I recently met with the roaster from Pearl Coffee. She is starting her coffee business as a home roaster and looking to expand. I was excited to meet with someone else in a similar stage of business development. She had some very good points regarding her coffee, many of which I agreed with and some I did not.
One of the topics was how dark to roast. The coffee shop where we met had roasted their coffee to the dark side of medium. It was a blend though, so that made sense to me (roast helps consistency in the cup). She thought it was roasted slightly too dark, making it bitter. This made me think about the different roasts out there. Starbucks vs. specialty light roasts and all the spectrums in between.
Here is my opinion on darker roasted coffee. Coffee is roasted darker to cover poor quality. I know this is not true 100% of the time. I think Pete’s Coffee drinkers will riot if they read this. Here is why I think this: as you roast darker, the heat kills off the subtitles of the coffee, leaving the roast as the prominent flavor. Folgers and other low quality coffee use Robusta (known for tasting terrible) to bulk up their coffee, then they roast the crap out of it so you can’t taste the difference. In the finer coffees, Starbucks has to produce so much coffee at a consistent level that is impossible to maintain, unless they roast the coffee to a certain level. They don’t roast it to kill the flavors, just enough to keep you from tasting some of the lower quality beans (not bad beans, just lower quality, maybe from a lower altitude where they can get more volume but lose some quality). This leaves you with a good cup with a lot of body and just enough differentiation to sell in different bags.
The point of roasting dark is to taste the roast, not the coffee. That is not a bad thing. I don’t eat raw meat so I can taste the TRUE flavor. I like the flavor cooking ads. But I also know not to cook a flank steak like a fillet Mignon. Everything has a place where it can thrive.
Now, on the lighter side, all I have to say is: tomato coffee. Does that sound good? It doesn’t to me, but that is what was sold to me at a specialty coffee shop. In my opinion, it tasted like tomato because it was still green. That was way too light for me. Some people like it, it just wasn’t for me.
I tend to believe in the pendulum theory that the best result is generally in between the two extremes. A medium roast adds more body which typical Americans tend to favor. You don’t kill off all the nuance flavors from single origin coffee. Blends can be roasted to a consistent level so cups aren’t confusing when you drink it. It’s a range, just like light and dark roasts are, but I think this is where we get the best coffee.