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Specialty Coffee Roasters Turn Raw Beans Into Aromatic Art

Freshly harvested coffee beans are firm and green, with their fragrant potential still locked inside. Using a combination of instinct and scientific accuracy, heat is carefully applied, ultimately changing those hard little nuggets into the perfect morning brew. Specialty coffee roasters bring out unique regional flavors by carefully raising the temperature of each bean to attain specific, desirable taste qualities.

Without that process, this beverage would never have achieved its current popularity. Raw beans are much smaller than roasted, but are basically the same shape. Large-scale commercial producers use enormous rotating drums that can be heated to around 550 degrees. As the contents tumble, they are not burned, but begin to undergo changes through pyrolysis, doubling their size and releasing flavors and fragrances.

Readily available lower-cost commercial coffees can smell fantastic while being brewed, and contain enough caffeine to satisfy most people, but cannot really compare to beans that have been specially planted according to topography, carefully harvested, and then roasted perfectly. Although modern equipment is employed, roasting has become a creative skill that requires using the sense of smell, sight, and even hearing.

Like fine wine grapes, flavors vary according to soil type and local micro-climate. Beans having certain taste qualities in one part of the world may seem quite different when grown and harvested in another, and those differences can be enhanced through various styles of roasting. The styles are based primarily on color and final temperature, and can often be determined simply by looking at the beans.

Light roasting is ideal for less intense varieties of beans. This style usually does not have visible oil on the surface after processing, because the beans do not stay heated long enough for interior oils to escape. The same holds true for medium roasts, which are darker in color, but still oil-free, and are the most-preferred by Americans. Medium-dark roasts stay hotter longer, and have a noticeable aftertaste.

Authentic dark roasts are an ebony or chocolate color, usually have visible surface oils, and leave a bitter residual taste if chewed. The length of time in the roaster determines final depth of color, and some roasts are nearly charred to create robust beverages like espresso. No matter which variety of bean is being roasted, the amount of time it spends during the process dramatically changes the flavor.

Respected processors contribute immensely to the reputation and popularity of a particular variety of beans simply by improving and intensifying internal flavors through expert roasting. Rather than simply loading the beans and flicking a switch, true coffee artisans take into account the slight variations even in crops grown on the same farm, and adjust their processes accordingly.

They also consider local humidity, the outside temperature during roasting, and the intended final product style. A skilled roaster can usually determine when a batch is finished simply by the aroma and color depth. The end result is not only scientific, but also based on human senses and skills. When the goal is top-notch flavor, an educated palate is the best judge.

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