Use All Five Senses To Determine Degree of Roast

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This is the most important aspect of home roasting to master.  The roasted coffee you buy from the store or your local coffee shop has been roasted on commercial equipment that does provide certain advantages in roasting coffee to a particular level.  However, the main drawbacks are they may roast too dark (in most cases) or not dark enough (in very few cases), and the selection of coffee available to you is limited.  By honing your skills and knowledge you can create roasts that are every bit as good as those from your local shop or store.

Using Sight to Determine Degree of Roast

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Color is just one of the ways to determine degree of roast. By itself, it is of limited use. When complemented by the audible cues (first and second crack) and the aromas of the roast process, it is extremely informative . Here is a You Tube video showing the color changes that occur during roasting -

 

Stretchin' Out the Roast pt. 2

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 In part 1 of Stretchin' Out the Roast we looked at the effect of stretching out the time and development between 1st and 2nd crack during the roast. The greatest effect was on the perceived acidity and the type of sweetness in the cup from malt to candy, then fruit and  into bittersweet-cocoa-type sweetness. In this article we look at the effect of stretching out the 1st crack itself and how that changes the sweetness, body, and acidity in the finished roast.

Stretchin' Out the Roast: Part 1

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This article details one method to determine an ideal roast for a coffee;  in four roast experiments, the time between the end of 1st crack and the beginning of 2nd crack is lengthened, and the roast stopped at the same point each time.  Then by tasting and comparing the results, I arrive at some conclusions about what roast brings out the characteristics of the coffee I enjoy more.  Other articles will cover the effect of stretching other segments of the roast.

Using Sound to Determine Degree of Roast

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Audio cues are very important in determining degree of roast; it is a good indication of the chemical changes happening internally in the coffee bean. Learning to determine the difference between first crack and second crack is important.

Using Taste to Determine Degree of Roast

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No other sense is as important in determining roast level as the flavor.  The problem is that you can’t brew your coffee until it’s done roasting. Some folks can actually tell quite a bit about roast level by crunching a roasted bean between their teeth and eating it, but the most important information about your roast results must be tasted by brewing your coffee. Rest your coffee for 24-48 hours after roasting before making any judgment about your roast level.

Using Touch to Determine Degree of Roast

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You can not touch the beans and feel the texture - but that texture can tell you much about the level to which it was roasted.  Light roasts (City and City+) will have a bumpy texture and unevenness that you can actually feel.  Darker roasts (Full City and Full City+) will have a smoother texture and even quality.  Very dark roasts (Vienna and French) will have an oily surface that you can detect by touch.

Using Smell to Determine Degree of Roast

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There are subtle aroma shifts that occur as coffee is roasted and you will quickly become aware of the noticeable differences. At lighter roast levels you can detect delicate aromas as steam escapes the bean, but as you go darker this steam turns to smoke as you begin to incinerate the sugars and volatile organic compounds locked inside.  

Here are differences in aroma you’ll notice while roasting:

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