I’ve said this a bunch of times over my short coffee life: Dealing with water is the most important part of the roasting process. More important, methinks, than the latter stages of approach into first and possibly even than the final drop point.
I say it without any science to back it up (this is where you can chime in); but only what I consider to be common sense and my own experiences with my own quirky roaster.
Here’s my thinking. When greens are first dropped into the roaster they have more ingredients in them than at any time in the roasting process. Not only are they at their standard 10-12% water content, but Strecker/Maillard has not had a chance to reduce or eliminate any sugars. You have all the cards in the deck still intact.
Once water content gets to zero, of course, we start cracking and we move from one type of coffee preparation to another–we go from the cooking actions we do when the steak is first put on the grill, for instance, to the actions we do when the steak has been seared and sealed and now it just needs to continue to cook through to completion. But prior to that period, during the initial drying stages, one’s approach to getting from twelve per cent to zero per cent water can shape the final approaches into first and beyond and can have a drastic effect on how the coffee will ultimately taste.
I have known roasters who say that the way to attack density/acidity in high-grown coffees is with heat. They charge at 400, 410, 415 in hopes of keeping the bottom-of-the-curve temp high enough to dry the coffees in what they consider to be an acceptable amount of time. Another way of viewing this is that they want to dry out all the water in the first 6-7 minutes so that their approach to first shows up at what they’ve been told/taught is within the proper time frame of 9-10 minutes. I’m not saying 9-10 minutes to first crack is or isn’t proper, good, right. I’m saying depending on the physical dynamics of the greens, the drum, the ambient space in the drum and how the roaster works there is often a lot of sweetness being left on the table, or, better put, in the roaster.
I’m not trying to project my own tastes and sensibilities on anyone. I’m merely saying my own empirical testing has shown sweeter, more interesting cups when I slow down the drying stage and hit first in the 12-13 minute area and then slow things down for a 16-17 drop time, before the final approach to second (which I rarely, if ever, hit).
My point here is to ask what others’ approach is to the early stages and what body of experience they have employed in coming to that roasting philosophy. I simply don’t hear enough discussion about the early drying stages versus the discussion-heavy first through second crack techniques people apply.
Add here the caveat that every coffee is, of course, different and maybe there’s enough ammo to start a little roasters’ discussion. Bueller?