Coffee Roasting – Getting started.

A few people have emailed me to ask me how I got started roasting and if I wouldn’t mind sharing the resources I’ve used. There’s a lot of really good information written about coffee roasting. Sometimes it can be pretty overwhelming to know what book, blog or paper will be useful to learning. I think that if you like the coffee someone makes then just asking that person what resources they like is a good way to start understanding their own unique style and process. This is therefore not an exhaustive list and the only way to roast coffee. It should not be taken as a prescriptive list of material, just a collection of things that have helped me and I hope will help you too.

A few books that come to mind immediately are as follows.

Scott Rao. The Coffee Roasters Companion. 2014 (link)

 I’ve seen this book on a lot of benches at coffee roasters I’ve been to. I really like this book because it takes some somewhat difficult concepts to understand and distills them down almost into a collection of “rules of thumb”. As a general guideline on where to get started the language and presentation is great. I will say that this book is not without its criticism. The book should not be taken as a list of prescriptive rules. The author makes this point many times throughout the book. I will say that the start of any scientific inquiry is to make and observation and book is filled with decades worth of observation

Rob Hoos. Modulating the Flavor profile of Coffee. 2015 (link)

Rob’s book is an extension on how to manipulate the flavour profile of coffee by altering roast variables. It is still written in a practical manner so it is easy to follow. Hoos also adds his own personal tasting notes in as he changes the profile of coffee. This is a good concept for new roasters to understand because coffee can fundamentally taste very different dependent on many variables within a roast. Planning a batch to have a specific taste and executing the roast to achieve that profile is important for commercial roasting. The book is concise and gets his point across well.

Andrea Illy. Espresso Coffee the Science of Quality. 2005 (link)

This food science textbook is the espresso deep dive. I will preface this with this book is as technical as you can get and reads more like a collection of scientific journal articles. It goes over everything from the plant itself and cultivation, processing methods, roasting, grinding, percolation, storage and the physiological effects of the drink. It is a widely cited text that neatly stiches together a lot of knowledge that had been building to that that point. I still open it and find new perspectives, sources and interesting ideas.

Google scholar is a great place to start getting some more recent work. There are some great professors writing interesting papers in coffee at the moment. Two of my favourites are Loong-Tak Lim and Chahan Yeretzian. Google scholar is a great place to start getting some of their work.

For software to run a roaster I would strongly urge checking out the Artisan open source roasting project. It’s free to setup and use and unless you really want to write your own like some kind of masochist, it’s the best option. The Arduino platform is also an amazing resource for all kinds of hobby electronics projects. Combine that with a 3D printer from Prusa and there’s limit to the projects you can do.

In regards to roasters, I bought mine originally from North City who went on to become Mill City. Mill City have a lot of great resources and even have a YouTube series. This video of theirs should almost be mandatory viewing for anyone looking to get into roasting in my opinion. It's the same advice I was given and it’s served me well. Mill City are an excellent place to get a machine too, offering a lot of after sales support and training. They look at it like they're selling machines to help people set up small businesses, not to turn beans brown.

Personally, I love the machines from Genio. They sell solidly built industrial units and but a lot of work into the engineering of the machines. Neil's blog is also really good reading. My advice is generally conservative, start small, start low cost and work your way up learning as you go. It's a longer, slower process but there's less at stake when you get things wrong.

For a home roaster, something like a Behmor 1600 is a good place to start. There are also cheaper DIY projects to have a look at too. Sweet Maria’s have a tonne of information for the home roaster. I got started because I saw people take apart convection ovens on the internet and thought it would be a good idea to see if I could do that as well. There’s also a sub reddit, r/roasting for more help getting started. 

I hope that some of that information helps anyone who is looking at what I’ve done and wants to try something similar. There’s a lot of very hard work represented in the resources above. I’ve found the books, articles, blogs, videos and projects immensely helpful and I trust you will too