Talk About Roasting – Gary Theisen, Revel Coffee Roasters 


I was so jazzed when I got the email from Gary Theisen at Revel Coffee Roasters in Billings, Montana that he had received a 95 point score from Coffee Review for his roast of the Guatemala Acatenango Gesha from Shrub. I knew it was a beautiful coffee, but I’m a staunch believer that these coffees have to be actualized. Gary was one of our very first regular Shrub customers, so I was so grateful that he was kind enough to send me his roast of this coffee along with a roast the Ethiopia DP Yirga Cheffe Konga. Both roasts completely blew me away, seriously, especially his roast of the Konga which was so sweet forward and balanced. It was easily the best roast of a dry processed coffee that I had had in a good long while. Naturally (apologies) I wanted to talk to Gary about roasting

CS: What got you into roasting?

GT: I started my coffee journey, albeit at the time with copious amounts of cream and sugar, when I was 2-3 years old. I had asthma growing up and coffee can function as a bronchodilator; so my parents often indulged the 5 year old who ordered coffee at restaurants partly because of the reaction he got from the waitresses. Given my proclivity to coffee, my first job was naturally at a local coffee roastery/deli. I didn’t even know you could roast coffee at home until an elderly man came in asking for green coffee to roast on his popcorn popper. It wasn’t long before I had to give it a try – which I did in my parent’s oven while they were gone. After flooding the house with smoke I invested in a popcorn popper. Though it was a popper with minimal control, the coffee was still noticeably better than anything I ever had. So it started with a desire for better tasting coffee and it became a hobby/craft. I tend to be drawn to solitary crafts – like roasting and golf – they are similar in learning and practicing a craft through trial and error while assessing the results. Nothing better than nailing a sweet roast/tee-shot. 🙂

CS: What roasting equipment have you used?

GT: A baking pan, various popcorn poppers, Freshroast, HottopBehmor, a custom made 1kg electric drum roaster, 15kg Diedrich, 2kg Coffee-Tech and 10kg R.A. Victory.

CS: You sent me the Ethio Konga DP, what was your approach to roasting this coffee?

GT: On the 10 kilo gas roaster, the larger differences are a bit lower charge temp and I tend to sneak up on first crack as it can progress rather quickly in the roaster. A nice vigorous first is good as long as the temp is reduced – I want to draw out first crack to develop the sugars a little more and introduce a bit of balance to the cup.

CS: You also sent me the Guat Acatenango Gesha, did you use a similar approach to this coffee, if not, what was your approach?

GT: I roast this coffee on the 2kg electric. My 2kg is a positive pressure electric drum roaster, which is completely opposite of the 10kg and requires a different approach. For this coffee – I let it coast. I like to hit first crack at the ten minute mark and I shut off the elements. The residual heat in the elements gets the first crack going and maintains the Maillard. I want first crack to complete within three minutes to maintain some snappiness while developing some more mature sugared notes in the cup.

Positive PressurePositive Pressure

CS: How have your customers or others reacted to these coffees?

GT: Selling a coffee like the Gesha has its challenges in Billings Montana – primarily due to the higher price point. Locally, the customers with more experienced palates tended to appreciate the Gesha’s intricate complexity; while less experienced drinkers found it ‘interesting’. Most of the Gesha has gone abroad – especially after the 95 point review it received – the reaction there has been amazing.

For the Konga, I like to keep a decent variety of coffees available; it fits my ‘fruited’ category nicely. I love showing customers new to the specialty coffee world just how dynamically different coffee can be. If you’ve been in coffee for a while, it’s easy to assume that everyone knows what different countries/varietals/processes tastes like, but there are still a great many that do not know that coffee can be super sweet and fruity. So it’s fun to see the intrigue a coffee like the Konga can elicit.

I’m curious, since you may have had the opportunity to try multiple approaches to the coffees from different roasters, if the coffees are capable of better-different flavor/development? I know it’s kind of subjective, but I always like to hear from people familiar with the coffee to see how it was treated differently with different/better results. Like the konga for instance to me is a coffee that you can do a tons of different things with.

CS – The Konga and other really well prepped dry processed coffees do have a pretty wide range of what you can get out of them, from really bright fruit, to little more developed fruit, and then some cocoa and honey sweetness like yours. One of the common misconceptions is if you roast it to where that cocoa sweetness is then you’ll lose the fruitiness. If it’s handled well though it should still be laced with the cocoa and honey like in your roast. The problem with really pushing the super bright fruit in a dry processed coffee is that the sweetness isn’t really there yet, so it becomes this really overwhelming and sometimes yogurt-like fruit, almost tasting like an actual ferment defect or just being plain overwhelming in the cup.

I personally feel like it’s really important to give that coffee some balance through roast development. I do feel that you can make the fruit pop and have not as much cocoa without the fruit being cloying, but that profile is all about the fruit and not the complex sweetness that this coffee is loaded with. Stretching a bit of the drying stage, but then really pushing into a vigorous 1st crack and letting it really roll before cutting back is probably the best way to do that.

GT – My goal for the gesha was to balance out some of the screaming floral/citrus with more mature sugars to remind me it’s a coffee and not a tea – but I was wondering if you had something lighter that wasn’t overwhelmingly tart and lacking. You mentioned it wasn’t too light, in the coffeereview article they mentioned that as well as there were 3 other geshas submitted but he said they weren’t developed enough. I’ve never tasted anyone else’s geshas but ones I’ve roasted, but I assume the temptation is to accentuate all of the floral teas and nothing else?

CS – For the gesha, I really appreciate your development of this coffee, as it appears Coffee Review does too! I definitely think that you achieved your goal of balance with this roast. It is most common for those coffees to be under roasted, mostly because people are afraid to cover up the floral elements, which is fair. But I also feel like part of it is chasing that citrus and tea-like character. I feel like that citrus is best when it’s mandarin orange-like rather than just lemony. In general I feel like a lot of folks confuse citric acid with the “fruitiness” in a coffee and then take too light of a hand with them. Developing the sugars while at the same time reducing the harsher acids cuts down the sharpness of the acid and brings out the sweeter fruit, more like peaches, cherries and stone fruits rather than a more citrus forward fruit.

I honestly feel like this gesha from Acatenango has a little more presence though than the Panama geshas that we’re all a little more familiar with, and that the citrus is more red berry, which actually lends itself to a little more roast development. I’ve had some really lovely lighter, tea-like roasts of this coffee, but your roast really made me appreciate how it could have a little more sugar development and not lose the floral characteristics that were still plenty present through the finish. A good deal of gesha coffees do lose that floral character with more development and become more malty and orange-like, but this was sweet candied cherry all the way through with the floral finish, and definitely a coffee, not a tea!

Check out this video of Gary doing his thing in Billings, MT