Coffee Shrub Cuptoberfest 2013

Last week Coffee Shrub and Sweet Maria’s had the pleasure of hosting another “Cuptoberfest” here in West Oakland. 20 roasters from 5 different roasting companies converged on the warehouse for a group cupping and discussion, led by our own Chris Schooley. The focus was based around his article on stretching out the roast, where he looks at how adding time to different legs of the roast profile affects the flavor in the cup.

To illustrate these ideas, Chris roasted five batches of the same coffee – one perfect and the others with intentional roast defects. The basic idea was to replicate common roasting mistakes of lengthy roasts, fast roasts, baking, and scorching, and then see if these were perceptible in the coffee’s flavor. The results were most stark in scorching and baking, where acrid flavors were produced, and acidity and sweetness flattened. Judging the fast roast against the control required a little more attention to acidity perception and how partially developed sugars ‘fall off’ in the finish.

Their differences in cup profiles were consistent with the article, and it was a great demonstration of the effect we as roasters have on the coffees we roast. When the raw material is good, even a ‘bad’ roast can still taste quite good – as tasted in the demo. Similarly, you can’t roast a bad coffee and make it good. And in the end not all coffees can be approached the same, and it’s helpful to understand the options we have at the level of the roaster itself (roast times, batch size, drop temp, etc) in order to expand our options on the search for an ideal roast profile.

We asked participants to bring in roasts of their own and spent the final part of the day cupping these submissions. After everyone had an opportunity to taste the coffees, the roasters took turns explaining how they approached their coffees’ roast profiles. The spectrum of methods was broad, from minimal roaster adjustments to many, not only emphasizing the artisanal nature of coffee roasting, but the rather large margin for errors to be made. The level of openness on the part of roasters was valuable to us and some folks were very frank about the challenges they have with particular coffees and roasters. It’s one thing to show your best coffee, but an entirely different level of candidness goes into bringing in a roast that you found to be problematic – and if we’re lucky, we learn something entirely new altogether.

All in all it was a great opportunity for folks to come together, taste some coffees, and discuss our successes and failures with our respective roasting techniques. A big thanks to all of the kind folks who participated and we look forward to sharing our cupping table with you again next October!

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