Intelligentsia Coffee, Roasters Choice August 0813/08/2008
We live and breathe our lives within 15 minute time frames here at Intelligentsia. This probably doesn’t make sense at the start, so let me explain it in the context of a day in the life of an Intelligentsia Roaster, some of it personal and some of it general.
5:00am: The alarm goes off.
5:15am: The alarm goes off again.
5:30am: I have finished showering and am now brushing my teeth in front of the mirror battling the nagging, angry inner voice that’s screaming at me to “get back into bed, life should not be like this, you deserve better, you are a good person!” (I don’t care who you are; there is no happiness at 5am.)
5.45am: The breakfast of champions (Wheat-a-Bix), followed by a kiss for the wife. She then says: “I told you not to wake me this early in the morning!” (See, there really is NO happiness at 5am.)
6:00am: After a short drive to the Los Angeles Roasting Works listening to inspirational CD’s by that guy (You know that tall, larger than life American with the big teeth? With the slick hair? The one who graced all the TV infomercials at 3am back home in Australia, what’s his name?), I get the roaster’s drum spinning by turning on the power board and twisting a few knobs. I then fire her up by pressing and holding down an oversized button for about 15 seconds until the starter light ignites. I then move to the front of the roaster where I pull on the throttle and listen for the micro-explosion as gas turns to flame.
6:15am: I weigh out some batches of green coffee to add to what’s been kindly weighed by the other roaster from the night before. A quick check of the environmental temperature of the roaster as she reluctantly tries to absorb the flame’s heat and I apply more to get the roaster settled in between 150 and 175 degrees C.
6:30am: Next comes a calibration of our Agtron, which is a spectrometer that measures the decomposition of organic matter, more specifically quinic compounds. Searching for enlightenment I pull that elusive, but not unattainable, god in a shot, and I drink some espresso chased down with a wet cappuccino or “flat white”, as we Australians call it. I then charge the first roast for the day, usually, what we call an organic flush. We call it this as we have to, by law, clean and flush the roaster with an organic coffee so that the organic coffees thereafter don’t lose their organic integrity. We are then not allowed to sell that first batch of coffee under the organic flag, so we sell it as a straight El Diablo Dark Roast.
Let me break down the next 13 to 15 minutes even further…
Say we are roasting an espresso using a 50 pound batch in our 40kg Gothot roaster. We throw the pre-weighed batch into our grain lift and it rains down the piping to the hopper that is sitting on top of the roaster. We apply heat until the environmental temperature gauge eases past 185°C / 365°F, turn the gas off and when the gauge returns back to 185°C, where we drop the beans into the drum. Then we turn the gas back on so that the float hovers at 2.4 in the glass tubing that is our gas flow meter.
For the first one-and-a-half to two minutes our eyes are diverted to the LED screen that reads in Fahrenheit. It’s attached to our bean probe (a thermostat), which pierces the front wall of the roaster and gives us an accurate temperature reading of the beans during the roast cycle. During this time, the temperature is falling as it adjusts to the beans’ mass, and we are waiting for the right “turn temperature” and time, which is usually around 230°F and 240°F.
Between minutes 2 and 7 and 230-340°F, we prolong the “golden period” where the color of the once-green coffee bean changes from pale yellow to bright orange. We allow the roaster to gently heat the beans and maintain a low minute-to-minute temperature increase. The idea is to develop a solid foundation of sucrose early on in the roast, which will result in the desired sweetness we look for in the cup.
Between 7 and 12 minutes and 240-392°F, the beans start the Maillard reaction, which is the caramelization of simple sugars. At the beginning of this period we start to apply more heat so we can stay ahead of the exothermic reactions. If the environmental temperature stays ahead of the bean temperature, we are less likely to lose the simple sugars that have developed when paralysis of the cellular structure breaks down and first crack occurs.
At first crack, or half-way through first crack, we ease off on the gas and allow the thermal mass of the coffee to carry itself through the rest of the roasting process. We are, in most cases, looking for a fully developed, smooth bean with even color before we drop it onto the cooling tray. We want to see the beans cool within 2 to 4 minutes to prevent even more of those precious simple sugars from disappearing.
This whole process has to happen within 14 to 15 minutes. After this we test the coffee on the Agtron, put it into dedicated lined bins, tag it, and send it to the packaging room. (We repeat this up to 30 times per day.)
9:00am: The second roaster arrives with a well-rested look and coffee in hand, smiling and almost audibly laughing at the dark rings under my eyes.
9:00am – ?????: Oh, we also do some sample roasting, cupping, quality control, accounting, cleaning, lunch (if we’re lucky), organizing and setting up the roast orders for the following day.
????? pm: Get home to the wife, apologize for this morning and eat some dinner. This ritual lasts for two weeks until we flip the roaster schedule and I get to be the smug guy floating in at 9am with coffee in hand. This is the light at the end of that dark 5am tunnel. And such is the glamorous life of an Intelligentsia Roaster.
I now invite you to sample the fruits of our labor. This month’s Roaster’s Choice contains our 2008 Summer Solstice; La Tortuga, Honduras; and Edelweiss Finagro Estate, Tanzania. The Tortuga has very recently arrived at Intelligentsia and is great. The Tanzania is our newest Direct Trade offering and is a result of Geoff Watts’ (Intelligentsia’s Coffee Buyer) many years of work in Africa. Summer Solstice? It tastes like sunshine.
Enjoy and we’ll see you next month.