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Don't Confuse Roast Level With Strength

What Roast Should I choose? [Is Dark Roasted Coffee Stronger?]

Coffee roasting has evolved so much in the last few decades. Not only light roasts have become more popular, but artisan roasters like Brewtus Roasting are taking the craft to new levels. A single origin coffee gets special treatment. Master roasters will take their time to test what roasting degree works best for that particular bean, through sample roasting. Once the roast established, is recorded and applied to that batch of beans.

Another neat technique in specialty coffee is blending single origin beans to various degrees; this creates complex tasting coffees by mixing origin flavors with roastiness flavors. Dark roast coffee adds more body, while light roast coffee adds distinct origin flavors. When we combine them we get an entirely different blend.

There are many popular misconceptions about the roast level and how it affects your cup of coffee. There are also some interesting facts and tips that you can use to improve your cup.

Why Do We Roast Coffee?

To better understand how roasting affects coffee beans, we need to start with the reasons we roast. Green coffee is a rich source of various antioxidants and other phytochemicals. This includes chlorogenic acid, caffeine, and polyphenols. Green coffee contains a bit more of these compounds than the roasted beans. However, there are two problems with green coffee:

  • firstly, we cannot extract these substances from green coffee using regular brewing methods

  • secondly, green coffee doesn't taste good unroasted

Roasting fixes these two problems at once.

By roasting coffee we soften the internal cells structure, so we can extract coffee easier. Some of the cell walls break during roasting; this leads to the expansion in volume and the specific cracks during the process. When the cellular structure is softer, the soluble solids in the beans are easier to extract. The more we roast, the easier to dissolve these compounds during preparation, this is critical information. It explains the myth about why people think that dark roasted coffee is stronger. It also allows us to adjust the brewing techniques so we can make a strong coffee no matter the roast. More about this later.

During the roasting process, there is also a shift in the chemical composition, due to the Maillard reaction, this causes, among other chemical changes, the sugars in coffee to caramelize. The roasting brings out the flavors and aroma from the green coffee bean. It removes the grassy taste, and and it brings out the sweetness in the beans. Depending on the origin and the type of the beans, we also adjust the roast to enhance or preserve specific flavors and aromas, and to mute others.

Is Dark Roast Really Stronger?

This is a favorite subject of mine, and I can probably write a book on it. I’m half joking, but I do get a little passionate when I talk about roasting and coffee strength.

People think that dark roasted coffee is stronger. Dark roasted coffee is not stronger than light roasted. The confusion about it is two-fold. On one hand, dark coffee tastes differently from light roasted coffee, and we perceive that as strength. In fact, we only taste roastiness and not strength. The Total Dissolved Solids, (TDS), is roughly the same for all roasts, “if“ we adjust brewing variables accordingly. The “if” is very important, because it leads us to the second side of the problem. As we mentioned before, darker roasts are easier to extract. Using the same brewing variables, water temperature, grind size and brewing/steeping time we will get a stronger cup from a darker bean. If we adjust the brewing variables for the lighter roast we will get the same TDS.

How To Compensate for Light Roast

How do we adjust for a lighter roast you might ask? In three ways: grind finer, use a slightly higher water temperature. Depending on the roast lightness, you might only need to change one variable or all. You will need to do sequential tests, to find the perfect recipe. I recommend tweaking all three variables in small increments. Mind you; a grind size change will automatically result in a longer brew time for some coffee brewing methods, this includes gravitational brewing methods, like automatic drip and pour-over.

For immersion methods, such as the French press, the dripping rate is not a factor. But finer grinds might be a problem because of the filter. If you use the Kruve sieves, you can go much finer than the industry recommendations.

Extraction time is also affected for espresso when using finer grinds. In this case, you can compensate for a finer grind size by lowering the dose. The lower dose improves the flow, preventing the over-extraction.

Which Roast Should I Choose - Light or Dark?

The roast level comes down to your preference. If you are looking for complex flavors, which retain the bean’s origin, you should choose a light roast. If you are looking for a “traditional” taste, then a darker roast is for you.

In conclusion, if the roast taste is what you like, stick with dark roast. If you want to experience modern flavors, choose a light roast. You need to adjust the brewing variables when you work with terroir coffee. If you are starting out with light roasts, may I recommend you the Costa Rica Direct Trade? This Direct Trade Black Honey from La Minita Farms in Costa Rica is grown in a micro-region of this farm and is ideal with perfect sun and shade along with the steady wind.  It is roasted lightly to preserve its incredible notes of chocolate, brown sugar, plum, and spice. It may sound like a recipe for sugar plums, but it’s a recipe for kicking mornings in the face!


This was a guest post by Dorian from Coffee Brewing Methods.

Barkeater Coffees Ethiopia Hambela Makes 2015’s Coffee Of The Year


What a great way to close out 2015! Our Ethiopia Hambela made Top Coffee for The Beaten Path Distributions Coffee of the Year list. Here at Barkeater, we know our coffees are special. We only choose the best coffees from around the world for our customers and we roast them fresh to order. Our attention to detail for every step of the process is what makes Barkeater Coffee taste so amazing, and we’re proud of that. So, you can imagine how excited we were to not only make the Top Coffees of 2015 list but come in at #1!

Beaten Path Distribution and Coffee

The Beaten Path Distribution (TBP) is a clothing and lifestyle label that specializes in vintage designs for a variety of clothing products, cool accessories, and COFFEE. That’s right, coffee!

Beaten Path’s journey to specialty coffee is familiar to those of us who are passionate about our heavenly brew. It all started with a 2013 cross-country road trip by TBP’s founder Charles Mertens. While on the trip he was visiting friends in LA, who introduced him to their favorite coffee spot, Intelligentsia. It was here that Charles got his first introduction to quality craft coffee, more specifically single origin coffee. Coffee would become an important part of Charles’ life and that passion would lead him to make coffee a part of The Beaten Path Distributors portfolio of products.

To kick things off, TBP introduced their top 3 favorite coffees of 2015. Barkeater is proud to be at number one, and to be associated with the quality brand TBP is known for.

What makes Ethiopia Hambela so special?

The history - This Ethiopian coffee is not only special because of its unique flavor profile, but also for the history of Ethiopia's Hambela Coffee Estate where it is grown. The Hambela Estate was a gift from the Ethiopian Emperor to Mulumebet Emiru, Africa’s first female pilot. Mulumebet’s passion for flying helped break the stereotypes for women in Ethiopian society and inspired future generations of Ethiopian aviation. Sadly, her flying career was cut short by the 1936 Italian invasion of Ethiopia. Mulumebet married, and the family turned their attention to cultivating the rich farmland of the estate. Wild coffee trees were transformed into a private coffee farm and forever linked Mulumebet’s story with Ethiopia Hambela coffee.

Today, the Hambela Coffee Estate is still operated by Mulumebet’s grandchildren under the METAD Agricultural Development PLC. METAD continues to break down social barriers with their employment and education opportunities that are strengthening their local community. When it comes to their coffee, they specialize in a “seed to cup” business philosophy, which ensures that only the finest Ethiopian coffees make the grade.

The process - Ethiopia Hambela is a naturally processed coffee, which means as soon as the coffee cherries are picked, they are placed on raised screens and dried whole, in the sun. When the cherries dry to the point of becoming a dark brown pod, the seed is removed and the coffee's ready for roasting. This natural method produces an amazing full body coffee experience and captures the fruity notes that make it so famous.

Thanks again to The Beaten Path Distributors for shining a spotlight on such a wonderful coffee like Ethiopia Hambela.

7 Tips For Brewing A Better Cup of Coffee

Good Coffee Doesn’t Happen By Accident, it’s the result of a harmonious relationship between coffee, water and heat. Put them together and you get coffee, put them together correctly and you get really GOOD coffee. Here are our tips for brewing a better cup of coffee, everytime.

1. Use an accurate digital scale.

Are you a “tablespooner” when it comes to measuring your morning coffee? You know the routine - dipping a spoon into a bag of pre-ground coffee and guesstimating an accurate scoop, dumping it into a filter and then pressing BREW. Hope you like variety, because with this method of brewing coffee, no two cups are ever going to taste the same.

There is a lot to be said for accurately measuring coffee. If you’re not convinced, try a little experiment. Take a handful of coffee beans and lay them on your kitchen counter. What do you notice? They are all different in size and weight. So, the amount of coffee you have after you grind the beans will never be the same. What you want to look for is consistency, and using a simple digital scale does that for you.

2. Use fresh roasted and fresh ground coffee.

Coffee is at its best within 4 weeks of roasting. After that, you run the risk of the coffee going stale. The two things that can cause your coffee to go stale are air and moisture. So, if your coffee did not come in a resealable bag, the best thing you can do is to transfer its contents to a air-tight container. Keep the container in a dry, dark place, at room temperature for long lasting results.

Ground coffee will not stay as fresh as whole bean, so it’s important to grind your coffee beans as you need them. If you grind more than you need for that day's brewing, you also need to store the ground coffee in an air-tight container.

We also want to add that not all coffee grinders are created equal. Grinders that use a blade, will produce a very inconsistent grind. Using a quality burr grinder, like a Baratza Encore, will help maintain consistency. If your grinder uses a blade, try a little experiment. Have your coffee ground at the store (they will use a burr grinder) and see if you can taste the difference.

3. Use correct water to coffee ratio.

After you have measured your coffee, now it’s time to measure the water.  The correct water to coffee ratio can make all the difference in your coffee tasting experience. You want to make sure you get all of the flavor you can from your coffee beans, to make it taste as good as possible. The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) recommends a water to coffee ratio of 16/1. So for 40oz of water you will use 2.5oz (70 grams) of coffee. This may vary slightly, depending on your brew method, but it’s a great place to start.

4. Use the correct steeping time.

Steeping is the amount of time the water is in contact with the coffee grounds. Steeping time can vary depending on which brewing method you are using. For a drip system coffee maker, steep time is roughly 5 minutes, whereas a french press (plunger pot) should be 3 - 4 minutes. The fastest time is with the AeroPress, which only needs a minute to steep. If you use an AeroPress, be sure your water is ready to pour at 205℉.

5. Use good quality water.

The flavor of coffee is a sensitive thing and can be easily influenced by contaminants in the water you use. The best rule of thumb is, if the water tastes bad - your coffee will taste bad too.  I am not saying you have to use bottled water but if your tap water doesn't taste good, it's not going to make good coffee.

Also, if you're using tap water, a good filtration system will help. Avoid using “softened” water and distilled water. They do not contain the necessary minerals for the extraction process.

6. Clean your coffee equipment.

Dirty coffee equipment, whether it’s a French press or espresso machine, can definitely affect the taste of your  coffee. The residual oils and stains, not to mention bacteria, that build up can cause your coffee to taste bitter. It’s not enough just to run hot water through your machine or it’s parts. It takes boiling water a full minute to kill harmful contaminants. A consistent cleaning habit ensures that you're getting the truest coffee flavor from your equipment.

7. Stay open minded. The final taste is what matters most.

Sound like a lot to think about just for a cup of coffee? We guarantee that taking these simple steps will provide you with the best coffee experience you’ve ever had. So, our final tip is to stay open minded and let the coffee speak for itself. You won’t be disappointed!