How do you take your coffee? Or more to the point, how do you make your coffee? Do you prefer to pull an espresso, brew up a pour over, or make a quick plunger when you’re at home? Maybe you like to brew your beans in all of these ways, or maybe you do something entirely different! No matter your brew method, if you buy your coffee regularly from a specialty coffee roaster, you may have come across terms such as "Filter Roast" or "Espresso Roast". Coffees bearing labels such as these are supposedly roasted to a point where maximum flavour, or tastiness, is achieved when brewed using a specific device or method. So what’s so special about a "Filter Roast" or "Espresso Roast"? What do these terms actually mean, and can you realistically roast for a specific brew device or method?
First, we need to review the basics of coffee roasting, and, if you haven't already, I recommend reading our previous post "On Roasting" for a background on our approach. For the sake of this article, I am going to lump traditional roasting theory into two categories: light, and dark*. The traditional understanding of roast curves, regarding development and flavour, can be summed up like this:
“The lighter I roast the coffee, the more I can taste the positive and negative characteristics of the raw product. The darker I roast the coffee, the more I lose these qualities and everything takes on a distinct ’coffee flavour'."
In the past, most roasters were only concerned with the colour of the whole beans after roasting, the duration of the roast, and its finishing temperature. While we now know that the roasting process is far more complex, this idea of bean colour + duration + temperature has dominated coffee roasting for decades.
Enter the specialty coffee movement. All of a sudden people were talking about coffee in terms of flavour and not simply its capacity for stimulation! Coffee matured from a commodity to a luxury item, and with that, the demand for better, more delicious cups of coffee increased two-fold. Baristas and consumers looking for different, unique ways to brew their coffee quickly rediscovered the filter, plunger, and drip methods, as well as new brew devices such as the AeroPress and Clover. Once manual brewingwas back in vogue, it didn't take long to realise that lighter-roasted coffees were tasting better brewed through these methods than darker-roasted coffees (more on what causes this in the next blog post). And so, the term “Filter Roast” was born and quickly popularised as a way to describe coffees roasted to a lighter degree that perform better when brewed without an espresso machine. While these roasts did express more character, they had one down side: not only did the lighter-roasted coffees display more complexity, more positive attributes of origin, more unique flavours, but they also highlighted defects and faults like tasting baggy if left too long in their jute bags, woody if stored incorrectly, or earthy if processed poorly at origin.
We are by no means suggesting that all roasters who roast 'for' filter or espresso are buying low quality green coffee! This is simply one of the many reasons that darker roasted coffees still exist.** In the past, coffee was meerly seen as a basic commodity, and so there was little consideration for how positive flavour could be imparted through varied roasting practices. People were often more concerned with covering up potentially negative flavours, hence they 'played it safe' by roasting darker. Now coffee is evolving into something more refined, more specialty, we can adopt a different approach to the process of roasting, as the raw materials we now have to work with are so much better across the board. We no longer need to roast beyond the point of maximum deliciousness to hide flaws in our coffees, as the coffees we now have access to are better than they have ever been before! This is why we don't roast for "Espresso" or "Filter" at Mano a Mano Coffee Roasters, we roast for flavour.
Until next time,
Mano a Mano Coffee Roasters.
* While I do believe these terms have become misnomers when applied to modern roasting, I think they aptly describe traditional roasting theory, at least well enough for this brief explanation.
** In part two, we will address roasting specifically for use with milk.