On Roasting

At its heart, the purpose of roasting coffee is to take the hard, dense, (relatively) flavorless seeds of the coffee cherry and turn them into a source from which you can extract something special. That's it. There are no laws, no boundaries, and no guidelines to roasting coffee other than the end goal of deliciousness. When a pallet of green coffee arrives at the roastery, it doesn't come with an instruction manual or a "how-to" guide, and when the sacks are unloaded and the truck has driven away, all the roaster of the coffee is left with is the question of what to do next…
Depending on the experience and training of the roaster, this question can be incredibly daunting or somewhat easier to answer. I find there is a predictable trajectory that roasters often experience in their journey from beginner to seasoned professional (and every stage in between). In the beginning, the question of what to do next is immense, almost debilitating, as the completely understandable lack of experience inhibits the roaster from knowing the cause and effect of roasting theory and roasting results. As more and more experience is gained (usually through trial and a lot of error) roasters will often feel more comfortable with their equipment and the results they produce. Certain roasts match intended results, there seems to be less and less errors, and it feels as though cause and effect actually do align: one plus one now equals two. Then, there is the next level-up in the game. As the hours of roasting and cupping and roasting and cupping accumulate, more theory is learned and more training undertaken, it becomes plainly clear to the roaster that all is not remotely as it seemed. The more you learn, the more you disprove until a point is reached where not only does one plus one not equal two anymore but you begin to doubt whether the idea of one ever existed, and if you should have ever been looking for two in the first place... This is largely due to the subjective nature of any culinary product, but it can often make the roaster feel as though they are back where they started, and the question of “now what?” becomes daunting again not from being under-informed but from being over-informed.
Over the past few years at Mano a Mano I have trained with a number of reputable coffee roasters (Scott Rao, Sang-Ho Park, Peter Wolff), and I have found that not only is there no one way to roast coffee with delicious results, but there is also no advantage in looking for it. Flavour is subjective, and this is what makes it so exciting to work with a product as complex as specialty coffee. Because there are no rules, it becomes possible to roast coffee that is delicious in any number of ways, which allows us to leave behind the notion of “good” or “bad” roasting and the idea of prescribed “roasting styles”. Quality occurs on a spectrum, but just as with light, no one colour is more colourful than another, because it is the shade of the colour that is most important. When roasting, it is crucial that you roast to your desired style, make it as vibrant and pronounced as possible. By doing this, you achieve not only deliciousness, but belief and pride in what you produce.
At Mano a Mano Coffee, we have had this as our ""roasting style" since day one. It is written in our mission statement for everyone to see: “We roast in small batches to express terroir, botanical variety, geography, and the individual producer's impressions”. This is what we are proud to produce. We don't roast "filter" or "espresso" coffee, we roast every coffee to maximum sweetness, highest quality of acidity, with as little roast character as possible across all brew methods. This is what we believe takes coffee from the hard, dense, (relatively) flavourless seeds of the coffee cherry and turns them into a source from which you can extract something truly special.

Yours truly,

Seb Huigens,
Mano a Mano Coffee.

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