THE ART OF THE COFFEE ROASTER
The green beans bagged on the plantation and purchased by importers have neither flavor nor aroma. But, between the freshly harvested green bean and the plump brown bean ready for the coffee mill a chemical and physical transformation takes place that makes the roaster's role in producing fine coffee as important as that of the grower. Coffee roasters have an immense responsibility. When properly roasted, good beans may turn into fabulous coffee; when improperly roasted, they might as well be thrown away. This is why the top firms always test-roast a sample from each lot of beans before deciding on the definitive roast.
In shops where coffee is roasted by traditional methods like ours, the roasting machines are impressive creatures similar to old--fashioned steam engines, with portholes, pipes, levers, and thermostats. The roasting takes between twelve and twenty minutes, depending on the type of machine, and the beans are heated to a temperature varying between 180 and 250°C. Coffee beans caramelize when they are heated, thereby changing their original color from pale green to brown. They also expand in volume and gradually dehydrate. Toward the end of the process, the essential oils responsible for so many delectable aromas are released.
Although coffee-roasting machines are equipped with portholes through which the roaster may evaluate progress and stop the roasting if necessary, and have probes for extracting samples, skilled roasters work mainly by ear. Coffee beans that have been roasted to a turn begin to "sing": they crackle and splutter. When experienced roasters hear this music, they know it is time to shut off the machine. After they have done so, they open a chute, and the sizzling coffee beans pour down it into a large vat with a ventilating system that cools them instantly.
The coffee roaster's art is infinitely subtle, reflecting individual tastes and preferences. Some roasters claim the beans should not be roasted all the way through, since this would kill their aroma. Differences of opinion abound especially when it comes to the degree of roasting appropriate for the world's great coffee varieties.
The range from
very light to very dark is
full of delicate nuances including all the colors of the official nomenclature:
light, medium, light French (today the most common roast in France),
European (deep brown), French (a
very dark roast which, ironically is increasingly rare in France),
and Italian (almost black). Light roasting
highlights the aroma and diversity of the organic notes in mellow, mild varieties.
This has long been popular in Germany, Scandinavia, and eastern France. Lightly
roasted beans are also used in Turkey and Greece for making "Turkish
/Greek coffee." Longer (i.e. darker) roasting, on the other hand, produces
coffee that is black, strong, caramelized, and sometimes bitter, with more
of the traditional "coffee" taste. Very dark roasts (which tend
to create a better foam for espresso) are the rule in Italy, the north and
south of France, and also-in a version that is even darker and oilier-in Lebanon
and some countries of the Middle East, where the taste is for very strong
Turkish coffee. The difference between light-roasted and dark-roasted coffee
beans is almost as great as the difference between cooked and raw food, or
black tea and green.
The light or golden roasting that gives coffee alight flavor. This way is
more popular in Scandinavia and Greece.
GRINDS AND GRINDERS
The total flavor of a good coffee-its tang, fruitiness and hints of chocolate-as well as its smooth, appealing aroma-will be released in the cup only if the beans are ground immediately before the coffee is brewed.
There is another hard-and-fast rule when
it comes to grinding coffee: different types of coffee pots require different
types of grind (fine, coarse, etc.). The producers of pre-ground coffee
for the mass market are just beginning to realize this, and began to offer
finer grinds for espresso, for example. However, there should really be
at least five types of grind available: extra-fine (like flour) for Turkish
coffee; very fine for espresso; fine for steam-pressure Italian coffee makers
and electric coffee makers using paper filters; medium for traditional coffee
pots, Napoletana coffee pots, and Cona-type vacuum coffee makers; and coarse
for plungertype coffee pots.