Let’s Talk About Roasting

This is a post about how to talk about coffee roasts. It isn’t a post about how to roast coffee (although there’s some nuggets in there).

As I was typing up a post about extraction evenness in regards to roasting (which I promise I will get to soon), I realised that the language we use to describe roasting is terribly inconsistent. I was constantly interrupting myself to add notes about why I used particular words and how I believe things work. It was also suffering from diplomacy. So please let me avoid any interruption or tongue-holding and get straight to the point.

[disclaimer] These are my opinions and I have no doubt many coffee professionals will disagree with a lot of it. I’m not trying to be negative or insulting. Please read this how I wrote it; with a neutral, friendly tone that’s aiming to help, not hinder.

Roasting is incredibly complex, but there’s 3 main sliding scales that we can use to describe a roast no matter how it went down.

Dark to Light.

Overdeveloped to Underdeveloped.

End Speed:
Baked to Stalled.

Every roast sits somewhere between these 6 extremes. Upon drinking a coffee you can usually identify where it sits on those three scales. Each of them has obvious identifying flavours and make the coffee behave in different ways.


Colour should be easy, but it’s often used to describe all three scales in different combinations. This makes it really hard to understand what someone’s on about. Basically, the end temperature of the roast determines colour.

Dark Roasts

Darker roasts experience higher temperatures in the roaster. They have absorbed more energy which creates more dry-distillates and Maillard reactions. They have minimal acidity and can taste truly terrible (ash, toast, tobacco, burnt toffee etc.). Sometimes, under skilled hands, they’re palatable. Traditionally, darker roasts are assumed to have more body and sweetness. This isn’t true. Dark roasts can be completely lacking in sweetness and mouthfeel.

Light Roasts

Lighter roasts experience lower temperatures in the roaster. They have absorbed less energy which preserves more acids and aromatics. They have more acidity and complex aromas (fruity, bright, citric, floral etc.). Traditionally, lighter roasts are assumed to have less body and sweetness. They can, but it’s not just the “lightness” of the roast that’s making this happen. Light roasts can be incredibly sweet and rich.

Medium Roast

These sit somewhere between Dark and Light roasts. There are many shades of Brown in here, most of them are some kind of compromise between darker and lighter roasts. Most Specialty Roasters are sitting in here for “espresso” roasts, and a good few for their “filter” or “omni” roasts (omni being applicable for either filter or espresso). I’m looking forward to covering my views on omni roasts in great detail sometime soon.


Here’s where we need to start changing habits. Roasting darker does not automatically make the coffee developed. On the other hand, a light roast is not automatically undeveloped. Don’t make that mistake: development is separate to colour. You cannot see true development on the exterior of a bean. This is because a significant amount of the bean’s interior might still be underdeveloped.

Just before, I mentioned that a dark roast can lack sweetness and that a light roast can be incredibly sweet. This is due to development. With proper development, any reasonable colour of roast can be rich and sweet.

A developed coffee has been roasted in such a way that it doesn’t display any undesirable savoury “organic” flavours (stem, corn, grass, peanut shell, capsaicin, wheat etc.) and its structure has been broken down enough for water to be able to enter and dissolve its flavours (soluble). Developing a coffee perfectly is extremely difficult, and eludes most roasters.


Underdeveloped coffee displays those undesirable “green” flavours and is less soluble..

A vast majority of the coffees I am currently tasting from Specialty Coffee Roasters around the world exhibit underdevelopment. Objectively and subjectively identifiable underdevelopment. It’s a real problem in the industry and has far reaching effects, including:
– reducing efficiency of extractions.
– inhibiting customer acquisition or conversion from traditional “dark roasters”.
– it tastes terrible.

Similar to extraction taints, like dryness or sourness, underdevelopment is a generic flavour. You can get it with high or low quality green coffee. Buying expensive green coffee does not justify or mask underdevelopment. We are “Specialty” – we need our customers to perceive and pay for higher quality – underdevelopment makes that difficult.

Underdeveloped coffees behave in a very particular way:
– If you find yourself grinding one coffee significantly finer than another, even though the colour is similar, that coffee is likely underdeveloped.
– If you struggle to slow down espresso shots with a certain coffee but not others, look to development as the cause.
– If you can’t crack open a roasted bean easily with your fingers, it’s likely underdeveloped
– Break open a bean and look closely at the colour of the outside and inside layers of the bean. If there’s a difference in colour that you can perceive, the inside is definitely underdeveloped.

Roasting darker is one way to reduce underdevelopment, but it’s not the best way. Yes, you will expose the interior of the bean to higher temperatures, reduce the undesirable flavours and increase solubility; but the exterior of the bean is now likely overdeveloped and far too dark. There’s still disparity between the inner and outer layers. The only solution is to apply the right amount of heat at the correct times in the roast to develop the inside and outside of the bean evenly. This allows you to finish the roast darker or lighter without fear of under-developing the interior or overdeveloping the exterior. I say again: with proper development, any reasonable colour of roast can be rich and sweet.


Overdevelopment is when the coffee has become soluble and displays no undesirable organic flavours, but the energy and time applied during roasting has left nothing delicious behind. It’s empty, lifeless and hollow. This is extremely rare, nearly impossible with Kenyan and Colombian coffee, and almost never seen in Specialty. Don’t lose any sleep over it.

End Speed

At the end of the roast, the coffee beans are quite dry and fragile. Small, brief changes in temperature can make or break the whole roast.


If the coffee experiences an increase in speed somewhere after first crack, that will “bake” the coffee. This is characterised by the coffee exhibiting a lack of sweetness and/or dark roast flavours, even though it might not be a dark roast. You can finish a light roast with a bake that will then taste a little bit bland, ashy or dry. Not ideal. Try not to fall into the trap of calling a baked roast “dark” (it happens all the time and you’ll look like a dingus). Look out for dryness, a lack of sweetness, dull acidity, and in worst cases; ash. Sang Ho from Square Mile Coffee Roasters introduced me to calling this the “Flick of Death”. Precisely. It kills the party.


If the coffee temperature stops increasing for a significant amount of time, it’s called stalling. Sometimes, the coffee might stall so hard for so long that the temperature starts to drop a few degrees. The worse the stall, the less developed the coffee will be. It’s super hard to pick this one out without seeing a roast profile. If you start calling out roasts for stalling without seeing the profiles be prepared for a slap. Stalling can create weird thinness, waxy cardboard flavours, sharp acidity and sweetness that’s frail and lacklustre.


The coffee can’t experience an increase in speed, and it can’t stop, but it should still be rising in temperature after first crack. At first glance this might seem impossible, but it’s not that hard. Just think of a car constantly slowing down until it reaches a stop sign. Before and during first crack, the coffee should be increasing in temperature quite quickly. This momentum carries it further and hotter after first crack, and allows for a constant slowing until the end. The ideal end of roast is constantly slowing down after first crack until the speed approaches or reaches zero right at the end. This results in no baking and no stalling. If you don’t notice any problems with the coffee, it was likely ideal.

Putting it All Together

So now we have a roast language! This means we can describe any roast accurately and without confusion. Here’s some examples.

“That coffee is light and well developed.” – Hells yeah that sounds great! Bright, sweet, rich and delightful.

“That coffee is dark and underdeveloped.” – Boo. This is the worst of both worlds. Ashy, bitter, no sweetness and savoury green flavours.

“That coffee is light and developed, but baked”. – Ok. So this coffee is bright and light, but also suffers from some dryness or ashiness from the bake at the end.

“That coffee is dark and developed”. – Potentially delicious. Probably not. This coffee could be intensely sweet and rich with minimal acidity and hopefully not too much ash or typical “dark” roast flavours.

“That coffee is a medium roast and underdeveloped”. The most common Specialty roast. It has acidity and is kind of sweet, but isn’t rich, unique or satisfying. It could be a little grassy and savoury, or in milder cases it might just be underwhelming and generic. You might also notice some of the underdevelopment identifiers I described above.

There’s more combinations, but you get the idea. Separate these aspects from each other and we’ll all be able to talk about roasting much more accurately and efficiently!

Please don’t send your coffee roaster an email telling them how much they suck because Barista Hustle said so. Start a dialogue and learn about the aims of your coffee roaster and why they do things the way they do: there’s always a reason! Barista/Roaster relationships are really important and should be nurtured for long term tastiness!


Hard & Soft Beans

Roaster Basics: How to Roast Hard & Soft Beans

Learning to roast isn’t easy. I know, I’ve done it. For a start, choosing a profile based on the coffee’s origin, altitude, moisture content, relative humidity, taste profile, and more is a lot to figure out. But get it wrong, and your beans might just burn or bake.

So I decided to speak to some expert roasters about one of the basics of coffee roasting: coffee density. That’s right, today we’re looking at “hard beans” and “soft beans”, why that matters, and how it can affect your roast.

coffee roasting

Never forget: roasting is a key stage in achieving the perfect cup. Credit: Clark St Coffee


“Hard beans” (HB) and “soft beans” (SB) are simply two ways of describing coffee density. They sit on a scale that ranges from “strictly hard bean (SHB)” to “strictly soft bean (SSB)”. Coffee that grows at more than 4,000–4,500 feet/1220–1370 m.a.s.l. is known as Hard Bean. However, the scale used can vary from country to country.

So in this article, we’re not going to talk specifically about Hard Beans and Soft Beans, but rather hard beans and soft beans – without the capital letters. In other words, we’re not matching it up to the scale. We’re just talking about the general properties that come with increased and decreased density.

So now let’s look at what density actually means and how that affects roasting.

coffee roasting

The density of your beans will affect how you roast them. Credit: Devin Chapman


Have you ever heard that the higher the coffee is grown, the better it is? There’s some truth to this – and a lot of exceptions – and it’s to do with bean density.

Higher altitudes normally have lower temperatures. Of course, this also depends on how far a coffee is from the equator. But this is important because, even though coffee needs to grow in hot climates, the cooler it is the slower it ripens.

Since the coffee matures more slowly, it will become more dense than lower-altitude coffees. These kind of beans are more desired since the sugar content and flavors will develop more, giving it a good acidity. As for softer beans, these are grown at lower altitudes, mature faster, and are more porous because of the warmer temperatures.

However, other factors, such as the climate, coffee species and varietalprocessing method, soil quality, and more also affect this. What’s more, density also depends on the moisture content of the bean, meaning the freshness, quality of processing, storage, and more affect it. Altitude is just one aspect of many – albeit an easy-to-measure one.

coffee roasting

Altitude will affect the density of your coffee. Credit: Thomas Krüger


Hopefully, you’ll already have all the information you need to guess if you’ve got hard or soft beans! However, you can confirm this – or, if you don’t know, recognise it – by looking at the coffee itself.

Have a look at the green bean’s centre line. The more open it is, the softer the bean. If it’s closed, on the other hand, it has a high density structure. There are also ways to calculate the density, should you be of a scientific mindset. But for the rest of us, looking at the line is the easiest method.

coffee beans

Look at the line to evaluate the density. Credit:

SEE ALSO: Jen Apodaca: How to Improve Your Roasting Skills


First of all, there’s no magic formula for roasting hard or soft beans. Seriously. There are too many variables to take into consideration.

However, there are some guidelines that you can take into account in conjunction with other factors. So I asked some expert roasters for their advice.

Cesar Magana of Lechuza Café, El Salvador tells me that the main difference lies in the bean’s capacity to absorb heat. Hard beans, he explains, react better than softer beans and so the flavour development is better. However, they are also more resistant to heat.

Soft beans, he continues to explain, have a bean structure that is less solid than hard beans. There are air pockets which slow down the inwards transfer of heat. Therefore, the surface of the bean could overheat, risking scorching, if the heat is too high.

As of such, you should use a lower charge temperature (initial temperature) for soft beans.

Joe Behm of Behmor, which makes home roasters, also tells me that roast time is important. For soft beans, aim for a longer roast. He explains that this his home roasters have different profiles for different density beans, and that this is a key part of it.

coffee roasting

Get to know your green beans. Credit: Campervan Coffee Co


However, Joe also reminds me that density and roast profiles are about more than just altitude. “This is a very tough thing to answer, in part because there are so many different beans, the age of beans impacts it, and so on.”

Steven Martinez is the Roaster of Café Cultor, Colombia, and he tells me that data is key. Before roasting, record the moisture content, density, and temperature you plan to roast at. Then, while roasting, keep recording all the data you have. This will help you understand the final result and then narrow down the perfect roast profile for each coffee. As you cup it, you’ll be able to map the impact of density and temperature on the final cup and understand their relationship better.

This only gets more exciting as you learn more about the story behind your green beans. Denser beans should allow for a better development, and you should be able to roast them at higher temperatures. But as Joe tells us, if you don’t know more about the coffee in your roaster, it’s pointless to assume that one particular profile will suit it.

coffee beans

All coffee is different. Credit: BlueNose Coffee

Don’t become disheartened if your initial roasts don’t turn out as you expected. As you learn more about the processing method, varietal, region, and more, it will allow you to define your roast curve.

Roasting is a beautiful blend of art and science, and it takes time to understand all its intricacies. Keep recording data, keep analaysing results, and keep learning more. Slowly but surely, you’ll see your roasts improve.


Different Origins

How to Roast Coffee From Different Origins

Should you roast a Colombian Nariño the same way you would an Ethiopian Sidamo? Probably not.

Producing countries have different climates, soil types, altitudes, and more – and all that leads to very different coffees. The beans will react differently to heat, plus you will want to accentuate specific characteristics. In other words, you need to roast them differently.

So before you create a profile and put your coffee in the roaster, you need as much information as possible about the beans. And today, I’m going to take you through some of the main origin-based variables to consider. Let’s get started.

coffee roasting

Roasting great coffee is about understanding the green beans. Credit: U Roast It Coffee


Elevation, or altitude, is of immense importance for coffee roasting – but what we’re really talking about is density. When coffee is grown at cooler temperatures (which, most of the time, means higher elevation), the cherries ripen slower and so develop more sugars. This leads to more complex sweetness, but also to harder, denser beans.

When you have beans of different densities, they also react differently to the heat. Soft, low-density beans tend to have more air pockets inside them, which can slow down heat transference. To avoid scorching the outsides of the beans, you should use a lower initial charge temperature. Joe Behm of Behmor, manufacturer of the Behmor 1600+ home roaster, also recommends extending the length of the roast for these coffees.

Knowing what altitude your coffee is grown at, how far it is from the equator, and the temperature on the farm will help you to anticipate the density.


Coffee producers from China Alta, Tolima visit the mountainous region of Planadas. Credit: Angie Molina Ospina


Tom Janssen of OR Coffee in Belgium points out the difference between Brazilian or Honduran beans and Ethiopian ones: Ethiopians can sit as high as 2,200 m.a.s.l., while some Brazilians are closer to 900 m.a.s.l. As of such, you can expect the Brazilians to have lower density.

Joe Behm explains that he designed his roasters with set profiles to help beginners, while experienced roasters can create their own profiles and control the roast manually. For Central American, Peruvian, and Colombian beans, his pre-set profiles use higher charge temperatures to reflect a higher average altitude. For Brazilians, Jamaicans, Hawaiian, and other low-grown island coffees, the profiles use a lower heat.

Yet Joe also reminds me that every coffee is different, and many factors can affect density – from the farm’s altitude to the age of the coffee.

And while most Brazilians may be soft beans, some are as dense as Ethiopians.

For these reasons, you want to learn as much as possible about a coffee’s origin – not just what country it comes from, but what region, what farm, what altitude, what temperature, and more.

coffee roasting

Colombian coffee being roasted. Credit: Talor&Jørgen


When roasting, it’s important to consider not just the structure of the bean, but also the flavour of it. And this can vary greatly.

“We will never have an Ethiopian with the same type of acidity like that Kenya AA Kamwangi we once had,” Tom tells me, “and it will be very difficult to find a Colombia with the stone fruit, tea-like flavours of the Yirgacheffe coffees.”

Broadly speaking, you can expect well-balanced coffees from the Americas, with more chocolate and hazelnut notes appearing in Brazil. In East Africa, coffees tend to be clean, juicy, and fruity. Some regions lean more towards sweetness (like Burundi), while others are more acidic (like Kenya). Indonesia is often known for its heavy body and earthy tones.

Yet there are so many flavour variations within one region, as a result of micro climates, terroir, varieties, production and processing methods, and more. Sulawesi, Indonesia is famous for its spice notes, while Bali has a more citric profile. A Panamanian Geisha will taste different from a Panamanian Bourbon. Brazil is so large, you can fit much of Europe in it – and it has a wide variety of profiles to match. And as Tom points out, some countries have multiple harvest seasons.

Tom tells me that it’s the roaster’s job to preserve what makes an origin special and “let the coffee speak”. Knowing the profile of the coffee origin will help you anticipate which flavours will be most prominent – and how you can emphasise them.


Coffee beans dry on raised beds on Bello Horizonte farm, Colombia. Credit: Café Nakua


Denser, higher-altitude coffees are associated with greater acidity, and you’ll often hear this described in terms of fruit notes – mandarin, grapefruit, plum, blueberry, and so on.

This is a highly prized trait, and if you’re roasting a coffee that has this quality, you may want to accentuate it. (Bear in mind, however, that while acidity can be good, underdeveloped and sour notes are not. There is a fine line.)

Tom tells me that the more you extend your roast after first crack, the more acidity and fruitiness you will throw away. A faster Rate of Rise (RoR) is also recommended by many roasters for emphasising acidity.

On the other hand, if you want more sweetness – say you have a natural Bourbon from Burundi – then Willem Boot, CEO of Boot Coffee, recommends opting for a lower RoR. Sweet Maria’s also experimented with stretching out the drying phase of the roast, and found that it could highlight this quality.

As for body, Sweet Maria’s found that stretching out first crack could open up a more syrupy mouthfeel in a coffee.

It’s important to remember that the qualities you want to highlight will all depend on the coffee itself, and its unique, overall profile. Roasting is a complex skill; there are no simple rules. These guidelines are just starting points for creating your roast profiles.

roasted coffee beans

Freshly roasted Ethiopian coffee beans. Credit: Annisa Hale for The Roast House

SEE ALSO: Roaster Basics: How to Roast Hard & Soft Beans


Knowing the altitude, temperature, terroir, and origin profile is a great start to creating a roast profile for a coffee. “It’s about a commitment to get to know the origin and bring the best to the surface,” Tom says.

But it’s only a start.

Tom also tells me that experience matters. Roast coffees from different places, of different altitudes and processing methods, and analyse the differences. Get to understand the impact of these on the coffee’s flavour profile and roast development.

Then research where your beans are from and what other roasters have found. Experiment with your roast profiles and record the results. Get as much knowledge as you can.

Know that understanding the origin of your coffee is a valuable tool – but not a prescription.


Charge Temperature

How to Control Charge Temperature: A Coffee Roasting Guide

Don’t underestimate the power of knowing how to control charge temperature. If you want to really control your roast, highlighting the coffee’s best features for espresso or filter, then understanding how to manipulate this variable will be a huge benefit.

I reached out to several roasters and coffee experts to find out their advice for controlling charge temperature, whether you’re roasting a fruity and natural processed single origin or a chocolatey low-altitude espresso blend. Here’s what I discovered.

coffee roaster

Freshly roasted coffee cascades out of the roaster. Credit: Damian Krzywoń


Carlos Juárez, Master Roaster at Impetus Casa Tostadora de Café, Mexico, explains that charge temperature is the temperature of your drum just before you add the coffee. If you’ve ever seen a roasting line graph, you’ll know that the temperature line looks a bit like a tick mark. As soon as the coffee beans are added, the temperature plummets until it reaches the turning point and then starts increasing. But the charge temperature is the reading before the drop.

Since roasting is the process of heat spreading – both through your roaster and through the coffee beans – this initial temperature has the power to affect the entire roast. And like all elements of roasting, there are many aspects to consider when you want to control charge temperature.

coffee roaster

Recording roast profiles, including charge temperature. Credit: Padre Coffee  for Roast IQ


Carlos tells me that too low a charge temperature will prevent proper flavour development. This is because it will take too long to generate the energy needed for the roast. Stretching the roast out too long can lead to flat or even baked coffee. The only exception is if you’re trying to control or reduce a coffee’s acidity: in this case, a lower charge temperature will help.

SEE ALSO: Coffee Roasting Essentials: A Guide to Rate of Rise (RoR)

Too high a charge temperature, on the other hand, can burn the bean from the outside (something called scorching). This will create dryness and astringency in the cup.

But what charge temperature is best? Let’s take an in-depth look at this complex issue.

coffee roaster

Coffee and roast profile line graph. Credit: Roastworks Coffee Co


Carlos emphasises that charge temperature is a relative parameter. The exact reading will depend on the size of the drum, the size and location of the temperature probes, the air temperature and local climate, and more.

For example, Joe Morocco of City Mill Roasters, Minneapolis, says that his charge temperature will generally lie between 375ºF/191ºC and 425ºF/218ºC. However, for Luisa Quintero of Libertario Coffee Roasters, Colombia, her standard charge temperature on her San Franciscan 3kg roaster is 320ºF/160ºC to 374ºF/190ºC. She tells me that she needs to begin with less heat because her roastery is based in Bogota.  

Even the location of the roaster inside the room can affect charge temperature. Brian Kendall, a home roaster using a Behmor 1600 Plus, tells me, “The best way I have found to keep the charge temp constant is to roast indoors away from drafts. If the air outside of the roaster is constantly changing, it has a major impact on both charge temp and the time the beans take to reach first crack.”

To work out the best charge temperature, you need to get to know your roaster (and roastery!). However, while we can’t give you an absolute temperature, we can help guide you into recognising the best range relative to other factors.

coffee roaster

Roasting batches of coffee beans on a Behmor 1600. Credit: Carlos Pérez

How Different COFFEE TYPEs Impact Results

You should adjust your charge temperature to suit the beans you’re roasting. The density, moisture content, processing method, coffee variety, and batch size should all be considered.

When it comes to batch size, Brian tells me that he always roasts in one-pound batches on his Behmor home roaster. “I only roast in manual mode, P5, because I find that the flavour profiles develop more… [but] I limit my ability to play with the charge because of how I order green beans. I guess I could experiment more if I played with 1/2lb batches. That would expose more when playing with charge temps.”

Density – which can be affected by altitude and variety – is also important. With denser beans, Luisa explains that she wants a slower development. For this reason, she’ll roast a smaller amount of beans; this will help the heat to transfer quicker. The beans will also benefit from a higher charge temperature and shorter roast time.

As for processing, Luisa would use a charge temperature of around 365ºF/185ºC for a washed coffee. However, with a natural process, she explains that she’d opt for a lower temperature to avoid the beans burning. A natural coffee’s concentrated sugars could burn and create an ashy flavour.

SEE ALSO: Roaster Basics: How to Roast Hard & Soft Beans

Carlos reminds me that it’s also important to know your beans’ moisture content. The more moisture there is, the longer the coffee needs for drying. This means using a lower charge temp. However, you also need to be careful that the coffee doesn’t bake. When the moisture content is too high, getting the right drying time becomes a difficult balancing act.

coffee beans

Different stages of roast development. Credit: Strandvejsristeriet


Another thing you need to consider, of course, is your roast type. Luisa tells me that when she wants an espresso roast – which is typically darker – she’ll use a higher charge temp. On her roaster, this will be at around 356ºF/180ºC. She’ll also use more air to control the roast.

However, when she wants a filter profile – which is normally roasted lighter to maximise complexity and acidity – she’ll use a lower charge temperature of 320ºF/160ºC–347ºF/175ºC.

coffee roasting

Using a data-driven approach to determine blend percentages and roast profiles. Credit: Horsham Coffee

When roasting coffee, every variable matters. Carlos and Luisa both recommend that you get to know your machine and your location. And then, once you really understand how it performs in different contexts, you can focus on bringing the best out of your coffee based on its origin, variety, processing method, and more.

Maybe it will take you a little while to master this – but that’s okay. Take the time to experiment. Roasting is about making controlled decisions, and trial and error is a totally valid way to discover the impact of different variables on your overall roast.

And when you start to understand the relationship between your roaster, charge temperature, and different coffees, you’ll be able to better control your roasts – from accentuating sweetness or acidity to doing justice to a high-density Ethiopian Yirgacheffe.


Rate of Rise

Coffee Roasting Essentials: A Guide to Rate of Rise (RoR)

Rate of rise (RoR): scroll through enough articles on coffee, and you’ll come across this mysterious term, complete with multi-line graphs that are frustratingly short on explanation. But RoR isn’t indecipherable.

And in fact, RoR is a valuable tool for any roaster, explaining what’s going on in the bean during roasting. In this way, it can help you to control your roast, avoid defects, and craft the best possible flavour profile for a coffee.

I had the opportunity to talk to Jen Apodaca, Director of Roasting for Royal Coffee and their upcoming project The Crown: Royal Coffee Lab & Tasting Room, about all of this. Read on to discover what I learned.

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Jen Apodaca inspects beans during a roast. Credit: Royal Coffee


There are two main ways to describe how the temperature of your beans is changing during roasting: bean temperature curve and rate of rise.

The bean temperature curve measures the actual temperature of your beans. It will look a little bit like a check mark.

RoR, however, is the speed at which the temperature of your beans is increasing. It’s measured over a specific period of time, usually between 30 and 60 seconds. Jen recommends using a 30-second period, advising that it will allow you better control. Say you have a RoR of 5 in 30 seconds: that means that your bean temperature is increasing by 5 degrees every 30 seconds.

RoR will also have a very different shape on the graph to your bean temperature curve. Jen tells me that, at the beginning of the roast (the drying phase), there will be a decrease in temperature causing a negative RoR. This decrease will eventually stabilise as the drum temperature and the bean temperature meet (causing the turning point). At this point, you will start to get a positive RoR.

So why measure RoR? Why not just use the bean curve? Because RoR gives much earlier indications of temperature developments. This enables you to better manipulate the roast and create your desired profile.

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Freshly roasted beans. Credit: Square One Coffee Roasters


You’ll often hear people discuss a high or low RoR. And simply put, a higher RoR indicates that your roast is progressing quicker; a lower one means that it’s progressing slower.

Jen tells me that you don’t want your RoR to drop too low because then you risk reaching the stalling point. A stalled roast happens when the RoR becomes so low that the machine doesn’t want to recover, and the temperature remains the same. This can lead to “baked coffee”, a defect that creates a flat, doughy flavour. In this situation, the coffee’s aromatic compounds won’t be developed.

However, that doesn’t mean a high RoR is best. Your goal should be to control your RoR with precision. And as you learn how to do this, you will find you are able to accentuate different flavours in your coffee. For example, a higher RoR – especially towards the beginning of the roast – can accentuate acidity. Willem Boot of Boot Coffee and Finca La Mula also states that a lower RoR can help modulate sweetness.

The right RoR will depend on many factors: the coffee, the desired profile, the stage in the roast, and more.

SEE ALSO: How to Roast Coffee From Different Origins

coffee roasting
Freshly roasted coffee cools before being packed. Credit: Alex Jones


Your RoR will change as the roast continues to develop, and there are certain moments that are worth paying more attention to. This includes top/max RoR, crack RoR, and end RoR, stages that professionals such as Patrik Rolf and Morten Münchow have highlighted as critical.

The top/max RoR is the stage after the turning point (remember, this is when the temperature stops dropping and starts increasing, meaning the RoR goes from negative to positive) when the RoR is at its highest.

The crack RoR is the temperature change during first crack. Some roasters struggle to prevent their bean temperature (remember, this is different from RoR) from dipping here, as a result of steam being released from the beans. While you want to avoid this dip, you also don’t want to increase the temperature as that could be too heavy-handed.

As for the end RoR, that is of course at the end of the roast. You want to be careful at this point in time, because the beans will be drier and therefore more brittle.

coffee roasting
Coffee cools immediately after being roasted. Credit: Angie Molina


With RoR, there are certain “rules” which are good to follow. Most notably, Scott Rao makes the case for a steadily decreasing one. While stalling will create baked flavours, an increasing RoR – especially after first crack – can lead to a coffee that lacks sweetness.

Yet within these parameters, there is plenty of room for roast manipulation. Jen tells me that there are particular moments during the roast that are suited to adjusting your RoR. For example, the drying and yellowing stages provide you with plenty of time for temperature changes.

In contrast, she explains, “The crucial time is the minute or two before first crack, and right after. At that time, the choices you make can have many more consequences and you need to be very attentive.”

coffee roasting
Coffee beans are inspected during roasting. Credit: Killer Roasting Co.

RoR may be a simple concept, but it opens the door to complex decisions about how you want to roast your coffee. Today, we’ve mainly looked at what it is and some general guidelines for controlling it.

And now, I’d encourage you to experiment with it. See how a higher RoR affects that sparkling Ethiopian. Try using an earlier max RoR – or a later one. Take notes. Compare the results across different coffees.

Embrace the impact that you can have on a coffee’s flavour profile – and how you can accentuate its best characteristics.


Coffee Guide

Coffee Guide: What Is Body? & How Do I Brew & Roast for It?

Body: what actually is it? It’s something we coffee-lovers like to talk about a lot, and it’s even included on cupping forms. But do we know what body really is? Why some coffees have more body than others? And how we can roast or brew to accentuate this quality?

If you answered no to any of those questions, don’t worry – I’m about to answer them for you.

An espresso, a drink known for its body. Credit: Edan Cohen


Let’s start with the basics: body is a coffee’s texture. In The Professional Barista’s Handbook, Scott Rao defines it as “a beverage’s weight or fullness perceived in the mouth.”

While body is an element of mouthfeel, it’s worth noting that there can be differences. In The Coffee DictionaryMaxwell Colonna-Dashwood writes, “It is interesting to consider that you could experience a light body with a sticky mouth feel or a big body with a juicy mouth feel.”

Body is not something we taste: rather, it is a sensation we feel. However, it can influence a coffee’s overall flavor. This is because flavor is a combination of many factors – taste, aroma, texture, sound, and maybe even sight.

SEE ALSO: Coffee Tasting Basics: Taste vs Flavour

And in my experience as a barista, body is one of the three things coffee-drinkers are always looking for (along with bright acidity and defined flavors).

Pouring brewed coffee. Credit: Estate Coffee Company


If we want to accentuate body, we need to know how it’s created. And that means talking about extraction. This is the process by which flavor and aroma compounds are extracted from dry coffee into water, becoming the brewed coffee we love to drink.

SEE ALSO: The 3 Extraction Phases of Drip Coffee

During extraction, substances can be divided into solubles and insolubles. The solubles are the substances that can be diluted in the water. The insolubles, on the other hand, are solids and oils that remain suspended in the liquid instead of dissolving. They’re things like protein molecules and certain coffee fibers. And these insolubles – especially the oils – increase body.

Brewing with a paper filter and a V60, a method known for reducing oils. Credit: Rojo Cerezo


There are many factors that determine why one specific coffee has more body than another.  Some coffee varieties are just more prone to body. So are specific coffee processing methods, brew methods, and filters. And roast profiles can be manipulated to produce more body.

Let’s take a look at some of these factors now, starting with the green beans and making our way through to the final beverage.

coffee cup
Some espressos are fuller-bodied than others. Credit: Rojo Cerezo


Certain coffee varieties are more inclined to body than others. When I first started working as a barista, I was brewing a Maracaturra from El Socorro, Guatemala. It had a peach flavor with hints of whiskey as it cooled, caramel texture, and a round body that filled the mouth. And I fell madly in love with coffee because of beans like this.

On the other hand, you have the Pacamara: another early love of mine. For me, the Pacamara variety is outstanding. It’s distinguished by fruity flavors, mostly stone fruits, and outstanding chocolate notes. However, it often has a medium body.

And then you have Geisha, the industry’s most celebrated variety. This coffee is known for its delicate, tea-like body, making it a very different coffee experience from Maracaturra.

SEE ALSO: Geisha vs Bourbon: A Crash Course in Coffee Varieties

coffee beans
A Pacas variety from Honduras, ready for roasting. Credit: Metric Coffee Co.

If you have a low-bodied coffee lot, you have three options: accept that it has low levels of body; try to highlight body through the processing, roasting, brewing; or blend it with a coffee with greater levels of body.

Washed processed coffees are associated with a more delicate body: they’re more prized for their clarity and cleanness than their mouthfeel. As for naturals, you can expect a bigger, rounder body.

Honeys and pulped naturals are also associated with body. And generally speaking, the more mucilage left on the cherry, the more body you’ll get in the cup. A black honey coffee will stand out for its syrupy sweetness.

SEE ALSO: Washed, Natural, Honey: Coffee Processing 101

coffee roaster
Freshly roasted coffee.. Credit: Gerónimo López


Green coffee can be roasted to emphasise body or downplay it, depending on your vision for the particular beans.

First of all, let’s make one thing clear: darker roasts are often associated with more body. However, as Matt Perger of Barista Hustle points out, bean colour and roast development are not always connected. Roasting is a complex combination of multiple factors, and good roasters will control the heat all the way through the roast to accentuate their desired profiles.

In particular, the green coffee suppliers Sweet Maria’s highlights the ability to manipulate body by controlling the duration of first crack. If done right, stretching first crack can increase body. “A more syrupy mouthfeel is related to the perception of particular carbohydrates that are released in greater levels with the stretching out of first crack,” they say in a blog post.

What’s more, in Modulating the Flavor Profile of Coffee, Rob Hoos explains that if roasters also stretch out the Maillard reaction, this can lead to more melanoidins. In turn, this means more body.

However, remember that if you stretch out your roast too much, the rate of rise may stall and the roast will then bake. This will create a flat, doughy beverage. You need to balance all the different reactions going on inside your beans to create the best possible roast profile for each coffee.

SEE ALSO: Coffee Roasting Essentials: A Guide to Rate of Rise (RoR)

coffee roaster
Beans cool after roasting. Credit: Bo Smith


Since oils create body, how much oil your brewing method and filter allow through into the final cup has a huge impact on body. And there are a lot of differences between these brewing methods.

Manual brewing methods are often depicted as sitting on a scale, with high body and low clarity at one end and high clarity but low body on the other. The French press, for example, is known for its body. On the other hand, pour overs are generally associated with clarity. The AeroPress is famous for its flexibility: you can brew it to enhance body or clarity, depending on your mood.

One of the reasons the French press is known for its body is its metal filter. Paper traps many of the oils in the coffee, while metal allows them to pass through. The Chemex, in contrast to the French press, is known for the cleanness of its brew, made possible by its thick paper filters. If you have both a metal and a paper filter to choose from, you have more flexibility over what your final brew will taste like.

SEE ALSO: Brewing Methods Compared: How Should You Make Coffee at Home?

coffee brewing
Beatriz Macías brews pour over coffee, not traditionally associated with great body. Credit:Credit: Alejandro Escobar, Pare de Dormir Brew Bar

Then, of course, there’s the espresso. This drink has greater body because it has a much higher brew ratio (i.e. more coffee to water) than other methods, and also because it relies on pressure rather than gravity to make the water run through the grounds and extract compounds. This pressure creates crema, a golden-brown bitter layer filled with oils and melanoidins – those same things that produce body.

You can also manipulate the brew ratio/strength of manual methods to create more or less body. But be wary of under or over-extracting your coffee. An over-extracted coffee can taste, as Matt Perger of Barista Hustle says, “hollow and empty.”

And don’t forget that many drinks are made with milk as a base. The type of milk you use – full fat vs skimmed, soy vs dairy – can affect the body. The best milks will add creaminess as well as sweetness.

A barista pours milk into a latte. Credit: Mecca Coffee

Body: it’s a celebrated quality that sounds simple, but is actually far more complex. But one of the amazing things about third wave coffee is the ability it gives us to understand and control coffee flavors.

So go ahead: experiment with everything I’ve just told you. Play around with body. And create the perfect cup of coffee for you.



Why Are Some Coffees Sweeter Than Others?

Bitter coffee? That’s a thing of the past. Now, specialty professionals and consumers alike want their morning coffee to have a hint of sweetness – and I’m not talking about one that comes from adding sugar or honey. We’ve finally woken up to just how sweet our favourite drink can be naturally.

But why is coffee sweet? And, perhaps, most importantly, how can we roast and brew our beans to maximise it? I decided to do a little research to answer those questions.

coffee roasting

How you roast coffee will affect its sweetness. Credit: Vigilante Coffee


A generally accepted definition of sweetness is that it’s the taste produced by a high sugar content in food. There’s a great array of sweet substances, with carbohydrates being best known. These carbohydrates include sucrose (common table sugar) and lactose (found in milk).

In The Flavor Bible, Page and Dornenburg provide the following insight: “It takes the greatest quantity of a substance that is sweet (versus salty, sour, or bitter) to register on our taste buds. However, we can appreciate the balance and “roundness” that even otherwise imperceptible sweetness adds to savory dishes…”

In other words, sweetness isn’t just important for those of us with a sweet tooth. It’s also an essential part of balance.

flavor wheel

Sweetness is essential for a well-balanced cup. Credit: Jemmy Wijaya Shalim


Humans and other animals alike show a tendency to eat sweet things – and this is linked to evolution. By and large, sweet foods energise us while bitter substances might be toxic. We humans are much more sensitive to bitter tastes than to sweet foods, making our eating patterns one of the pillars of our success as a species. 

Most of us can remember the clenching bitterness of the first coffee or beer we tasted, often handed to us by our parents while still an adolescent. With time, we got used to it. But “time” is the key word there.

Sweetness, however, comes much more naturally to us. Babies enjoy the lactose content of breast milk. People in love, all over the world, gift bonbons and chocolates to each other.

coffee and baked goods

Humans tend to prefer sweet foods to bitter ones. Credit: Sailor Coffee

WHAT TYPE OF SUGARS DO WE FIND IN COFFEE? reports that in green coffee, carbohydrates make up “approximately 50% of coffee’s total dry basis”. These include sucrose, arabinose, mannose, glucose, galactose, rhamnose and xylose.

Of course, not all of these sugars are soluble in water. Only a certain percentage will end up in your cup.

And the amount of sugars in your coffee will also depend on the species, varietal, and production practices. The Arabica species, for example, has almost double the amount of sucrose that Robusta has – one of the reasons why it’s gained a reputation for being better quality. And you might expect a Bourbon to have more sweetness than a Catimor.

Coffee cherries that ripen more slowly (for example, due to being at a higher altitude), generally develop more sugars. What’s more, honey processing is likely to result in sweeter coffees than washed processing.

honey processed coffee

Honey processed coffees are often sweeter than washed processed coffees. Credit: Nicholas Van Slett


Despite that, most mature, healthy, and defect-free Arabica beans have some degree of sweetness. When it’s lacking, it’s normally the result of some type of defect, such as being unripe or processing faults. The Cup of Excellence Cupping Form, for example, states: “the sensation of sweetness correlates directly with how uniformly ripe a coffee was when harvested.”

So if your coffee doesn’t taste sweet, does that mean it’s either unripe or defective? Not necessarily. The roasting and brewing of the beans also affect how sweet or bitter it is – and so do your personal tastebuds.

kalita wave

You can brew your coffee to highlight sweetness. Credit: Adam Friedlander

SEE ALSO: Coffee Science: What’s Acidity?


Sugars play a huge role in roasting, especially during the Maillard reaction. Rob Hoos writes in his Modulating the Flavor Profile of Coffee: “This chemical reaction begins early in the roast as amino acids act as catalysts with reducing sugars, resulting in a complex non-enzymatic sugar browning process.”

Not a scientist? Don’t worry: neither am I. What this means, in layperson’s speak, is that during the roast process, a great number of organic compounds (well over 600) and melanoidins, complex browning products, are created.   

Then, after first crack, sugars caramelize – especially sucrose. Interestingly, the longer the roast time, the more the sugar is broken down, leading to more complex and even bitter caramel compounds. That’s right: bittersweet isn’t just a metaphor.

coffee roasting

Everything starts after the first crack! Credit: Matty De Angelis via Padre Coffee


Assuming you have a coffee that’s been roasted for sweetness, the next stage is to brew for sweetness. This isn’t always easy: Matt Perger compares finding the “sweet spot” of coffee to finding the Holy Grail.

So why is it so difficult? Perger states that “as you move from under-extracted to over-extracted, the coffee gets sweeter and sweeter and sweeter as you pick up more sugars, then it rather quickly becomes dry and bitter”. That fleeting moment when coffee is at its best point is what we should aim for – but it’s easy to get the balance wrong.

Brewing for sweetness means carefully refining your recipe, and then controlling all variables to ensure you can repeat it every single time. And don’t forget that, as your coffee ages, you may have to adjust! (For more detailed tips on refining your recipe, see our curated video guide featuring Matt Perger.)

coffee brewing

Brewing for sweetness requires attention to detail. Credit: Michael Flores


A lot of people find coffee bitter, sometimes even so bitter that it’s undrinkable for them without a spoonful of sugar or two. Part of this is linked to expectations: consumers may be used to poor-quality Robusta blends that have been roasted dark, obscuring many of the sweet notes. Part of it may also be habit.

It’s easy for coffee professionals to feel frustrated when a customer automatically reaches for the sugar pot. Sugar can mask and even alter the flavor profile of the coffee, which has been so carefully processed, roasted, and brewed to produce the “perfect” taste.

But we have to understand these customers’ perspectives. As coffee professionals, we seek out the sweetest flavors in coffee because we know those are the most delightful. Why shouldn’t it be the same with our patrons? The only difference is that those people adding sugar to good coffee are simply less sensitive to the sweetness we taste. And there’s a reason for that.

coffee and sugar

Some of us are more sensitive to sweetness than others. Credit: Mademoiselle.Julie


Today’s food is filled with huge amounts of sugar, desensitising many of us to sweetness. A 12 oz (355 ml) Coke can has around 39 grams of sugar – more than 9 teaspoons’ worth. Imagine how you’d feel if someone ordered a latte and added 9 teaspoons of sugar to it.  

Ironically, a good way to enjoy the sweetness naturally found in nature, like in coffee, other fruits, and milk, is to reduce the amount of sugary foods you eat – especially ones with added sugars.  

A good exercise that can help you to taste sweetness without adding any additional sweetener is what Ida Steen, Danish sensory scientist, calls release from suppression.

Prepare a glass of orange juice and another of lemon juice. First, sip the orange juice. Savor its acidity and mild sweetness. Next, drink the lemon juice; it won’t be pleasant, you may shudder at the taste, but this is a valuable task for sensory development. Now, try the orange juice again. It will taste much sweeter and less acidic – so sweet, in fact, that you would never add sugar to it.

Well-prepared coffee can be deliciously sweet by itself. We just have to learn to listen. Better said, we just have to learn to taste.


First Crack

What Is First Crack and How Do You Recognise It?

First crack: it’s a moment that has been given almost mythical status in coffee roasting – and it deserves it. A key stage in any roast, understanding it will give you insight into how flavours and aromas are developing.

Let’s take a look at what first crack is, how you can recognise it, and what this means for your coffee beans.

coffee roasting

Steam building up inside the coffee bean leads to first crack. Credit: Angie Molina Ospina


First crack is the moment when coffee beans begin to approach edibility. Coffee goes through two “cracks” when roasting, and light to medium roasts will finish somewhere between them. Dark roasts will typically be roasted past second crack. (However, if only the first few signs of second crack have started to appear, it will probably still be closer to a medium roast.)

So what actually are first and second crack? Audible, physical cracks. (In fact, Barry Levine of Willoughby’s Coffee & Tea compares them to hearing popcorn popping.) They happen because the coffee bean has expanded and its moisture begun to evaporate. This moisture forms steam, and then pressure, that forces the beans to crack open.

Joe Behm, CEO and founder of Behmor, tells me, “When you start to detect the aroma changing from baked bread to caramelized sweetness, you know the sugars are developing and first crack is about to begin.” He tells me that this change in aroma is “like a bell getting ready to go off”, letting him know that he needs to be thinking ahead to the end of the roast.

It’s important that the roast doesn’t begin to stall at this period: delays can result in baked coffee, a roast defect that creates a doughy cup profile. So let’s take a closer look at what’s happening, and how you can see when first and second crack are approaching.

coffee roasting

Colour change is only one of several physical changes during roasting.


As heat is applied to the coffee beans, they go through endothermic and exothermic reactions. Up until first crack, the beans absorb the heat (an endothermic reaction). The moisture dissipates and the colour changes from green to yellow and then brown. The aroma will be cereal-like: think toast, popcorn, or grass.

As for first crack, this is a brief exothermic reaction: the beans release heat (energy) in the form of that steam we mentioned above, along with carbon dioxide. The bean will have doubled in size and shed the majority of their silverskin, but oils won’t yet be present.

After first crack, it switches back to an endothermic reaction until second crack, the final exothermic reaction (if you choose to roast your beans that far).

coffee roasting

As well as checking colour change, roasters should pay attention to other visible signs – such as swelling.

SEE ALSO: Everything You Need for a Home Roaster Starter Kit


Although we like to talk about first and second crack when roasting coffee, it’s important to remember that coffee flavour profiles are the real goal. And for this reason, we also need to consider caramelisation and the Maillard reaction.

Both of these happen before first crack. The Maillard reaction occurs when we start to see browning, and it creates many of the flavours in our coffee – especially the savoury ones.

As for caramelisation, it happens a little after the Maillard reaction. Joe Marrocco of Mill City Roasters describes it as the dehydration of sugars through heating, which then give off the carbon dioxide and H2O that cause first crack. As you may have guessed, this process leads to caramel flavours in the roast – but it’s also what causes bitter notes if the heat continues for too long.

It’s hard to predict exactly when these reactions will take place. Joe tells me that they occur as a result of the amino acids and sugar molecules, and as these break down, hundreds of reactions occur. These reactions start at different temperatures, but, due to different coffee structures hitting these different temperatures at different times in the drum, they can overlap. Since it’s so difficult to anticipate these reactions, it’s even more important to pay attention to the aroma and colour of the beans.

coffee roasting

Pay attention to the physical signs of roast development. Credit: Jesper Alstrup


Coffee beans go through an immense amount of physical and chemical transformations at every stage of the roast. In fact, we still do not understand many of these changes. And of those that we do understand, some are easy to detect but others are not.

First crack is, in fact, one of the easiest stages to spot. However, it’s also useful to anticipate when it’s approaching – and to understand what else is happening to the beans. This will give you better control over the roast and ensuing flavour profile.

So next time you try roasting, pay attention to the development of the aromas as well as the roast color. Look for development in bean size and shape. And remember that it takes a lot of time, experimentation, and research to become a good roaster – but it’s always worth it when you taste the final cup.


Light, Medium & Dark

Light, Medium, & Dark Roasted Coffee: What’s The Difference?

You pick up a bag of fresh coffee, and you notice that on the front it says “medium-light roast” – but what does this mean? And why is roast level important? Find out in today’s curated video article.


The roast profile has a crucial impact on how your coffee tastes. In this video from Hawaii Visitor, Lion Coffee Roasters takes us through the basic differences between light, medium, and dark roasts. They explain that light roasts have the brightest, most acidic flavours, while medium ones are more balanced and smooth. And dark roasts? That’s when you really taste the roasting rather than the coffee’s origin.

Watch the video to find out more.


So that’s what different roasts taste like – but let’s look at this in a little more detail. We’ve shared this amazing video from Sweet Maria’s before, and we believe it’s worth looking at again. It’ll show you exactly what your City, City +, and Vienna roasts look like, and explain the differences between them.

SEE ALSO: Debunked: Do Light or Dark Roasts Have More Caffeine?


Roast profiles don’t just affect the coffee’s flavour profile, however. The darker the roast, the oilier it becomes – and this can cause issues for some coffee machines and grinders. Find out more in this short video from Seattle Coffee Gear.

SEE ALSO: Omni Roast: Is There One Roast to Rule Them All?

Feature photo credit: Seattle Coffee Gear



Washed, Natural, Honey: Coffee Processing 101

Honey, dry, washed, pulped natural… do you ever look at your coffee packaging and wonder what on earth these mean? Or, perhaps more importantly, which one best suits your tastebuds?

SEE ALSO: Guatemalan Coffee: Growing, Harvesting & Processing in 2 Videos

We spoken to the experts at Gold Mountain Coffee GrowersFalcon Specialty, and North Star Roasters to find out.



Coffee is traditionally processed in three ways: washed, natural, and honey. There are alternatives, but these are both rare and typically localised, such as wet hulling in Indonesia.

1. Washed Coffees

Washed coffees focus solely on the bean. They let you taste you what’s on the inside, not the outside.

A natural or honey processed coffee requires a flavourful coffee cherry. Washed coffees depend almost 100% on the bean having absorbed enough natural sugars and nutrients during its growing cycle. This means the varietal, soil, weather, ripenessfermentation, washing, and drying are key.

Washed coffees reflect both science of growing coffee and that farmers are an integral part of crafting its taste. With washed coffees, the country of origin and environmental conditions add to the flavour.

This means that the washed process highlights the true character of a single origin bean like no other process. It’s why so many specialty coffees are washed.

As Holly of North Star Roasters says, “Washed Ethiopian and Kenyan coffees are fantastic examples of the clarity of flavour that can be coaxed out if the coffee is processed correctly.”

Washed coffee on drying beds at a farm in Ethiopia. Credit: Meklit Mersha

2. Natural/Dry Processed Coffee

The natural process, also known as the dry process, is a back-to-basics approach that stems from Ethiopia. The fruit remains on the bean, and dries undisturbed. Although it needs less investment, it still requires certain climatic conditions to ensure the drying of the fruit and seed in time.

Over time, the natural process has become considered a lower-quality method that can lead to inconsistent flavours. This inconsistency is often the result of unripe fruit drying and turning brown alongside ripe fruits.

However, there are many who believe this process actually has the potential to create the most flavourful coffees – and that a comeback is just around the corner. If consistency is achieved, then many argue that natural coffees can match washed coffees for clarity, and also provide some more interesting notes and characteristics as well. You can see this happening in Brazil, among other places.

Ben of Gold Mountain Coffee Growers told me that a nicely picked and processed natural coffee can bring out incredible cupping notes, and offer consumers amazing sweet flavours – “Some of our naturals end up tasting more like a tropical fruit salad or fruit compote than coffee.”

And what’s more, natural coffee is the most eco-friendly.

Coffee being natural processed at a farm in Honduras. Credit: Fernando Pocasangre

3. Honey/Pulped Natural Coffee

When done right, honey processed coffee can literally taste like someone has put honey and brown sugar in your cup of coffee – although the name actually comes from how sticky the beans get during processing. In many ways, this type of coffee is halfway between a washed coffee and a natural process coffee: it’s fruity, but not in as exaggerated a way as some naturals. It often has a more rounded acidity than washed coffees, with intense sweetness and complex mouthfeel.

The honey process is strongly associated with Costa Rica and, in recent years, subcategories have developed: yellow, red, golden, black, and white honey. This reflects the ability this process has to influence the taste and overall profile of a coffee. It can become a highly scientific process, as the level of mucilage – which influences the sweetness and depth of body of the coffee – is monitored and controlled. Typically, the more mucilage left on the bean, the sweeter the taste.

Honey processing in progress at a farm in Honduras. Credit: Fernando Pocasangre


Most coffee producers want to produce the most profitable and best-tasting, coffee they can, but their environment limits them. Coffee, more so than most foodstuff, has a very close bond to its surrounding environment.

Producers will often wait to see how much rain has fallen before decide whether to produce washed, honey, or natural coffee. Heavy rain makes it harder to produce good natural process because coffee cherries can start splitting. If it hasn’t rained, conditions are great for honey process or natural process because no sugars will get washed away.

Ben Weiner explained to me how Gold Mountain use refractometers on their farm to measure sugar content. This helps decide if the sugar content is high enough for natural processed or honey processed coffee. However, they also aim for high sugar content in their washed coffees, since it results in a sweeter cup.


Mike Riley of Falcon Specialty told me that traditionally producing countries have favoured one particular process. For example, Rwanda and most of Central America historically used the washed process, while Brazil tended towards honey or natural.

Yet Mike explained that this is now changing – thanks to the demand for specialty coffee. An increasing number of farmers are now willing, where environmental and climatic factors allow, to try other processing techniques. For example, in NicaraguaGuatemala, and Rwanda, some farms and cooperatives are turning towards the natural and honey processes. By doing this, they can create new, unusual flavour profiles that add value to their crop.

This goes beyond simply choosing a processing method: some producers are experimenting with the absence of oxygen for fermentation, while others are looking at catalysts to speed up fermentation. Some are also looking closer at their environmental impact, and trying to process coffees while cutting down the use of water. New machinery and knowledge-sharing are also helping to create more unique cup profiles.

There’s a demand for experimental processing methods; Ben Weiner told me that the coffees he uses alternative processing methods on “sometimes sell out even before they’re picked.” This means we can expect to see even more creative innovations in processing in the future.

Hand holding differently processed beans and cherries. Credit: Virginia Coffee Roasters

Coffee processing rarely makes it into the industry headlines or coffee shop discussions, but it’s an integral part of crafting the flavour and character of your cup of coffee. So next time you pick up a honey processed Costa Rican or a natural processed Nicaraguan, you’ll know what to look forward to.