Last Thursday, coffee connoisseurs from various walks of life were treated to an informational session and demonstration at PJ's Maple Street location. The sold out class, led by Roastmaster Felton Jones-a coffee veteran of over two decades, covered everything from geography, trade, and origin to the roasting process itself.
Key takeaways from the talk: the meaning of 'small batch' and 'direct trade,' roasting and flavor profiles, brewing methods, and common myths and misconceptions. Many people ardently (but falsely) believe that dark roasts are inherently more caffeinated than light roast but it's more complex than that. Bean by bean, dark and light roast coffee are nearly identical in caffeine content. This is because the inherent caffeine content of a bean is not altered by the roasting process. What changes is the volume and density of the beans. As coffee is roasted, the beans expand and lose approximately 90% of their water content. When measured by volume, a dark roast coffee will contain larger but fewer beans, resulting in a weaker brew than a light roast measured by volume. When measured by weight, a dark roast coffee will brew stronger than a light roast, since more beans are needed to weigh the same as a light roast.
Naming conventions are another dimension of coffee roasting that can be misleading. For instance, "Italian Roast"—the deep dark smoky roast, is rather arbitrarily named and has nothing to do with Italy or Italian methodology at all.
Although great care is fundamental each step of the way, the roasting process is by far the most important part of coffee production. The raw green coffee bean on its own is virtually flavorless and the chemical reactions that occur during roasting are what releases all the intricacies and facets of flavor, making your cup of joe a cup of goodness.
Jones began the roasting demonstration by directing a bucket of raw beans into the appropriately PJ's purple hued roaster. A volunteer pulled the lever and the machine fired up. One might then assume that the process is entirely automated, but that isn't so. Jones carefully monitored the progress of the beans, periodically probing a sample to evaluate the roasting level. Finally, once the desired temperature was reached, out popped a steaming fragrant heap of perfectly roasted beans.
Attendees reaped the spoils of the roast, sampling the results and taking home a fresh bag of their own. Jones noted that the freshly roasted beans, ground and prepared in a French press, made the coffee overly foamy. He recommended waiting a few days to roast the fresh beans to allow the degassing process to occur. When coffee is roasted, CO2 forms inside the bean and gradually seeps out. Brewing too soon after roasting negatively impacts the flavor of the coffee.
What's at the heart of it all? "It's all about the transformation," said Jones. Mr. Jones is intimately acquainted with the transformative power of coffee, as he frequently travels to the farms adopted by PJ's, overseeing the entire process from harvest to cup.