Introduction to Roasting at Prufrock
For those of us who drink coffee, and I guess that applies to everyone that reads this, how a green bean becomes a brown bean with so much soluble flavour is nothing short of alchemy. Here at London’s Best Coffee, we have dallied with so many aspects of coffee from effects of farming practices to brewing methods to the effect of water composition but we had to admit to relative ignorance when it comes to the process of roasting. For this reason we jumped at the chance to book a place on Matthew Robley-Siemonsma’s Introduction to Roasting course at Prufrock.
Matthew is now General Manager at Prufrock Coffee where is love of a thoughtful, data-driven scientific approach to coffee dovetails with Jeremy Challender’s approach like a partnership born to be. Previously the man behind TAP Coffee’s roasting and many other aspects of their cafe, Matthew placed a close third in the World Roasting Championship in Shanghai this year. He has overseen installation of a roasting suite at Prufrock with two beautiful 1kg roasters: a Diedrich IR 1kg roaster and a Probatino 1kg by Probat. Look out for Matthew’s Bunny Brand coffee on filter at Prufrock.
Dubbed an introduction to roasting, the course actually gets in quite deep – I was certainly glad I read a large chunk of Scott Rao’s book ‘The Coffee Roaster’s Companion’ before the course as the four of us included on current roaster for a large coffeeshop and two coffeeshop owners considering roasting. That said, Matthew made it clear that the course was flexible enough to incorporate and follow our questions and I was unafraid to ask some fairly basic questions at times and got the feeling others were glad I asked.
Appropriately, we started with cupping. As Matthew emphasised, all roasting must relate back to taste and a good quality cupping programme can allow constant refinement of roast quality provided record keeping and data feeds into that process. Matthew throughout had a personable teaching style with a real gift for explaining the complex in a simple way and using practical experience to teach theoretical content. That first cupping featured Jeremy’s competition winning Panamanian Gesha which was a highlight of the day in itself.
Four hours of training was very intense but also very accessible. We all got to roast coffee under Matthew’s direction and use Cropster on the computer to record our data and manage important variables such as ‘rate of rise’ – the acceleration factor as bean temperature increases that gives a more fine tuned observation of change than following temperature curves. That moment when first crack approached was heart-rush exhilarating – at least for me – trying to manage the rate of temperature rise as ‘first crack’ approached and simultaneously controlling the gas, plotting changes on Cropster and watching the beans’ development ready to turn off the gas.
First crack refers to the popping sound when the coffee’s moisture has been evaporated and the beans increase in size (there seem parallels with popcorn). The changes of temperature leading into first crack and the control of bean development in the time after first crack are huge factors in variety of roasts. All five of our roasts took roughly the same amount of time and had fairly similar development times after first crack but tasted quite distinct on cupping. Small differences make big differences.
I know have a kilo of some fairly delicious Guatemalan coffee at home that I roasted myself. If I felt like an expectant parent on delivery as the coffee emerged from the roaster, I certainly carried that baby home carefully. I would very much recommend this course and learned a lot – not least a few tips for cupping. This course is not accredited but it is a great introduction and there’s so much to learn. I do know that London School of Coffee run SCAE accredited roasting courses but these are very different courses and much more expensive. Matthew’s course at Prufrock is fun and well worth going on whether you’re a roaster, planning to roast or just interested in the whole story of coffee from farm to cup.
Book here for July 3rd £150