectors and try to dial in some good shots. All the amazing pour-overs I tried made me excited to step up my own pour-over game. I look forward to doing it at the shop someday.

Daniel: Highlights for me included an oolong tea ceremony, learning more science behind creating perfect Italian espresso, and useful efficiency tips that allow better quality while conserving valuable energy resources.

Kaitlyn: The exposure to the expansive coffee world was exciting, and the strength of the coffee community surprised me the most. The people who attended had such a wide range of knowledge, skills, and backgrounds, but everyone was warm, welcoming, and simply excited to talk about coffee.

Amy: I was really thrilled to have the opportunity to be on the team of judges for the Best Coffeehouse Competition and learn some of the intricacies to that competition, as well as network and bond with other coffee professionals. I also had a blast competing in the World Latte Art Championship.

Randy: We have a fun staff and I’m glad we went. The benefit of attending CoffeeFest is that it raises all of our standards and it starts conversations.

Many of us found the experience to be a great chance to bond with the Vectors team and gain exposure to new coffee niches. Overall, the experience was, in Amy’s words, “magically over-caffeinated!”

 

Kaitlyn Sledge

Vectors Espresso

Eugene, Oregon

What are your options?

Walking into a new coffee shop can be intimidating – Who are these people making my drink? Will the atmosphere be comfortable? Will I get the drink that I’m hoping to get?

On the other hand, when you’re familiar with a coffeehouse, it can feel a bit tedious ordering the same drink every time when there’s a part of you that is curious about what other options there are besides a vanilla latte. (Not that there’s anything wrong with a vanilla latte – it is a classic!)

So let us help you by sharing a few of the drinks you can find in the next coffeehouse you visit.

Latte – This drink is pretty standard. It is a double shot of espresso with steamed milk. Of course, most shops offer a variety of syrups that you can add, as well as alternative milks. Soy and almond milk are the most common types of alternative milks available, but some places offer coconut, rice, hemp, hazelnut, amongst others. Each alternative milk has a different flavor and texture, and can taste different in hot or iced drinks.

Cappuccino – Very similar to a latte in ratio of espresso to milk, but the difference is in the process of steaming the milk. More air is added while steaming (or in this case, frothing) the milk, which creates a foamier texture.

Americano – For those of you who are less interested in milky drinks, the Americano is for you. Made with just espresso and water, this drink is simple and tasty. Just to make it more appealing – it is calorie free!

Cortado – A drink that packs a punch, the cortado is almost a straight shot of espresso. We pull a double shot of espresso, add a dollop of milk and a bit of flavor if you choose, and your three-ounce power drink is ready!

Macchiato – Meaning “marked” or “spotted” in Italian, this traditional espresso drink was created as a way of “stabilizing” an espresso shot. This 2oz drink is an espresso shot topped off with a layer of foamed milk that prevents the shot from oxidizing as quickly.

The list goes on, but knowing your options is a great place to start. And of course, never be shy to ask your barista! Happy ordering!

Kaitlyn Sledge

Vectors Espresso

Eugene, Oregon

Randy Stark

Specialty Grade

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Coffee beans are graded by quality.   Different sources will label grades differently, so for the sake of this blog we will talk about 5 separate grades of beans and how they are typically used.

 The lowest grade we will call Inferior grade beans.  These are leftover buds at the end of the season, or ones that have fallen to the ground.  Inferior grade beans are typically very small, lacking in flavor and of inconsistent quality.  These will mostly be used in a non-commercial setting, such as for medical pharmaceutical purposes.

 Next are Lesser grade and then Production grade. These grades use inexpensive bean sources.  They are dried in large hot air dryers and shipped out quickly.  Roasters roast these in huge batches with a flash roasting technique (about 2 min) and then cool the roasted beans with water.  Again, not much time is spent on them.   Think about large metal cans with ground coffee that keeps you warn when you’re camping.

 The fourth grade will be called Commercial grade coffee.  This is fairly good stuff.  May be hand dried or hot air dried.  May be flash roasted or slow roasted.  Think of your favorite pancake house – good drinkable coffee in most cases.  Think of large chain store coffee places – they want to serve coffee of consistent quality but there isn’t enough of the very best to fill 1,000 stores.

 The top grade is referred to as Specialty grade coffee beans.  These are “first pick” beans, usually the largest in size and the most vine ripened.   These are air dried at the plantation and then shipped to individual roasters.  Roasting of these is typically done in small batches, taking time to slow roast (about 18 min) and then air cooled.   These beans are the most labor intensive throughout the entire process, and thus cost more money.  

 Because of all the careful steps taken to ensure quality beans in places that use Specialty grade coffee, it is important that it is used by well-trained baristas who don’t “mess it all up” in the final steps of getting you a great drink.

 The more you know, the more you enjoy.  Enjoy!

 

Randy Stark

Vectors Espresso

Eugene Oregon

“Kenya Coffee” is the Best

About once a week some customer tells me they had some coffee from somewhere and it was the best ever. For this blog, we’ll call that “Kenya coffee.” I usually just smile and agree that Kenyan puts out some excellent coffee.

Of course, the opposite also happens – customer tells me that drank some Ethiopian coffee and it was garbage. I usually smile and say that there is some harsh stuff coming out of Ethiopia these days.

You saw this coming: the names of the places are totally interchangeable. Kenya puts out some totally top end coffee, and Kenya puts out some really low-grade stuff. So does Ethiopia. So does Peru, Columbia … everyone!

Every plantation grows coffee beans of varying quality. The beans are sorted and sold are varying prices related to their quality. If you get cheap beans from somewhere, they won’t be as good as quality beans from somewhere else. Yes, different locales tend to have flavor distinctions, but many people want to lump everything together and compare tastes without knowing what grade of coffee they are experiencing.

So I just don’t put too much concern into statements like, “Kenya coffee is the best”. What I hear is, “I drank some high grade coffee from Kenya and I liked it”.

So don’t judge a region too quickly. There is a lot of processing that happens to coffee beans between the plant and your cup. Don’t blame a whole region just because someone doesn’t care enough to do their best.

When I drink top grade coffee from different regions, my reactions typically aren’t that one is better than another, it’s that they are all good with some different interesting flavor signatures.

Drink good coffee. Compare and enjoy!

Randy Stark
Vectors Espresso
Eugene Oregon

Handcrafted Espresso

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There is a difference between handcrafted espresso and espresso made with an automatic machine.  Although automatic machines can extract quickly and efficiently, they are the kiss o death to truly great espresso.  The very best espresso will always be done by hand by a knowledgeable barista…

 

Around 2009, Starbucks swapped out their hand pull machines for automatic machines.  These same types of machines are in the McDonalds that serve espresso drinks.  Most of the coffee huts still use hand pull machines (the automatic machines are not cheap).  I don’t know of any quality sit-down coffee house that uses the automatic machines. As a consumer, the easiest way to tell what you’re getting is to look at the top of the espresso machine: an automatic espresso machine will have coffee beans on the top of it.

 

Here are the pluses of the automatic machines:  they are an all-in-one machine, which grinds the beans, doses the shot and pulls the shot.  It is easy for these machines to do either a single shot, or a double or a triple.  Basically the barista pushes a button and “magic” happens inside the machine.   The best upside of the automatic machines is there are typically no terrible shots.  A well maintained automatic machine will usually do far better than a bad barista.

 

Here are the pluses to handcrafted espresso: a real person grinds the beans, doses and packs the portafilter and extracts the espresso.  A good barista watches every shot and is always asking what can be done to maximize the quality of the shot.   Many adjustments are made during any shift.  A little more here, a little longer there, etc.  In the hands of a bad barista, a hand pull machine may pull  bad shots (sour, bitter, burnt), but in the hands of a well trained barista, the hand pull machine will extract the best espresso possible given the beans on hand.

 

If we made a graph, the automatic machine would have shots in the fair to middle range, while hand pull shots would have a much greater range between possibly very nasty to exceptionally marvelous.  See, it depends on the quality of the barista.   If you own 700 coffeehouses, you probably want to take the barista out of the equation.  But an informed barista at a quality shop will outshine the automatic every time.

 

Randy Stark

Vectors Espresso

Eugene, Oregon

Hearing a Good Latte

baby

 

Hearing?  Did he say hearing?

 

Yes, you can hear a good latte.  Well, actually you can hear all the parts that make up a good latte.

 

A great latte is simply a wonderful shot of espresso mixed with some well steamed and frothed milk.  You can listen for each part while your barista prepares your drink.

 

A good shot is freshly ground and well extracted after you order your drink.   Weaker coffee places will grind up coffee beans ahead of time to quicken production.  Grinding ahead is a bad practice so hearing the grinder go for your drink is the first place to listen for a quality latte (No grinder sound for you, no fresh espresso).

 

Espresso extraction is the next place to listen for quality.  Good coffeehouses and good baristas will vary how long an espresso shot is extracted, but the industry standard is between 20 and 30 seconds.  You can hear the water pump engage during your shot extraction.  I automatically start counting when I get drinks in other places.  Cheap huts often pull very fast shots (say 12 seconds) – this tends to lead to sour under-flavored espresso.  So listen while your shot is being made – also watch to see if the barista is keeping on eye on your shot.

 

Oh my god, no!  Yes, a few bad places actually pull shots ahead of time – this is a terrible practice because espresso deteriorates so quickly.  If you don’t hear the espresso machine engage for you and they hand you a drink in 20 seconds, then you should find a new coffee place.

 

Lastly, listen while the barista prepares your milk.  You should hear a bit of frothing (air insertion) at the beginning and then hear the gentle swirling sound as the milk rises to the proper temperature.  Don’t hear any frothing?  (Bad)  Is it screaming like a jet plane landing?   (Bad)   Again, watch the barista … do they just set the pitcher on the milk tray and leave it alone to steam? (Bad)

 

New employees at Vectors Espresso are always amazed that I can tell how well they are doing even when I am in the back room.  I am constantly monitoring them with my ears.  You can too.   Ask for a demonstration and I can help you learn to “hear a good latte.”

 

Watch, listen, enjoy!

 

 

 

Randy Stark

Vectors Espresso

Eugene, Oregon