This year, for the retreat I was station instructor for two courses; Can You Taste The Roast System, instructed by Anne Cooper and Roasting Styles Exploration, instructed by Neal Wilson.
Both lectures were great and very informative and even complimentary of each other. It was also pretty cool to see that both instructors supported each other by being station instructors for the other. This also helped with the continuity of concepts both classes shared.
Can You Taste The Roast System
You’ll often hear that different roast machines have such a unique way of roasting the coffee, that they impart flavor to the beans in a unique and detectable way. So Anne, working along with Rob Hoos have put that to the test in the most scientific way they can; by roasting coffee in different machines, to the same roasting profile, then having as many people as possible blindly cup the coffees. By doing this at various retreats, expos, etc, they can expose the experiment to eventually thousands of tasters and greatly increase their dataset, which will increase the accuracy of the dataset.
The results may or may not be surprising to you, depending on which side of the argument you fall on. I was surprised, as I thought a roasting machine had more impact on the flavor of the coffee. But after seeing the results (a vast majority of tasters can not blindly tell the difference), things made more sense; if, for example a given pizza oven is able to impart a unique flavor on the pizza, all the major pizza makers would have that one oven. The same for coffee roasting; if a given roasting machine is able to impart a unique flavor, we’d see—at least I assume we would see—a huge concentration of only one manufacturer.
This also bodes well for those who design and build their own machines. Seemingly if they can get the basics down, they’re more than halfway there!
You can hear Anne’s story from Anne herself:
Roasting Styles Exploration
In this class, Neal walked us through one way to find the desired roasting profile for a given coffee by rapidly taking samples of the coffee through the roast development phase.
The goal is to standardize the roast profile up to first crack, as very little of the sensorial attributes are thought to be developed in those phases, but to rapidly slice the roast development phase to find the optimum (or desired) development time for a coffee.
He also has a set of videos on YouTube showing how he does it:
For both classes, I’ve simplified things for this post, obviously. Both classes were packed full of useful information and learning points, which is exactly what these retreats are all about.
This year’s challenge
The focus for this years challenge was water composition and its effect on coffee flavor. There was a lecture in which everyone tasted the exact same coffee brewed the exact same way, but by using water of differing compositions. This allowed us to taste a coffee brewed with a very hard water (high mineral content) as opposed to a very soft water. Water experts have found that water for a given region often has a specific character and because of that, cafes should test and possibly treat their water, not only to improve the coffee flavor, but also to save their machines from mineral build-up.
The roasting tent was great, as usual. The number of machines available to play with is always one of the key draws for me. I always try to get my hands on a machine I’ve never used and this year it was a machine from Mill City Roasters. You can see all of my pictures from the tent, as well as the retreat on my Flickr page.
Last but not least; at this retreat I started a new feature for my YouTube channel and that is interviews. I interviewed two people; Mary Halbrooks and Neal Wilson. Each interview is short but sweet and packed with good information. I had a good time with these and plan to do more as opportunities present themselves.