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