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Coffee Roasting 101

Coffee roasting is a chemical process by which aromatics, acids, and other flavor components are either created, balanced, or altered in a way that should augment the flavor, acidity,aftertaste and body of the coffee as desired by the roaster.

The first stage is endothermic. The green beans are slowly dried to become a yellow color and the beans begin to smell like toast or popcorn.

The second step, often called the first crack, occurs at approximately 205 °C (400 °F) in which the bean doubles in size, becomes a light brown color, and experiences a weight loss of approximately 5%. The corresponding Agtron number for this color is between 95-90 (Davids, 68-69).

In the next step the temperature rises from 205 °C to approximately 220 °C, the color changes from light brown to medium brown (Agtron # 60-50), and a weight loss of approximately 13% occurs (Davids, 68-69). The resulting chemical process is called pyrolysis and is characterized by a change in the chemical composition of the bean as well as a release of CO2.

The second step is followed by a short endothermic period which is followed by another exothermic step called the second crack. This second pyrolysis occurs between 225-230°C, and the roast color is defined as medium-dark brown (Agtron #50-45) (Davids, 68-69). The second pop is much quicker sounding and the beans take on an oily sheen.

Espresso potential is maximized in roasting when you maximize the sweetness and aroma of the coffee while minimizing the bitterness and acidity. Most people focus on the latter and therefore roast extremely dark, yet without sweetness and aroma the espresso will never be palatable. This explains the unpopularity of straight espresso and the popularity of espresso based drinks where either milk or other flavors are used to replace the sweetness that was lost by roasting darkly.

From 170-200°C the sugars in coffee begin to caramelize. From tasting pure sugar versus its caramelized component it is evident that uncaramelized sugar is much sweeter. The dark color of coffee is directly related to the caramelization of the sucrose in coffee. Therefore, to maximize sweetness you want to minimize the carmelization of sucrose, yet you do not want to roast too lightly or bitter tasting compounds will not thermally degrade. Stop the roast somewhere between the end of the first crack and less than half way through the second crack. Do not roast well into or past the second crack. We recommend a roasting chamber temperature somewhere between 205-215°C. Realizing the danger of the following suggestion we might recommend a color similar to the one below. Note: All monitors, computers, and internet browsers will display the color slightly different. This is only a recommendation to point out that this color is preferable to the almost black color you will frequently observe for espresso. To get a better idea of roasting colors order the Agtron roasting classification kit from the SCAA.


Kape Umali Coffee Co. micro roasting with GFI trade roasting provides the latest and best roasting facility in the Philippines, providing us with the best roasts and variety of flavors. We also do our own roasting for special blend coffee.


The bean is light brown, and dry (no oil visible). The flavour is baked or “bready”, like toasted grain. There will likely be definite sour tones. There is not much body in cinnamon roasted coffee.

New England

A term not as frequently used as the others, though this roast is apparently common in the eastern United States. It’s a little darker than the cinnamon roast, but without the grainy flavor. New England roast will still have some sour tones to it.

American, Light

Medium light brown beans. This roast is the norm for eastern USA. This roast (and sometimes cinnamon as well) is the most often used for cupping or professional tasting.

City, Medium

The color is darker still, more of a medium brown (think chocolate). This roast is common in the western parts of the USA. This roast is a good choice to taste the differences between varietals.

Full City

Medium dark brown beans. The beans will start to show some oily drops on the surface with this roast. Full City will have caramel or chocolate undertones.

Full City plus (Vienna Roast)

Medium dark brown beans. The beans will start to show oily drops on the surface with this roast. Full City plus will have caramel or chocolate slight burned undertones.

French Roast

Beans are starting to get dark brown, and French roasted beans are shiny with oil. There is less acidity, but with burned undertones. This roast is often used when making Espresso. Many people think this is the darkest roast available, but that’s not true.

Dark French (Italian roast)

Similar to regular French, but more so. Darker and oilier looking, and with a stronger burned flavor.

Dark French Plus (Spanish roast)

Darkest roast of all. Color is nearly black, and the flavor is flat with a charcoal undertone.

Coffee Cupping

Cupping is one of the coffee tasting techniques used by cuppers to evaluate coffee aroma and the flavor profile of a coffee. To understand the minor differences between coffee growing regions, it is important to taste coffee from around the world side-by-side. Cupping is also used to evaluate a defective coffee or to create coffee blends.

Tasting Coffee

Coffee Table Preparation

In a coffee cupping session, the table is usually set up with 6 to 10 cups per coffee. These are fashioned in a triangular manner. At the top of this triangle you should place a sample of the roasted coffee and a sample of the green coffee. In the center of the table place a cup of room temperature water and an empty cup containing the cupping spoons. Cover both the green sample and roasted sample until the cupping session is over and the coffee aroma, fragrance, and flavor profile have been documented. After this time, the coffee samples could be uncovered and additional comments can be written based on appearance. This method will help reduce the common “eye cupping” technique.

Coffee Sample Preparation

To prepare the coffee samples, place 2 tablespoons of freshly roasted and freshly ground coffee in a 6 oz cup. Ideally one should use 55g of coffee per liter of water. The grind should be between a French press size and a drip coffee size. The coffee should be roasted light (Agtron 65). In the industry we often stop the roast about 30 seconds into the first crack long before the start of the second crack. This allows us to fully evaluate the coffee for defects and for the sweetness and aroma that are burned off at darker roasts. The roast should be similar for all of the coffees evaluated. During an important coffee cupping session the roast similarity can be verified visually by grinding a portion of each sample and lining the coffee samples up next to each other on a black sheet of paper.

Coffee Fragrance and Aroma Analysis

While the filtered water is boiling, smell the coffee grounds and write down your observations. The smell of the grounds (before water is added) is referred to as the fragrance.

Then add hot water–just off the boil–to each cup. At this time you should also add hot water to the cup containing the spoons so that the spoons stay at the same temperature as the cups containing the coffee. Smell each cup without disturbing it and write down your initial observations of the coffee aroma.

After 1-2 minutes, break the crust of the coffee using one of the preheated spoons. Put your nose directly over the cup and push the coffee down. This is the most potent burst of aroma you will have during cupping and is the best time to evaluate the coffee aroma. As you break the crust stir the cup a little to make sure all of the coffee is covered in water and to help the coffee sink to the bottom of the cup. Add any further description of the aroma to the description you wrote before breaking the crust.

Rinse the spoon in hot water and move to the next sample. After evaluating the aroma of all of the samples, scoop out any grounds that continue to float. Due to the high density of the lightly roasted coffee most of the grounds will sink.

Coffee Flavor Analysis

After the coffee has cooled sufficiently take some coffee into the spoon and slurp the coffee strongly to aspirate it over the entire tongue. It is important to aspirate strongly since you are trying to cover the entire tongue evenly. Aspirating strongly will also cause tiny droplets of coffee to be distributed into the throat and into the nasal passage. The nose can act as another powerful tasting tool. Most of the flavor observed in a coffee is a result of aromatic compounds present in the coffee. This effect can be demonstrated by plugging your nose while drinking coffee. While the nasal passage is blocked, the coffee will likely taste similar to instant coffee due to its lack of aroma. When the nasal passage is opened, a full rainbow of flavors will immediately become evident.

After each coffee taste test, write down your observations of coffee taste, acidity, aftertaste, and body. Move to the next cup and try to compare the different cups. As the coffee in each cup cools, it is often possible to detect new flavors. Therefore, it is important to cup a coffee when it is both warm and when it has cooled to just above room temperature. The best coffees will have positive characteristics at both ranges of temperature.

If you are cupping more than a couple cups of coffee, it is advisable to spit out the coffee after evaluation. When cupping several coffees it is possible to have too much caffeine, which can adversely alter your cupping ability.

Coffee Cupping Conclusions

The key to cupping coffee is practice and humility. The best cuppers I know are modest and always eager to learn more. I have served on cupping juries with some of the best in the world and we do not always agree. The beauty is that we agree to disagree while respecting and trying to identify the characteristics that other people find.

Do not be intimidated by people that try to impress you with some abstract description of a coffee. This is more of a romantic tribute to a coffee rather than a reality. Cupping coffee should be fun and interesting, but not a contest of who is more articulate. On the other hand, your description should be more substantial than a reiteration of a textbook definition of a coffee.

Despite the strict, scientific-like protocol to coffee cupping, the method followed in the industry is quite varied and almost every good cupper has his or her own permutation. Cup under conditions you like, but try to stay close to the standards in case you need to cup with other people.

The secret to becoming a good coffee cupper is simple: trust yourself by practicing regularly and be humble enough to continue to learn from others.