Sunday, January 21, 2007

repeatability is key repeatability is key

so i was discussing on the new texas coffee people blog about a new coffee i received recently, honduras finca las canas, and was discussing the general roasting and cupping routine i observe when i receive a new coffee. my protocols for brown are not earth shattering or original and actually seem somewhat simplistic. but simple is beautiful and so often it is the functional arts that prepare the way for the fine arts. after all, the cistine chapel had to be built by calloused hands and bulging muscles before it could be adorned by meticulous fingers under a gimlet eye.

anyways, as i mentioned over there, receiving a new coffee for me means roasting at least three one pound samples for evaluation over a few days. the first roast is very light, sometimes with quite leprous looking beans, pulled just at or just past the first pop. in my limited experience this is both one of the most difficult roast levels to replicate and one of the most telling of cup quality. jaime was mentioning the release and/or disappearance of (at least the perception of) sugars in the beans through a roast curve and often i feel that this sample roast doesn't actually even fully set the stage for the sweetness of a bean to shine. the vast majority of beans just don't have the moxy to show really impressive stuff here. would that i always had the resources to only source beans that could do best even at light sample roasts. alas, reality is where you are, not necessarily where you want to be or think you will be eventually.

i've blogged about drinking sample roasts before and have posited that while they do have their purposes, it is often more helpful to take a new coffee somewhat past the traditional sample coloring and into the realm that one could conceivably use as a production roast at its earliest colorations. so i do a second roast to this level. if the traditional sample roast is basically to cup defensively vis a vis defects, this second roast is a gambit of sorts--though certainly no hail mary--just to push the boundaries of what might be a publicly acceptable taste. might push the envelope a bit and make some uncomfortable. might open some eyes with a pleased epiphany. or it might still taste immature and unfinished. fall flat. one just never knows when one first receives a new coffee. and that's what this process is all about.

the third roast is much more infield for me. it is a very safe roast progression to a very comfortable feeling roast coloration. generally for me that means i still won't get into second pop--at the least not very far into it. and after a couple three days there may be only a slight few beads of sweat on a few beans. relative to the first two roasts, cupping this third level often seems like sucking on a piece of charcoal, even though the reality is that i'm actually well within the boundaries of what most premium roasters feel comfortable putting into their customers' hands. it's all relative.

and it's all in desperate need of repeatability. that is the key. repitition is the key to success. repetition is the key to success. repetition is the key to success. what is the key to success?

after cupping the three i will usually do a two way cupping leaving the lightest of the three out and trying to settle on a production roast level. typically this is a split the difference between the middle and 'darkest' roasts. after slurping down to the grinds, copious notes and much internal deliberation i might even try to find that agreed upon roast with another go at the roaster. but in any case my goal is to capture and recapture that experience every single time. there may be less than five percent of drinkers out there who would be able to notice a different roast from one bag to the next. but that is the demographic i'm reaching for and so i will continue to hone my skills to move from an educated beginner in the world of roasting to a novice 'pretty good' roaster. master roaster? maybe one day. but that goal is far, far off; and i have many more roasts to go before then, trying to capture sweet essence of the coffee bean and repeat it over and again.


At Tuesday, 23 January, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's posts like this one that made me come to you first with this TXCP idea.

You've got your head in the clouds, and both feet planted firmly on the ground with an elegant description tying it together.

You're the man.

New coffee is exciting. I can't wait to read your update on it.


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