Fundamentals: Roasting Guatemalas and Washed Central American Coffees

by Chris Schooley,


High grown washed Central American coffees are practically the control coffee when it comes to roasting, the coffees that roast just like they should. They take the heat up front, change color evenly, charge into 1st Crack with gusto and with a definitive finish. On top of all that, they are perhaps the most versatile as far as roast level and roast development, with a plenty of exciting and intensely sweet characteristics expressed from City to Full City+. They also have a lot of room to move the characteristics across the palate and create a 3 dimensional profile.

The number one fundamental of washed Centrals in my mind is sweetness and the way that you can present the whole range of development of that sweetness. Some washed South American coffees also share this trait and you can include them here, especially Colombians. African coffees often have the vibrant and exotic fruit and floral attributes, and Indonesian and Pulped Natural coffees have the more rustic type of sweetness, but when properly roasted, it’s washed Centrals that are deeply and expressively sweet in a truly remarkable way.

Lighter roasts without that much sugar development show more of the malty sweetness, which also expresses itself as graham cracker or wafer cookie. Developing the roast a touch more moves into an intense candy-like sweetness, followed by the more fruited sweetness like that found in cherries and other stone fruits, unique citric and malic fruit tones. Continuing to develop the roast leads to flavors of fruit-infused chocolate, with mild bitterness from caramelization.

This is the sweetness development path of most coffees, but I feel like washed Centrals showcase this development in the clearest possible way. And of course they can be floral and more exotic fruit too depending on the coffee, but it is this sweetness that is integral and can be counted on for most of the higher grown offers.

The other side of that coin is balance. If this is your goal, you want to develop the roast so that there is as much balance between the acidity and mouthfeel as possible. That balance best showcases the clarity in a well sorted and processed coffee, which in turn allows the sweetness to be the star of the show. Because the acidity can be so brilliant and crystal clear there is always a temptation to roast the coffee light in order to highlight brightness, but there’s something to be said for sweetness developed in equal measure, even if that means dialing back the acidity just a bit.

In the Stretching out the Roast article and the Cuptoberfest 2013 video I talk about the architecture of a coffee. What I’m referring to is mostly where on the palate you taste/experience the acidity of a coffee. This location has a great impact on how the coffee tastes and feels. If you experience the acidity on the very front of the palate, usually the result of underdevelopment, there is an immediate intensity but then the finish is dry and vapid, not very sweet at all.

If the acidity has been flattened out by over-development then the coffee feels undefined and without architecture. While sweetness may be present in this profile, the lack of any other dimension fails to feature it at its best. My goal with washed Centrals is to develop a roast profile where brightness in only one part of the sum of the coffee’s prime attributes, a cup that’s sweet from front to back, and a range of cup characteristics across the palate providing depth of field.

What’s your approach?

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