Talking About Roasting: Darren Smith


Darren Smith from Sumas Mountain Coffee Co. and I have been exchanging some thoughts about roast levels, roast logs, and one of the shrub coffees that he recently picked up from us. We thought it’d be golden to share some of this ongoing conversation with you. Darren was kind enough to send me his roast of the Colombia Cauca – Portilla-Camayo that we recently had up.

Here are my notes on the roast.

Fragrance: toast, cocoa, graham

Aroma: toast, rum, cocoa

Cup: sweet forward, balanced, black cherry note, slight toasted roast in finish, really great as a brewed coffee. for the roast note in the cup, it’s got a surprisingly persistent brightness that crescendos as it cools and starts to dominate the finish. might still back off just a hair from the roast but not really necessary if that’s what your customers like. The brewed cup is really nice, more cocoa but the cherry is still prominent as well. Brews up great in the clever and drip brewer. it’s really really sweet and balanced. win

Darren’s roast of the Colombia Cauca
Darren’s roast of the Colombia Cauca

Coffee Shrub: Darrin, what are your thoughts on this coffee?

Darren Smith: I think that’s exactly how I would have described it. Its still a bit bright for my crowd but I think just the right amount of roast takes the focus off the acidity without losing unique flavor. I tried your profile a few times and made a few mods. I really liked the results.

CS: Why did you choose this coffee?

DS: I didn’t choose it for any particular reason other than I hadn’t purchased a Colombian coffee in a while and they were always stellar from shrub in the past. You have to try the Colombia roasted different ways. It changes dramatically in taste every way I roast it. It’s actually nice in a way because I’m getting a better idea about how the roasting profiles effect the flavour. I am kind of playing around with first crack and development time as well as the visual aspect regarding color of the bean. I think I will play around with the drying phase next just to see what I can do there. One weird thing is when I even slightly slow down first crack I get a bit of a woody taste. If I push through first crack it disappears but I have a hard time controlling the roast into the development phase and I tend to roast a bit too dark.

CS: What do you roast on and what was your approach to the roast?

DS: I roast on a Deidrich IR3. As a result of the small capacity I roast more often than i would like, but on the up side I can play around with different profiles more frequently. I found this coffee to have a pronounced Malic acidity on the first roast and I wanted to see if I could add some sweetness without taking the roast too dark. What was interesting about this coffee was the pronounced change in characteristics from one profile to the next. In the end the profile I liked the best was: charge temp 330, drying phase a little longer than usual at 10 min for first crack, no reduction of gas through first crack and drop at 12:15 at 416 degrees.

CS: The bag noted that this was a medium roast, though there was noticeable roast notes in the fragrance and aroma, though they were definitely well balanced in the cup. How do you classify a Medium roast and where is the line between Medium and Dark? Medium and Light?

DS: I classify medium roast to be in the area of 408 to 420 drop temp. Dark to be anything after 2nd crack or 424. Light would be under 408 or so.

CS: Is your roasting style in-line with the other roasters in your area? If not, how is it different?

DS: My roast style is quite a bit lighter than others in my area but not as light as some roasters are going. I tend to keep as much acidity in the coffee as I can without freaking out my customers. It’s a balance between the black coffee drinkers and the cream and sugar crowd. I am slowly converting them though. I was wondering what effect different drop temps have on flavour? Another roaster I know always starts his roasts around 400 and I usually am around 350.

CS: Drop temp can effect the cup in a couple ways, its all relative to what the charge weight is, what he energy input is, and how airflow effects and is adjusted. The main thing to keep in mind is that you want a dramatic drop and a dramatic rise. A higher temp can sometimes result in a less dramatic rise if the gas is turned on too soon (usually leave it low until it bottoms out). Starting with higher temp could mean that you’d be able to use less energy at the turn. All of this of course is all relative to the roaster too.

DS: At what time does ‘development’ take place. Is it after first crack or when first crack ends until drop?

CS: This is actually one of my pet peeves in roasting lingo. Development happens throughout the entire roast, but generally when people refer to “development” they’re usually talking about the time once 1st Crack starts and through to the end of the roast. What’s really happening at this stage besides the expansion of cells and the release of moisture is the beginning of caramelization. I feel like when people refer to this stage as “development” they neglect that there are other times in the roast that will affect the cup as well as they tend to over-extend this specific stage because they think they are developing the roast.

DS: That’s funny. I saw it on a roast log and I was wondering what it meant. I made a worksheet but it didn’t work at all so I had to re-do it. What I am trying to do is record what I have done in a roast so that I can repeat the things that work well. The worksheet that I am going to make will work with my roaster and roasting style. I am going to log the time, temp, airflow, gas, and rates or rise of each section of the roasting process. I am going to change the few variables I have of each roast to determine what kind if impact they have on the end result, if any. I have been so busy trying to run a shop that I have neglected to really focus on roasting as much as I would like.

CS: What has been your biggest challenge in learning to roast?

DS: My biggest challenge has been finding practical educational resources. There is nothing in Canada and limited courses in the US. I became a Q grader which has helped me identify quality green but have not taken any formal roaster training. I think a great course would have you roasting on multiple different roasters, sample roasters, and breaking down and evaluating every variable in the roasting process. I would say a week long roasting, cupping marathon. If you aren’t crying by the end of it you didn’t work hard enough. Lol. In my case it has been hard to be a one man show. I am the green coffee buyer, roaster, shop manager, barista, graphic designer and Internet programmer. It’s not like I go to work and just roast.

CS: Darrin, what have your customers’ reaction to this coffee been like?

They really liked it. It was a real crowd pleaser.

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