Roasting coffee is a
subject that inspires endless debate, but really isn't all that
difficult to do. What is hard is explaining to customers who ask for
a French, Italian or Vienna roast that "there really ain't no such
All these roast descriptions were invented by
American marketers to more or less describe particularly dark roast
levels. The actual meaning of the descriptions reverses when you
move between the East and West coasts of the USA, and in any case
the roasts are FAR darker than you get in Italy, Austria and
Then we get the more recently invented descriptions,
stuff like "City" and "Full City" roasts. These were invented by
George Howell, who founded "The Coffee Connection" chain in Boston
and subsequently sold it to Starbucks for US$23 million. Originally
Full City wasn't a particularly dark roast, but Starbucks have made
it a term for a charcoal roast.
Coffee starts out as hard
little green beans. During the first stage of roasting, water is
driven out and the coffee bean "pops", just like popcorn, and
doubles in size. This is first crack, and at this stage the bean is
a light, cinnamon brown colour, with floral and acidy flavours
As roasting continues the beans expand
slightly more and become a rich, deep brown. They reach a point
where they start to give little crackling pops again, and some oil
(and lots of smoke) appear. This is second crack, and just at this
point is usually where body, acid and flavour are at their best
balance. This was George Howell's original Full City roast. Of
course, some beans don't have much acidity, some don't have much
body, so not all coffees are perfect at this roast.
roasting drives off the acid, brings out the oil and lets body
predominate. Sugars in the beans caramelise, and oil coats the
surface of the beans. Second crack is the most difficult part of the
roast to handle, because a few seconds more or less roast at this
point can make big differences to final coffee taste.
this point carbonisation sets in, all varietal character disappears
and body and charcoal tastes reach a maximum. This is the sort of
thing called Italian, French and Vienna roast, or the "Full City"
espresso roast by Starbucks. In my personal opinion, it's not a nice
thing to do to a specialty grade coffee.
There is actually an
official system of roast colour measurement, called the Agtron
system, but few consumers are aware of it, so the confusion in roast
names will be around for a long time yet!
special is just a lovely coffee, with a beautiful smooth taste. It's
also one of the best certified (by Natureland) organic coffees I've
Organic Peru Villa Rica
A "Second Crack"
roast gives a smooth, rich flavour with balanced acidity and a hint
of smoke in the aftertaste. Best for filter and plunger brewing, or
milk based espressos.
In other news, Bodum has taken over all
distribution of their products in Australia, but have yet to import
all the necessary stock. There will probably be a couple of weeks
wait for the next lot of syphons, but when they arrive they'll come
with (finally!) a funnel stand in the box. They'll also be more
expensive, but prices are not yet finalized.
The latest Imat
and Rancilio shipments have arrived and are awaiting Customs
clearance as I type. I expect to be back up to full espresso stocks
by mid next week, for the first time in exactly 12 months. Again,
prices will be up on the website as soon as I get them, since the
Imat II machines will be a bit more expensive than the 1's. Due to
the remarkable stability of the Euro vs. the Aust. Dollar there will
be no change in the Rancilio prices.
There WILL be increases
in both postage and local courier charges next month, but neither
Australia Post nor Fastway can tell me how much. As always, I'll try
to keep the actual costs of getting the coffees to you to a
Finally, following a whole lot of fairly nasty
emails from people who didn't like me criticising the "Choice"
Domestic Espresso Machine Review, and then seeing almost the same
lack of rigour in a recent "Crema" magazine, I've done a new
Coffeegeek article on "How to Review Domestic Espresso
Hopefully some of the people who are doing this
sort of thing will read it before they go into publication next