pleased to offer an Assamese tea from a famous estate dating back to
1897. Named after nearby Sessa River (“Cold” in
Assamese), the Sessa Estate is in Darrang District on the banks of
the mighty Brahmaputra River. The river valley stretches all the way
across the isolated region of Northeast India, as does the state of
Assam, with western borders shared with Bangladesh and eastern
borders touching Myanmar. It is a place of incredible beauty and
rich biodiversity, home to many endangered species including the
Further from ports and travel destinations than famous mountainous micro-regions of Darjeeling and Sikkim, the low-lying state of Assam is less well-known in the US. However, its tea tradition is unrivaled –it is the origin of Camellia sinensis var. assamica, the sub-species of tea that was cultivated on enormous plantations by the British in the second half of the 19th century, not only in India but also Sri Lanka and Kenya, and that now supplies most of the world’s black tea.
In Assam, tea is grown at low altitude in the abundant alluvial soils of the Brahmaputra River valley. With steep Himalayan mountains just a few miles to the north, Assam receives drenching monsoon rains coupled with intense heat that create a greenhouse effect in which tea bushes thrive, while relatively cool winters protect them from pests (in most other places, tea is grown at higher altitudes).
to state sources, the total tea harvested and processed in Assam
is 650 million kilograms, or about 1.4 billion pounds, each year!
Assam is considered the global leader in tea production, but we are
less familiar with it here in the US because the majority goes to
tea-lovers in Russia and the Middle East. However, “Irish
Breakfast” tea is typically made with Assamese tea leaves, and it
is loved for its bold malty flavor. Most tea connoisseurs prefer the
“second flush” Assamese teas, which are usually “tippy” and
have full body and rich sweetness.
Assam is full of tea estates; Sessa is known as one of the best, receiving excellence awards from the Tea Board of India. This selection is their top lot, a beautiful tippy assamica, very small whole leaves tinged with orange. The liquor produced is also a pleasing warm amber color, with malty aroma reminiscent of fresh baked croissants. Overall relatively mild in flavor, this is an exceedingly refined Assamese tea, with a perfect dryness that lingers on the palate after the initial sweet and malty flavors fade. Detectable in this delicate astringency are grapefruit and almond notes, but mostly you will be charmed by the up-front molasses sweetness and silky malty body of this flawless second flush tippy black tea.
The rich Japanese tea culture has experimented and innovated for hundreds of years, and some of the most prized teas in the world come from this relatively small island nation. “Relatively” is an important qualifier – Japan is dwarfed by nearby China, yet it is almost as large as California and its population is a whopping 127 million people, more than one third of the US population. But Japanese cities are densely concentrated along the coastlines, and the mountainous interior boasts many tea plantations which have been meticulously curated for many generations. Elaborate and labor-intensive traditions produce unique and sensational green teas. We are very proud to expand our selection to include famous Japanese health teas such as Gyokuro, Genmaicha, Kukicha, and Matcha.
Genmaicha – with roasted popped brown rice infusing sweet caramel and barley-tones, genmaicha literally means “brown rice tea.” Also frequently called “the people’s tea,” it is often consumed by those working long hours without meals, or as a mineral-rich fortifying tonic.
Organic Roasted Kukicha – with very low caffeine, but full of antioxidants and minerals, this special “twig tea” is thought to be an important dietary supplement for those who are trying to keep their body balanced – it is very highly revered within the macrobiotic theory of health.
Gyokuro – the pampered princess of teas, Gyokuro – “jade dew” – requires enormous labor devoted to meticulous methods of care-taking the most precious specialized tea shrubs. It is intensely green and surprisingly sweet, with abundant chlorophyll in the tiny young leaves.
Matcha Kansai – even more refined than Gyokuro, this exquisite Matcha from the southern Kansai region is “stone-ground tea,” a fine powder that makes a cup unlike any other on earth. Consuming the entire tea leaf means that a cup of Matcha has more than 100x the antioxidants of ordinary green tea!
Chinese teas processed in Japanese style:
These teas are well-made and authentic tasting, but also significantly more affordable than rare Japanese versions.
Many of us change our diets with the seasons, and we look forward to those winter-time baked goodies or spring wild mushrooms or summertime barbecues (or if you’re like me, you are really enjoying the overlap between this year’s bountiful oyster mushroom harvests and Wisconsin neighbor’s cheerful insistence on grilling out in spite of chilly rain – made-from-scratch mushroom burgers, woohoo!). So, what teas should we pair with our summer snacks and activities?
Sometimes we associate tea with winter time, and it is true that BCT carries numerous loose leaf teas which warm and soothe us through cold dark weather. But we also have a bunch of teas – some just newly arrived! – that are perfect for summer, bright and vibrant and deliciously cool, sweet, tart, or floral.
Like these, which make excellent iced teas:
Moroccan Mint Green Tea – a new recipe now blended in-house! Very cooling with powerful “double-mint” and a lovely gunpowder tea
Berry Mint Black Tea – another new BCT recipe, this exciting combo of minty coolness and bright fruit punch tartness alongside a nice Nilgiri tea will have you hooked after just one taste!
Acai Berry Black Tea – more like a classic iced tea, this popular offering has a powerful palette of malty, sweet, and tart flavors.
Lemon Ginger Pai Mu Tan – one of our most popular flavored white teas, this delicate floral elixir will soothe your belly after you eat one too many mushroom burgers 😉 Some folks like to mix it half-and-half with Earl Grey, making a powerfully floral iced tea.
For something a little different, try these iced herbal infusions:
Herbal Energizer – a fantastic caffeine-free concoction will boost your spirits with ginseng and St John’s wort, focus your attention with sour lemongrass, and mystify your taste buds with a sparkling palette of hibiscus, peppermint, licorice and passion fruit.
Fortifying teas to boost stamina for long summer nights:
Mt Everest Breakfast Blend – so-called “English Breakfast Tea” is not just for breakfast (in fact that name is American, in England they call it “tea”). This scrumptiously malty and caffeine-rich blend of Assam and Yunnan teas is a superb example of a classic black.
Genmaicha – a much-loved Japanese health tea, it includes roasted popped brown rice which imparts sweet caramel and barley-toned starches, and is often consumed by those working long hours without meals.
Roasted Kukicha – actually very low in caffeine, but full of antioxidants and minerals, this special Japanese “twig tea” is a good dietary supplement for those who are trying to stay balanced even in the rush of summer.
NEW! BCT Blends are designed to wow your tastebuds while staying affordable enough to share the love! Toasty Apple Tart and Smoky Grey include pine-smoke flavored Lapsang Souchong in addition to other teas and nuanced flavorings. Lapsang teas impart a rich body that is incomparably smooth and velvety, and the flavors recall friendly campfires and so many heart-warming memories that accompany them. Both of these intriguing and pleasing flavored black teas are just perfect for sharing with buddies during your next backpacking trip or fishing camp or backyard solstice party.
And should you feel a little unbalanced after the party, Pu-Erh Tea is famous as a hangover cure 😉
Some of our favorite and most popular coffees are labeled “Terruño Nayarita,” which translates as “my Nayarit homeland” and designates high-quality sustainable coffees grown by family land-holders and small local cooperatives in the compact west-central Mexican state of Nayarit.
Mexico has a unique position in the world of coffee – it is the number one producer of certified organic coffees, yet most of the coffee coming out of Mexico today is not considered to be top quality. This somewhat counter-intuitive situation is a result of the Mexican coffee industry’s unusual history.
Beginning in the late 1700’s, some coffee plantations were founded by wealthy Europeans who took advantage of colonial laws to “purchase” large tracts of land from the state even though there were many indigenous peoples still living in traditional ways in the isolated mountains of the southern-most states of Oaxaca and Chiapas. These states still have the most coffee estates and the highest indigenous populations to this day, but it has been a bumpy path across the centuries. In the 1800’s, wealthy landowners used many methods to force local peoples out of the prime agricultural land, then after setting up feudal-style plantations known as haciendas, they exploited the locals, forcing or tricking them into becoming serfs, enslaved peasants who are obligated to work the land but do not own any of its produce. The peasant laborers and many other poor rural folks are generically named campesinos (from el campo, countryside), while plantation owners were called patrónes. Greedy patrónes tricked displaced peoples into working by promising payment, but then charged so many fees for housing and other daily needs that campesinos very often found themselves further and further in debt, with no hope of ever owning land or leaving it to find opportunities elsewhere.
This was the only type of coffee cultivation happening prior to the land reforms that came with the Mexican Constitution of 1917, which precipitated out of the Mexican Revolution, when Emiliano Zapata and an impassioned movement of millions of campesinos overthrew the colonial-style government (though Mexico technically gained independence from Spain in 1821, the state was still controlled by European-descended elite landowners, especially the Catholic Church, for nearly 100 more years).
Agrarian reforms returned some tracts of land to local indigenous communities, and throughout the 1900’s Mexican coffee cultivation gradually transformed into the more widespread granjas or fincas ( small-scale “farms” or “estates”) that are common today. Significantly, the Constitution freed thousands of serfs enslaved on plantations and gave them small parcels of land; campesinos who knew about growing coffee often continued in that industry. Lands held communally (not private property) in the traditional indigenous ways are called ejidos and cultivated collectively. Ejidos were plentiful in mountainous regions, and almost overnight thousands of new coffee operations dotted the southern Mexican mountains, but it would take decades before these operations actually became profitable.
By 1973 the government-funded National Coffee Institute of Mexico (INMECAFE) was helping countless farmers with technical assistance, credit, transportation to markets, and guaranteed purchases ensured by large international contracts. In the last quarter of the century, small-scale coffee cultivation increased exponentially. However, when the Mexican government defaulted on foreign loans and was forced to undergo the painful process of neoliberal reforms called “structural adjustments,” INMECAFE collapsed in 1989, and without the support of the state many isolated mountain villagers were unable to find buyers for their crops. In the 1990’s, coffee prices plummeted, and predatory coffee brokers called coyotes exploited isolated and uneducated farmers, paying far less than the cost of production, and the industry went into a desperate tailspin for several decades. This is part of the reason that exceptional specialty coffees are relatively rare in Mexico – many campesinos are so impoverished that they have been unable to modernize their tiny family farms, and they are still growing coffee to the standards of the 1900’s.
Cooperatives and other social welfare and labor justice organizations have been forming to counteract these negative trends, and now small-scale coffee production is thriving again. This is mostly the result of local and national groups enacting the same types of programs that were formerly provided by INMECAFE, especially micro-loans and direct access to global specialty coffee markets. The move toward organic coffees began because the prices for organic beans are usually more stable, but it has grown because it is just so obviously the right thing to do for the land, water, and peoples. Now many of these co-ops promote a wide variety of sustainability initiatives, both environmental and economic, and they implicitly support the diverse social movements that are thriving in southern Mexico. Terruño Nayarita is an example of one of these grassroots “coffee justice” projects that seeks to improve the livelihoods and the lands of coffee producers by helping them to improve their crops and the prices they receive for them.
In Nayarit just as in Oaxaca and Chiapas, diminutive fincas are mostly owned and operated by indigenous campesinos who have very little access to education and technology. Frequently, these farmers have for decades received too little income to ever get ahead, and their cultivation methods suffered as they cut corners to reduce costs, leading to mediocre coffees and degraded soils. The Terruño Nayarita project seeks to change that – with a direct connection to specialty coffee markets, these family farms pull in much better income, and as they rebuild robust sustainable economies they also benefit from educational programs that teach about new agricultural technology with emphasis on environmental responsibility and stewardship.
Terruño Nayarita includes over 260 growers cultivating a total of around 650 hectares. At an average of 2.5 hectares (6 acres) per farmer, these tiny estates are well below the average of 3.5 hectares per farm in Mexico. And far below other countries – Brazil’s average size is about 7.5 hectares, large Brazilian fazendas can be 300-500+ hectares.
Most of the growers are clustered around an extinct volcano called Cerro San Juan, just west of Nayarit’s capitol Tepic. They cultivate shade-grown coffee on steep slopes isolated from civilization by eroded treacherous roads. Most of them have installed simple wet mills on the roofs of their houses or built into the hillsides, utilizing gravity to lessen the labor. Then final processing, sorting, and bagging is done at a centralized cooperative dry mill.
Supported by San Cristobal Coffee Importers in the USA, and Cafés Sustentables de México and the Universidad Autonoma de Nayarit locally, farmers are able to pool their crops together to reach the minimum volume that is expected by big importers. These organizations collaborate on innovative programs that educate and help to modernize operations in pursuit of more sustainable and higher quality production, like the “FincaLab” that growers can use to roast, cup, and assess their crops, learning about which qualities are highly prized in global markets, and how they can adjust their processing methods to achieve those results.
Arguably the finest artisanal coffee produced in Mexico, each Terruño Nayarita bag is labeled with a barcode so that it can be traced with incredible accuracy – every batch of Terruño Nayarita coffee beans, no matter how small, is a singular micro-lot from a specific day, usually containing beans from only 2-3 estates, and consumers can learn exactly what is in their cup by going to www.trackyourcoffee.com – try it, using sample codes like GTN4601131 (Washed) or GTN4602119 (Natural) – these are just two examples, we cannot list every unique code from every single bag!
At highest priority are the economic initiatives that help small-scale farmers to get decent, reliable prices for their premium coffee crops. An interesting approach employed by San Cristobal Coffee Importers is to pay a smaller upfront fee upon delivery of the crop (with bonuses for higher quality picking) in order to dissuade farmers from being tempted to sell to exploitative coyotes offering wads of cash, then an additional payment after processed beans are sorted, graded, and exported. This method has similar logic to the “community supported agriculture” (CSA) model that pays farmers upfront costs to guarantee their survival even if the year’s crop fails due to weather or pests. Together, the two payments bring total income much higher than what any coyote would pay, and they encourage sustainable and high-quality products.
There have been many challenges for the Terruño Nayarita project – in recent years they have struggled to stay in the black due to torrential rains that ruined everyone’s crops, government seizure of a newly constructed dry mill, and in the early years they almost went under when a corrupt administrator embezzled all the money – but in spite of these difficulties, they have maintained their focus on helping to uplift the campesinos of Nayarit, and through sheer dedication they have continued to improve their coffee offerings at the same time as they uplift the lives of those who grow these exceptional beans.
Terruño Nayarita is such an inspiring project – we hope that others will emulate their innovative and effective programs. Because all around the world, most small coffee farmers still have very little power to negotiate prices, which are decided by inaccessible global commodity markets. Cooperation is essential to advancing farms and families, and producing an amazing cup of coffee is such a satisfying reason to work together!
Change is slow in impoverished rural areas, but over the years the partnerships of Terruño Nayarita have begun to transform local economies and quality of life around Cerro San Juan. The many family farms of Terruño Nayarita are re-establishing a culture of caring for the beautiful land that their ancestors have inhabited for millennia – they can be proud to be a part of a brand that celebrates “my Nayarit homeland,” and you can be proud to support this uplifting solidarity project.
We just revamped the recipe for our popular “Moroccan Mint” Green tea blend. The importer that formerly supplied that product no longer has it available, so now we are blending it in-house. We are very pleased with the results, and we are sure that you will be too!
It goes on sale just in time for the summer swelter – Moroccan Mint Green is perfect for iced tea, very cooling and refreshing!
A premium-quality interpretation of a classic North African preparation, this “double-mint” green tea will demand your attention with a strong amber cup bursting with flavor. Our new version uses a high-quality green tea, more nuanced than the previous, but still bright and hardy, holding its own against powerful mints.
And this tea is a treat for all the senses! The tiny tea pellets unfold and dance in the teapot as they infuse astringent and bright green tones. The heady mint aroma is noticeable immediately. Two kinds of mint create a complex profile, and this blend is generous with both spearmint and peppermint – when sipped this tea produces a great cooling effect on the palate and the entire body.
Traditionally, Moroccan mint tea is boiled with generous handfuls of fresh mint and plenty of sugar, poured from high up into small glasses (to improve aeration and flavor!), and ceremoniously served to guests in three rounds – each with a distinct flavor profile, as described in this saying, “The first glass is as gentle as life, the second is as strong as love, the third is as bitter as death.” And it is a staple of daily public life – throughout the Muslim world, tea bars provide social spaces similar to pubs.
This tea is at its best with sugar, you may also enjoy it with honey. Try it iced with lemon and a few fresh mint leaves, a perfect summer refreshment.
Steeping Time – 3 Minutes
Water Temp – 180 F
Gunpowder green tea, spearmint, peppermint and peppermint flavoring
Here in Wisconsin, we got so excited about melting snow and increasing sun… only to be hit with more bleak winter weather this week.
The seasons are shifting, the first flowers are appearing, and we know that the worst of the cold is behind us; but even in the springtime, mornings are often dreary, damp and chilling. Recently, I have fallen in love with our new tea blend – Smoky Grey, a mix of soft and subtle Earl Grey and Lapsang Souchong teas – because it is really warming and invigorating, especially in gloomy weather. We mix up Smoky Grey right here at BCT, and we are eager to share the pleasant cheerfulness of this unique blend with everyone.
Earl Grey tea is typically served with lemon, not milk like all other British teas. But some folks also like it with milk, especially steamed milk like a latte. They often add vanilla and lavender flavors and call this scrumptious beverage a London Fog, an appropriate name because it is a lovely sparkly pick-me-up in the chilly North Atlantic mist. Adding the smoky Lapsang Souchong into the mix amplifies the warming powers of this tea, and imbues even more rich silky body into the cup. In this blend, both the bergamot and the pine smoke flavorings are complimentary and rather subtle, delivering a flavor profile that is very soft yet still leaves a fuzzy-tingly sensation on the palate. It brings a smile with every sip.
And keep your eyes open for more interesting new arrivals and BCT-exclusive blends. I am looking forward to exploring the exciting world of premium teas with all of you!
Cheers, Tyler (BCT “tea trader”)
RECIPE: How to make a London Fog
Perhaps a little smoky flavor in your Earl Grey Latte makes the taste even more reminiscent of London – ha! This charming silky-sparkly beverage will give you a warm cheery moment, a little break in the clouds.
1 Tablespoon Smoky Grey Tea
1/2 cup hot water (212°F)
1/2 cup milk (or almond milk or other milk substitute)
1/4 tsp vanilla extract and/or lavender extract
1-2 tsp honey or sweetener of your choice
Steep tea in water for 3-5 minutes (depending on strength preference)
Mix tea with frothed milk (if you do not have a frother or steamer, warming milk on stove top will also work)
Or try the amazing AeroPress – make a single serving of strong espresso coffee without any fancy equipment! The secret is simple, a combination of a hand-plunger and a thick filter that creates just the right amount of resistance to make a high-pressure extraction. It takes some elbow grease, but less contact time with the grounds produces a cup with the rich body and lower acidity that everyone loves about espresso – definitely very satisfying! – without any expensive machines or dangerous steam.
Kenneth Davids, author of Home Coffee Roasting: Romance and Revival and editor of coffeereview.com says “When used properly, AeroPress produces a better espresso shot than many home machines that cost twenty or thirty times as much.” If you are an espresso lover, you will be very impressed by this fantastic specialty coffee-maker – check out the AeroPress!
Whatever brewing method you prefer, always be sure that all equipment is cleaned thoroughly. After each use, rinse your equipment with hot water and dry it with an absorbent towel. Check that no grounds have been left to collect on any part of the equipment and that there is no build-up of caffeol, coffee oils. Such residues can impart a bitter or rancid flavor to future cups of coffee.
Next you will want to be sure that you have the right grind for the brewing method. Over or under extracting can cause your coffee to taste bitter or flat. Use a much more consistent and effective burr grinder instead of a blade grinder, if possible. We have created a guide so that you can learn about the recommended grind level for your equipment, and adjust your grinder accordingly.
The water in your coffee is very important, second only to the coffee itself! Unpleasant strong odors or tastes like chlorine can ruin a nuanced cup of specialty coffee. Use filtered or bottled water if possible. If tap water is your only option, let it run for a few seconds before filling your coffee pot and use only cold water. To eliminate chlorine odors completely, you may leave tap water in an open pitcher for a few days and chlorine will gradually evaporate out. Do not use distilled water or softened water – naturally-occurring minerals impart subtle flavors in water, and water without them is noticeably dull-tasting and unsatisfying.
Ideal water temperature is between 195-205°F. Get a variable-temperature kettle or just use a thermometer to check your water temperature. Or remember the general rule that water reaches its max boiling point at 212°, so when water begins to boil just take it off the heat and let it stand to cool for a little less than a minute and it should be within the ideal temperature range.
In general, use 1-2 tablespoons of ground coffee for every 6 ounces of water, or 5-10 grams in every 175 milliliters. Please note that using metric weight measurements is always more accurate than old-fashioned volume measurements like tablespoons – but since everyone has different tastes, it seems fine to generalize “a little more than one tablespoon” of grounds for one medium-sized mug of coffee. To make a full pot of coffee in a 10-cup Chemex, we recommend about 10 tablespoons (40-55 g) of fresh grounds into up to 50 ounces (1500 mL) of water.
Always consider your brew method – french press and percolator require less grounds than auto-drip or pour-over – and adjust to suit the specific coffee beans and your personal taste preferences. Whatever your strength preference, for the most consistent results be sure to always weigh your grounds using a digital scale, and keep notes in your Roaster’s Journal. You will have to experiment to find the sweet spot for each unique bean, but with experience you will begin to notice regional tendencies. For example, we often use about 20-30% more grounds when brewing mild Hawaiian coffees. Additionally, many home coffee roasters prefer to use less grounds for high-acid light roasts (like Kenyans) or more grounds for thick-bodied dark roasts (like Indonesians).
The amount of time that the water is in contact with the coffee grounds is another important factor affecting the taste of your coffee. Of course, different brewing methods require different brewing times. In a drip system, the contact time should be approximately 5 minutes, but for a french press it should be limited to just 2-4 minutes. For espresso, coffee grounds are in contact with pressurized steam for only 20-30 seconds, whereas cold brew will usually steep overnight, 12 or more hours. If the taste of your coffee is not optimal, it is possible that you are either over-extracting (brew time too long, will tend to taste bitter) or under-extracting (brew time too short, will tend to taste flat). Experiment with contact time to find the cup that suits your tastes perfectly.
One Last Tip:
NEVER reuse coffee grounds. Once brewed, the desirable coffee flavors have been extracted and only the bitter undesirable stuff remains. But if you like to avoid waste, one great way to utilize depleted coffee grounds is as nutrient-dense and easily decomposed fertilizer. It is very beneficial to potted plants or garden beds; wet grounds may be sprinkled directly on top of soil, or mixed in with other compost.
Does the grind of your coffee really make that much of a difference? Absolutely it does! Every brewing method works differently and requires a different grind level. Over-extraction or under-extraction may lead to a disappointing cup even if the beans themselves are top-notch, so learning about the correct grind level for optimum extraction is very important for coffee connoisseurs.
“Extraction” is the pulling of flavors from coffee beans into water. All sorts of compounds end up in your cup, some dissolving in shorter contact with water and heat, others requiring much longer exposure. To get the best cup, it is necessary to extract the right amounts of the right compounds, and to avoid the bad-tasting ones (even the finest coffees will turn bitter if over-extracted!). Over-extracted coffee tends to be very bitter while under-extracted coffee tends to taste flat. Different extraction methods require different amounts of ground coffee, different amounts of contact time – see our brewing tips here – and especially different grind levels.
When trying new coffees, you may need to experiment with contact time and amount of grounds to find the cup that suits your tastes perfectly, but if you frequently feel that your coffee is “too bitter” or “too weak,” consider adjusting your grind level first. Here are guidelines that will help you decide the best grind level for your brewing method.
Crafting the perfect cup of fresh coffee is easy, convenient, and affordable with home coffee roasters. There are countless methods for roasting green coffee beans, but for those who are seeking an exciting new hobby in home roasting, those embarking on the flavor adventures of tasting different specialty coffees every day, an automatic home roasting machine makes this adventure easy and accessible .
There are two types of roasters: Fluid Bed Roasters such as the FreshRoast SR models are similar to hot-air popcorn poppers, with a glass roasting chamber that makes it easy to watch and stop the cycle when beans reach the desired roast level; Drum Roasters such as the Behmor 1600 Plus and the Gene Café have a larger metal screen drum that rotates and tumbles the beans as they are roasting.
Drum roasters allow larger batches and roast beans more evenly and consistently, and they give more control over the entire process than the simple fluid bed roasters. They are also significantly more expensive, but are a good option for anyone who wants to share or sell a few of their freshly roasted beans (but please note that none of the home roasters are designed for large-scale commercial roasting).
For any type of roaster, the basic steps are similar:
Fill the Roaster:
For best results, always fill roaster with the same measure of green coffee beans (the measure varies from roaster to roaster, it is about 2.5-6 ounces by weight in the FreshRoast and 10-16 ounces in the Gene/Behmor).
With a fluid bed roaster, the more coffee you roast, the hotter it gets. However, too much coffee per batch may cause the roast to become uneven and the roaster to overheat. We recommend always staying within the manufactures guidelines. With a drum roaster, the less coffee you roast, the hotter it gets and the faster the roast time. We recommend weighing your coffee precisely to get consistent results.
Set the Time or Profile:
Knowing how long the beans should be roasted is a matter of practice – different coffees have different requirements, and every machine has its own unique roasting curve. But each machine has a variety of settings – each model has a different approach to controlling the settings, and we recommend reading the appropriate user guide, listed below. For every home roaster, we recommend maintaining a Roasting Notes Journal to ensure consistency.
Watch and Listen:
Green coffee beans gradually turn yellow, then brown, then as the roast progresses they more rapidly darken until they become black. A pleasant smell gradually rises out of the roaster, though it becomes pungent and noticeably burned and smoky if the roast goes too far.
The beans will pop or “crack” twice during the roasting process. For many home roasters, it is easy to judge correct roast level by listening to these cracks. For most beans we generally recommend aiming for a medium roast, which can be anywhere between the “first crack” and the “second crack” – anything before first crack will be underdeveloped, after second crack will be a dark roast and smoky flavors will overpower the unique nuances of special coffees. Read more about the spectrum of Coffee Roast Styles, or if you feel like you still need a little more info about how to judge when a roast is ready, read “Home Coffee Roasting for Beginners.”
All home roasters also have an automatic cooling period. This allows the beans to cool enough to handle, and allows the equipment to cool and prepare for the next batch. After the cooling period, the coffee is finished roasting, but before grinding and brewing, it is best to let it “set-up” for at least 24 hours.
It cannot be overemphasized how important it is to utilize the cool cycle every time. Please remember that all of our models are home roasters, not intended for commercial scale, and it is critical to allow cool down between batches – overheating caused by too many consecutive batches may trigger thermal protection features, which will require the roaster to be reset by the manufacturer and may void the warranty.
More Roaster Use Notes:
All roasters are sensitive to your home voltage, so it helps to use a circuit that is not being used by other appliances at the same time that you are roasting. Fluctuations in voltage may cause roast times to vary, so be sure to watch carefully, especially with a new roaster.
Never leave a home coffee roaster unattended. Think of it as similar to frying bacon – it can and will burn if left unattended.
With Burman Coffee Traders’ huge selection of Premium Green Coffee Beans, it can be challenging to decide which ones are best for your personal tastes and roast preferences, especially for beginning home coffee roasters. We want to make it easy and fun – so in addition to providing detailed roasting and tasting notes for all of our coffees, we also have a bunch of educational articles, and a few specific suggestions for newbies too!
Many home roasters choose coffees based on their favorite regions, or unusual exotic strains, or specific processing methods that create their preferred cup profile. If you are just beginning to embark on your flavor adventures, we recommend that you start by sampling our 3 lb Bundles. Bundles are frequently changing, but always highlighting some of the best beans in our warehouse each season.
Our Popular Bundle will have 3 of our customers’ favorites, the best-selling beans of the season. This bundle will always have coffees with balanced flavor profiles familiar to mainstream coffee lovers – but not boring! – these will be examples of some of the finest premium coffees in the world.
Ready to try something more exotic? The Special Bundle will introduce you to widely varied flavors, some of which may be surprising if you have been drinking stale pre-roasted coffees all your life. Curious about coffees that are spicy, citrusy, floral, nutty? Intrigued to discover notes of honey, melon, blueberry? Yes, please!
If you love dark roasted coffees, the Dark Roast Bundle is a must. We choose a good mix of different coffees from different regions, but you can be confident that all of them will be rich and creamy with earthy, smoky, sweet spices flavor profiles. The coffees in this bundle are always perfect for dark roasts and espresso, but they also have their own unique qualities; we recommend that you try these fresh and exceptional beans just a bit lighter than your usual very dark roast, to maintain some of their distinctive origin flavors.
After exploring some of the bundles, you will begin to understand which flavors and roast profiles appeal to you most, and you may feel ready to select individual coffees. Sometimes the Full Coffee List can be a little intimidating with 60+ varieties, many with unknown regions and unpronounceable names, but never fear! – we have filters that can help you to identify which beans are best for your tastes. The filter tools at the top can sort by the characteristics you are seeking – washed, natural, fruity, dark roast, or continent of origin. If you would like to see all coffees originating from a specific country, we recommend selecting “Shop by Origin” in the Coffee drop-down menu or just doing a Search.
You may also want to check out Green Coffee Beans on SALE – we frequently rotate our sale specials, to encourage our customers to try out some of our newest and most exciting offerings.
Scan down the list to see a short description of each coffee, click “more” then “view product details” or just click on the name of the coffee to read tasting and roasting notes. Tasting and roasting notes are very important – many of our specialty beans may be unique and different than what is typically expected from their region. Sometimes there are also stories about the estates and growers, or more info about the specific cultivar.
And if you are looking for a very particular variety or just want to chat about premium green coffees – call us! We love to talk beans.
Not all specialty premium coffees are alike. There are numerous diverse flavor profiles and each unique lot of beans will have its own distinctive characteristics. These differences are not necessarily good or bad – each will appeal to different preferences, and all together they provide a wondrous variety of taste experiences.
Quite often differences in flavor and aroma are linked to growing regions, where variations in altitude, temperature, sunlight, moisture, soil, and other environmental factors determine the growth of coffee trees and their fruits. Different strains or cultivars are known to present peculiar traits as well, and after harvest, different processing methods may dramatically alter the final cup profile. And, of course, different roast levels bring forth a wide spectrum of tones from bright and fruity to smoky and earthy. Some beans show off their most noteworthy attributes only when light roasted while others reach their peak flavor when dark roasted.
With so many factors to consider, how can we tell which beans are the best? The answer is simple: we taste them!
At Burman Coffee Traders we use the following taste qualities to evaluate and describe the differences among our coffees.
Acidity, commonly called brightness, is the first impression of a cup of coffee – that crisp sensation at the tip of the tongue. It is important to understand that a cup’s brightness is the “perceived acidity” rather than the actual pH; in fact coffee is actually less acidic than most soft drinks.
We perceive pleasantly acidic flavors almost instantly on the tongue’s tip and front corners, and just behind the upper teeth. Trace amounts of various acids found in coffee – Citric, Lactic, Malic, Acetic and about a dozen others – also contribute an array of sparkly, snappy and tart flavors.
Beans grown at higher altitudes and Washed Processed generally have greater perceived acidity than lower altitude or Natural Processed beans from the same region. Particularly in Africa, some regions and specific cultivars are known for producing beans with more acidity.
During roasting, heat causes acids to be formed and consumed, converted into sugars and other flavor compounds. Home coffee roasters can manage roasting time, temperature, and roast profile as methods of controlling acidity, balancing it with body and cultivating flavor notes. Remember these easy rules of thumb: dark roasts have lower acidity than lighter roasts of the same origin, and beans roasted more quickly are brighter than the same beans roasted to the same level slowly.
“Body” is a quality that is so complex that we cannot quite describe it with words, but we know it when we taste it! Take a sip of coffee and ask yourself – how full of flavor does my mouth feel, and for how long? Laboratory testing can quantify components of coffee related to body – levels of viscosity, oils, sugars, dissolved solids such as cellulose, suspended particles, etc. – but sensory evaluation is a matter of perception combined with comparative experience, and qualities of the coffee’s body are among the most important and most nuanced characteristics assessed when coffee cuppers evaluate and score premium beans.
We have found that brewing methods have a huge effect on coffee’s body level and flavor profile. Coffee brewed by French press or cowboy-style shows a more robust flavor profile and significantly fuller body than the same coffee drip-brewed with a paper filter, because the filter traps oils and solids that are part of the body, and fine particles that carry darker flavors.
Processing methods also have a very significant effect on a coffee’s body. Washed Processing removes the sugary fruit pulp completely from coffee beans, producing coffees with light to medium body and very clean, bright flavors. Natural Processing, in contrast, dries beans and fruit together to produce coffees with deeper-toned, more diverse flavors and heavier body.
Roasting methods also affect body. In general, longer roasting times build a coffee’s body, while shorter times accent its acidity. However, this is true only to a point; roasting too long causes a coffee to lose both acidity and body, a fault known as “baked” or “bakey.” Bakey coffees brew a cup that is insipid and lifeless.
Other Important Characteristics Affecting Coffee Taste & Quality
Unique Cultivar Characteristics: In addition to base attributes of body and acidity, a good specialty coffee has a unique personality which imparts distinctive flavors and aromas. These flavors may be bold or subtle and help to further hallmark a particular coffee.
With so many variations in flavor profiles caused by different cultivars and different regions, almost anything is possible! When cuppers describe the nuanced attributes of a premium coffee, they use a wide variety of flavor note descriptors; some may surprise you! Here are just a few of the incredibly diverse flavor notes that may be found in excellent coffees: lemon, orange, grapefruit, pomegranate, cherry, strawberry, blueberry, raisin, prune, grape, pear, apple, peach, melon, jasmine, rose, vanilla, tea, honey, caramel, maple, molasses, chocolate, baker’s cocoa, almond, hazelnut, peanut, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, malty, smoky, earthy, tobacco, whiskey, peapod, olive oil, and so much more!
Seasonal Variations: Like a fine wine, the taste of a coffee can be affected by weather. Coffee is an agricultural product; the qualities of each crop depend on the conditions present in a particular region during a particular growing season. Our job is to discover where the best coffees are being grown at any moment in time, and to select the most exceptional lots from that region.
How BCT Selects the Best Beans for Home Coffee Roasting Customers
Whenever possible we visit our present and prospective coffee growers around the globe to learn first-hand of their methods and their regional characteristics. We also attend coffee industry conferences and events where we have an opportunity to meet and talk with producers and large distributors and do some sampling.
To evaluate new coffees we always acquire samples to test in our facility. The first step is to eliminate the ones that have any negative characteristics. You will never find any bitter or sour or tinny or rubbery coffees here. Then we decide if samples are distinctive enough to stock. Our goal is to provide a broad selection of the finest examples of classic and exotic coffees from all around the world. We often go through many samples of outstanding coffees from different sources just to find the right lot.
We strive to support socially and ecologically responsible growers as much as possible – many of our coffees are Organic, Shade-Grown, Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance certified. We make a special effort to build relationships and support growers who provide fair wages, education, and other uplifting benefits to their workers.
And we supplement our selection with high quality decaffeinated coffees – many of our decaf drinkers have found that freshly home roasted decaf beans produce a cup light years ahead of any they have previously experienced, and they will never go back to stale sad decaf coffee!
What are green coffee beans? Do they make green coffee?
Glad you asked. Here’s a quick review for your Home Coffee Roasting edification!
Green Coffee Beans are the seeds from the fruits of coffee trees. Coffee beans are green when they are removed from the fruit of the tree, and it is the roasting process that changes them to various shades of brown. There is a wide spectrum of roast styles; the exact shade of brown depends only on the roaster’s preference. In the coffee industry, Green Coffee refers to raw coffee beans or unroasted coffee beans that have been dried and cleaned and are ready for roasting. We carry an extensive collection of green coffee beans – see our selection of premium green coffees here, or read more below.
Arabica (Coffea arabica) – these trees produce a smaller crop of beans, but with more distinct and nuanced aroma and taste. All of our premium coffees come from Arabica trees.
Robusta (Coffea canephora) – heartier and more prolific, each tree provides significantly more beans, making costs of planting, maintaining, and harvesting much less than Arabica coffees. However, in spite of Robusta’s much higher caffeine content, most coffee connoisseurs find that these beans have a mediocre characterless taste.
Most cheap pre-roasted coffees are made from Robusta beans with a blending of Arabica for improved taste and aroma. All premium coffees are grown from Arabica cultivars; in some regions with harsh weather and rampant pests, tougher Arabica-Robusta hybrids are successfully cultivated.
Because Arabicas are considered premium specialty coffees, according to the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) standards they are further subdivided into 5 grades, distinguished primarily by the number of “defects” per pound. For example, Grade 1 coffees can have no more than 4 twigs or broken/discolored beans per pound. In general, most all of the beans here at Burman Coffee Traders are Grade 1 Arabica, the very best coffees available. *
* Sometimes we discover an excellent coffee from a region whose crop characteristics make it impossible to meet the Grade 1 standard, even thought it still roasts and cups beautifully. Ethiopian, Yemeni, and Indonesian coffees often look imperfect but taste amazing. Often these beans are a great bargain for exceptional taste and aroma.
Why green coffee?
In addition to greater selection at lower prices, one of the biggest advantages of home coffee roasting is that green coffee beans will keep their quality for a year or more (at room temp, no refrigeration necessary) . So when you find one that you especially like, you can order a larger quantity and keep it for weeks or months, yet always be able to produce the freshest cup for any occasion.
There is a special appeal for those flavor adventurers who are excited by novelty and variety – since we sell Premium Green Coffee Beans By The Pound, you can purchase a wide assortment of specialty coffees from all around the world and taste and compare them all!
More information on Green Coffee, Raw & Unroasted Coffee Beans
– Understanding the Taste Qualities of Good Coffee: How do Burman Coffee Traders evaluate coffee beans from growers all across the world? What are the characteristics we use to judge quality and how do we ensure a wide variety to suit many different tastes?
Burman Coffee Traders offer lots of great Home Roasting Resources! These Learning Center posts – informational primers about different types of coffees and teas, as well as simple practical guidelines for using a variety of equipment – will be useful for everyone, with helpful articles for early beginners just learning the ropes of their new hobby as well as experienced home roasters perfecting their skills. Even those who are just coffee-curious can learn a lot with our series of Home Coffee Roasting Primers.
For newcomers, this collection of intro articles is the best place to start:
Great news, tea fans! We just got another special health tea from Japan. Kukicha – “twig tea” – is frequently enjoyed as a health tonic due to its high antioxidants and low caffeine.
Kukicha is quite literally the twigs and stems of the tea plant, mostly byproducts removed from the leaves during processing. But this very mild tea is recommended by those who follow a macrobiotic diet (which stems from “yin and yang” ideas of Chinese Taoism and Japanese Zen Buddhism) as a balancing and restorative elixir, and it is sometimes mixed with fruit juices to provide healthy nutrients to young children.
This Roasted Kukicha is really yummy! The roasting adds more robust and well-rounded flavors, appealing more to Western tastes. It is still a very mild tea, with pale orange liquor and a subtle aroma, easy on the belly, calming and warming rather than stimulating. Flavors tend toward nutty with subdued notes of cedar, canteloupe, jasmine, plus a unique tone that stands out compared to other teas – rich and buttery oats. Kukichas are known for being “creamy” and this roasted variety seems to have even more thick silky body. With longer steeping, a little astringency creeps in, but almost no bitterness (as long as you keep water temps low), and then eventually more vegetal flavors resembling bamboo or pine begin to dominate as body and sweetness improve slightly more.
After taste testing different temps and times, we recommend giving this roasted kukicha a gentle but longer steep to bring out more flavors and enrich the delicate liquor. We liked it best when steeped for about 5 minutes in 170 degree water. At only 3 minutes, this tea will contain some antioxidants and micro-nutrients, but will look and taste very light, similar to our Exquisite Pearls White Tea. At 7 minutes, it will taste much more robust, nutty with a hint of crisp melon floating on top of silky sweet body, but beyond that it begins to take on a more woody vegetal flavor.
Or try steeping this kukicha in traditional Japanese style – 6 grams of tea in 6 ounces of water, steeped for 30-60 seconds. This provides a rich flavor experience quite different than a typical green tea – stand-out flavors include creamy buttery oats and a light but uniquely crisp astringency that tingles the palate and sinuses. It can be re-steeped numerous times to enjoy the full range of flavor profiles.
For new home roasters, we have long recommended the FreshRoast SR500, a “fluid bed” roaster which is super easy to use. Fluid bed roasters are very similar in design to the familiar hot-air popcorn poppers – minimal mechanical parts, simply a fan and a heating element – the only significant difference is a smaller (and therefore hotter) roasting chamber. See video of SR500 in action.
The SR500’s glass roasting chamber makes it easy to watch as the roast develops, and then stop the roast at exactly the right moment. These popular roasters are economically priced, will roast a modest amount of beans in a speedy 7-20 minutes, and are very easy to clean and maintain. Simple, safe, and accessible, the SR500 is ideal for new home coffee roasting enthusiasts.
The new FreshRoast SR 540 features a larger roasting chamber and some improved automatic features of the venerable SR500 but retains most other characteristics so the remainder of this article will be useful to those buying or contemplating buying the new Fresh Roast SR540.
Start with four level scoops of green coffee (about 4.5 ounces by weight).
Remove the chaff collector, add the coffee to the roasting chamber and put the chaff collector back on.
Toggle the heat setting from OFF to LOW. Set the timer for 5 – 9.9 minutes. You may add time at any point by hitting the UP button.
Start the roast with lowest temperature and highest fan speed settings, to lower moisture content and ensure an even roast. After approximately two minutes move the temperature to high. As the roast progresses coffee beans will begin turning over vigorously, especially after first crack; turn the fan speed down as needed, as slower-moving beans will build heat to roast faster and more evenly.
As coffee beans roast they will begin to brown, double in size and shed chaff, emitting a light audible “first crack.” Begin to pay close attention, watching for your desired roast level. For many coffees, we recommend a roast that ends shortly before second crack – beans will appear medium to medium-dark brown and the surface of the beans will begin to turn from dull/flat to a velvety sheen; this is within the range of City Roast – Full City Roast, and is a good place to start for most coffees. When you are happy with the roast level, simply hit the COOL button to complete the cycle.
Be aware that roasting goes much faster as you move into the dark end of the spectrum. “Second crack” occurs when internal bean oils and moisture expand from an exothermic reaction, producing a small hole in the bean and emitting a subtle crackling sound; this is the start of a dark roast. Sometimes second crack is very quiet, but if you see shiny oils on the surface of the beans, you are into the second crack – consider turning off the heat at this time, as beans will very rapidly darken beyond this point. If you see smoke coming from the roaster, you are well into the second crack and at a dark roast; definitely hit the COOL button now.
DO NOT SKIP THE COOL CYCLE! This function not only stops the roast from continuing and cools beans enough that they may be handled, but also it is very important to allow the equipment to cool before beginning the next batch.
After the cool cycle shuts off, remove the chaff collector (be careful – it may be still pretty warm), lift out the roast chamber by its handle and dump out the beans. Let freshly roasted beans sit in a glass or ceramic bowl to allow “set-up” for a day or two, then put them in an air tight container. We like to store the set-up roasted beans in a small canning jar.
The only cleaning necessary is to dump out the chaff from the chaff collector and wipe it out; a small basting brush works perfectly. This model yields about 28 cups per batch.
Follow roasting with a “Set-up” period of time
Freshly roasted beans will be at their peak of flavor only after they have “set-up” for a day or more. This is due to necessary off-gassing of carbon dioxide that balances the acidic tones in the beans. Read our primer about roast styles to learn more.
What if roasts are too dark or too light?
Batch size is critical to the roasting process. In all air roasters, smaller batches roast slower and larger batches roast faster. It may seem counter-intuitive, but hot air flows more freely with fewer beans, meaning that less heat builds up in the chamber. If your roasts are too dark decrease your batch size to increase air flow or hit the COOL button earlier. If your roasts are too light increase your batch size to increase trapped hot air, or increase time and heat settings.
All roasters are sensitive to your home voltage, so it helps to identify a circuit that will not be used by any other appliances while you are roasting. This also means that roasting times may vary slightly from one batch to the next, so be sure to watch carefully, especially with a new roaster.
Keep in mind that these are home roasters not intended for commercial-scale use. It is very important to let them cool down between batches or you may trigger the thermal protection safety features, which require the roaster to be reset by the manufacturer and may void the warranty.
If you want to stop the roast at any time, just hit the COOL button. It is inadvisable to switch the roaster off, as it will be very hot and it will require a cool cycle before handling. We cannot emphasize it enough – the cool cycle is very important to maintaining the longevity and effectiveness of your Fresh Roast SR500.
Never leave any roaster unattended. Think of home coffee roasting as similar to frying bacon – it can and will burn if you walk away from it!
For even more tips, see our video demo (below) on using the Fresh Roast SR500 (also mostly applies to the new SR540)
Want to learn more about Green Coffee before diving in? Follow these links:
Read our article on understanding the Taste Characteristics of Good Coffee: How do Burman Coffee Traders evaluate coffee beans from growers all across the world? What are the characteristics we use to judge quality and how do we ensure a wide variety to suit many different tastes?
Though professional roasters now use high-tech thermometers and precision scales and timers to ensure commercial-grade consistency, home coffee roasting is an art even more than a science, and perfecting your roasting skills will require close attention to the process. This primer will help you to understand how to use your senses to determine when your coffee beans are at just the right roast level. But it will still take a lot of practice, and some trial and error with each new batch of beans – we hope that you have lots of fun on your flavor adventures!
Unroasted coffee beans start as a pale green color (except for decafs, which are already brown). As the beans begin to heat up, they change first to a straw or tan color, and you will notice a kind of grassy smell. As the beans retain more heat and the roast accelerates, the batch will more rapidly progress through darker shades and the scent will change from a faint roasted coffee aroma to a pungent burning smell with visible smoke.
You may be able to judge the correct roast level by deciding when you like the smell. But for some, this may be difficult, especially since different coffees have different aromas. We find that it is usually easier to determine the correct roast level by eye. A medium roast, or anywhere in the range between “City” and “City Plus” roasts, will look medium-brown and dry. A “Full City” roast is a few shades darker than City Plus, with the beans displaying just a little oiliness, and a “Full City Plus” is a deep brown that is visibly oily. Beyond that level, there are many designations for dark roasts, such as Vienna, French, Italian, etc, ranging from very dark brown to black. Read our Guide to Coffee Roast Styles to learn more about the wide spectrum of roast levels.
It is very important to understand that roasting goes much faster once you enter the dark end of the spectrum; the differences between Vienna and Italian roasts may be only a few more seconds on high heat. And any roast darker than Full City will tend to dominate the unique characteristics of the beans and to pretty consistently produce flavor profiles more like the dark roast style, less like the coffee itself. For these reasons, it is very (very!) important to watch your roasting coffee, especially during the last few minutes as it nears the desired roast level.
Coffee can pop or “crack” twice during roasting. The “first crack” is when the coffee expands and breaks its papery coating, which becomes chaff and is automatically collected by the roaster. It will sound similar to popcorn popping (though quieter). The “second crack” is when remaining moisture and oils expand and fracture the bean more dramatically (though it is audibly much quieter than first crack). When you hear second crack, you can be sure that you are moving into dark roast territory. For many home roasters, it is an easy rule of thumb to turn off the heat a few moments before you begin to hear the second crack if aiming for medium roast, or just after the start of the second crack if aiming for medium-dark roast.
Coffee Roasters for Home Coffee Roasting
We carry several types of coffee roasting machines, with different batch sizes and mechanisms to suit different needs. For new home roasters, we often recommend the Fresh Roast SR540, the latest version of a proven “fluid bed” roaster which is super easy to use, especially for those new to home coffee roasting.
– Understanding the Taste Characteristics of Good Coffee: How do Burman Coffee Traders evaluate coffee beans from growers all across the world? What are the characteristics we use to judge quality and how do we ensure a wide variety to suit many different tastes?
All of us coffee fans have at some point felt mystified by the seemingly endless and arbitrary list of distinct roast styles. What are the differences between “City,” “City Plus,” and “Full City”? What do we mean when we talk about “American,” “French,” “Italian,” and/or “Vienna” roasts? And why is one “Espresso Roast” so much darker than another? This article will clarify common terms used to indicate roast levels, and what characteristics can be expected from each broad category.
There is very little standardization of terms for roast levels, which often causes confusion. We generally find that only professional roasters actually benefit from a perfect understanding of all the specific styles; for most coffee lovers, it is good enough just to know the differences between “light” and “dark” (and why we at BCT almost always go for “medium”).
A Wide Spectrum of Coffee Roast Styles
All roast styles fall within a spectrum from lighter to darker, but sometimes the differences between the most popular roast styles – like “City,” “City Plus,” and “Full City” – are so tiny that it is difficult to get a clear vision of the whole spectrum. For example, those names indicate internal bean temperatures ranging between 426-437º F, and the difference in roasting times may be less than 1 minute, but the perceived differences in body and flavor profile can be very significant. Most boutique coffees that we consume in the United States are roasted somewhere within this very limited range, while most bargain coffees are further into medium-dark range (but not nearly as dark as some cultures like them!).
An experiment will help to clarify: treat the same beans with a City roast (426º F) and a Full City roast (437º F) – or just think of it as “two levels darker” – then taste-test them right next to each other, and you may be shocked by the big differences in body and flavor profile! But then give those beans a Cinnamon roast and a Spanish roast, and you may not even recognize them as the same coffee!
Viewed on the whole, all roasts will fall into one of four color levels, described below. Listed in parentheses are common names for specific roast styles falling within these broader color levels.
Since we cater to home roasters who are mostly figuring out their favorite roasts by trial and error and lots of fun taste-testing, rather than precision measurement of the internal temperatures of the beans, we recommend that you avoid stressing out about all the specific terminology – describing a roast level as “light” or “dark” rather than “New England” or “New Orleans” is just so much easier! But it can be fun to learn all the nuanced roastmaster vocabulary, so we have included popular names for specific roast levels. The designations listed in parentheses go from lighter to darker (though even this is debatable due to lack of standardized terminology). Those in italics are vague descriptors, less commonly used within the premium coffee world (though favored by the big cheap coffee companies), and quite frankly we do not know exactly what they mean, because everyone uses them differently!
After a few minutes you will hear the first “crack.” The beans will have visibly expanded in size and will be a brighter orange-brown color, dry with no visible oils. “Blonde” (second to left) or “Cinnamon” (third to left) roasts may not even make it to first crack with some beans – we generally advise against such light roasts because they may taste raw and vegetal or “grassy.” But some enjoy light roasts because they are significantly higher in caffeine – “Half City” (far left) roasts may be barely drinkable, but nowadays they are often used for trendy high-caffeine beverages.
Light roasts are sometimes preferred for milder coffee varieties, and often will exhibit more of the subtle nuanced “origin flavor” or terroir. Generally, coffees roasted to this level can be expected to be higher in acidity and lighter in body, and they may taste harsh and underdeveloped.
Beans from regions such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Hawaii, and Jamaica are often light-roasted so that their signature characteristics shine through in the cup.
(aka “City,” “American,” “City Plus,” also “Regular,” “Breakfast”)
Shortly after “first crack” but before the “second crack” occurs, the beans are considered to be within the medium roast range. Beans will be medium brown and still exhibit a dry surface, though they may appear to have a slightly more velvety texture. “City” (far left) roasts generally end shortly after first crack, “City Plus” (fifth from left) may require a couple of minutes longer, but at this point the roast level will progress much more quickly, so pay close attention!
Medium-roasted coffees are generally preferred in the United States. There will be sweeter tones than the light roasts and the body will present more balance in acidity, aroma, and flavor.
A good place to start with a new unfamiliar coffee, most beans taste good medium-roasted, and it will be easy to assess whether a lighter or darker roast may be needed to better suit the bean or your own taste preferences.
And we encourage you to experiment! Coffee culture in the US has not yet invented distinctive names for the smallest shade variations, as Europeans have given to their preferred dark roasts, but the best part about home roasting is that you can figure out exactly what roast point is perfect for each unique bean – and you can call it whatever you like!
(aka “Full City,” “Viennese” or “Vienna,” “Full City Plus,” also“Continental,” “European,” “After Dinner”)
Eventually, you will hear the beans begin their “second crack’”and you will see oils rising to the surface. The beans will become a rich, dark color and appear slightly shiny. “Full City” (far left) is still a few moments short of second crack, while anything beyond “Full City Plus” (far right) will progress beyond the second crack phase and well into dark roast territory.
At this level flavors will tend more toward spicy, chocolate, and dark berries, a lower-acidity full-bodied cup with abundant aromas and a drier finish, more like baker’s chocolate or fine wine.
Central American, South American, and Indonesian coffees typically taste very good at this roast point.
After second crack, beans will swiftly turn very dark – Spanish-roasted coffees are charcoal black – and very shiny – touch them and the surface will be noticeably oily. In the roaster, beans will begin to smoke as sugars carbonize.
Tastes will be smoky/sweet with lighter body. The darker the roast the less acidity will be perceived in the cup. Dark roasting will also decompose much of the caffeine, so dark-roasted coffees will have less stimulant effect than light-roasted ones (this is the reason why high-caffeine Robusta beans are often added to espresso blends).
Many beans lose their distinctive flavor profiles under the dominant smoky flavors of a dark roast, but we have found that Brazilian and Indonesian beans stand up very well to this treatment.
Historically, mainstream tastes have tended toward the dark end of the spectrum (dark roasts are more reliable for consistent commercial coffees, simply because they blast all the unique flavors out of the beans) and therefore there are a lot more designations for incrementally darker roasts. The differences between “French” (far left) and “Spanish” (far right) roasts are actually much less than the differences between “City” and “City Plus” roasts. If you like a specific level within this range, be sure to pay very close attention to your roaster – once the beans get up to these high temperatures, they will be moving into the next roast level every few seconds!
“Espresso Roast” : We would like to note that there is no such thing as an “Espresso Roast.” Espresso is a brew style, not a roast style. It can be very tricky to guess the exact roast level of coffees labeled “Espresso Roast,” because every roaster has their own idea of what that means. But they typically reside within a predictable range – most beans intended for espresso are roasted medium-dark to dark (“Vienna,” “French,” “Italian,” or “Continental” roasts are all commonly used for espresso).
Also note that because coffees intended for espresso are usually a special blend of beans from different regions, challenges may arise due to inconsistencies in roasting times. For example, you may notice that our BCT Espresso and Jumpstart blends will roast up with some beans a little darker, some a little lighter – but don’t worry! – these are carefully crafted recipes that provide deep and balanced flavor profiles, and they are supposed to look that way.
A crucial detail often neglected when first learning about home coffee roasting is that freshly roasted coffee beans will off-gas carbon dioxide for several days, up to a couple of weeks (and after this off-gassing is finished, they are considered stale). Carbon dioxide stored in the beans creates carbonic acid when it combines with water. This means that freshly roasted beans will taste more acidic than those that have rested or “set up” for a few days.
This part requires no work or attention – just put them in a bowl immediately after roasting and let them air out at room temperature. For most beans, we recommend letting them set up for at least 24 hours, up to a week or more, depending on the variety and your preferences. It can be really fun to experiment with the set-up curve – roast on Monday, then savor a sharp intense flavor profile on Tuesday, a milder medium-acidity cup on Thursday, and more balanced mellow tones on Saturday!
Often, we roast just enough to always have one fresh batch, but if you prefer to roast more and want to keep the beans fresher longer, simply put them in a sealed container after they have set up. Mason jars are preferred, but any reusable food storage container will suffice. Plastic bags must be the type with one-way valves, or else they will puff up with gases. Store at room temperature to maintain optimal moisture – refrigerators are too damp, freezers too dry. Please note that although you can slow the process with a sealed container, there is nothing that you can do to stop freshly roasted coffee from going stale – except to brew and drink it!
In a world that is rapidly losing all of its wild places, Papua New Guinea’s Highlands region is still teeming with life of all forms as well as fascinatingly unique traditional cultures. Unimaginable diversity, both biological and cultural, is the overwhelming first impression that a new visitor will receive. Chaos may be a close second. But so it goes in places where the majority of people still live very close to the land – as every ecologist knows, systems with extreme diversity have a way of balancing themselves out quite perfectly, but they look a mess!
The Carpenter Estates group comprises 3 allied estates with a combined total of over 900 hectares in production, making them the largest coffee operation in the country. The 3 Carpenter Estates together present one of only a few examples in PNG which are producing premium coffees in a controlled, reliable, and professional way. To get a sense of the free-for-all style of the majority of PNG coffee harvesting and processing, check out this complementary article about the “Wild West of coffee production.”
Carpenter Estates have a very different approach, one that may sound more familiar to those who like to support fair trade and socially responsible coffee production. Coffee estates all over the world often organize themselves as integrated villages, providing workers with structure and services as well as housing. Each of the Carpenter Estates – Sigri, Bunum Wo, and Kindeng – takes care of the needs of its workers fully, providing a modest but distinctively modern lifestyle almost totally independent from the outside world. This is especially significant in PNG, where roads, electricity, and clean water are still rare privileges. Inside the gated compounds of the Carpenter Estates, residents have access to high-quality housing, communal markets, farms for produce and livestock, schools, doctors, and other social services which are partly self-organized, partly guided and funded by estate managers.
Carpenter Estates also strive to improve the sustainability of their operations by conserving water and encouraging bird habitat. In addition to coffee trees, they carefully manage the forests by inter-planting two types of native shade trees which promote very even ripening of coffee cherries while also providing habitat for over 90 bird species.
All of the Carpenter Estates are nearby one another in the Wahgi Valley, which is one of only 3 places in the world where the finicky Blue Mountain cultivar can grow. The Kimel Estate (whose coffees we also carry) is a close neighbor.
The Highlands in the center of PNG are most definitely coffee country; it looks like every activity and infrastructure is directed primarily toward growing, harvesting, processing, and transporting coffee. The Highlands contain one significant city – Mount Hagen – which is the center of the coffee trade. Upon venturing out of the city, almost every sign of government or “civilization” in general quickly disappears. Electricity and running water are inconsistent; many get their water from rain collection. Roads are very poorly maintained, but sometimes kids fill the huge holes with rocks, and then collect change from grateful motorists. Adults work on the roads too, in the form of independent self-organized work crews; they typically maintain a short stretch of the road through their village and then demand tolls in return. Many villages have rudimentary flea market areas, but “businesses” as we think of them are non-existent; commerce is simply not a significant part of villagers’ daily lives. The coffee estates are an exception to the normal way of life, which still revolves around tribal villages and remains very isolated from the rest of the world.
In contrast to the small subsistence villages around them, each of the Carpenter Estates is home to thousands of people, full-time workers as well as some who participate only in the peak season (about 4000 total workers in peak season), plus all of their families. All of these residents have access to the social services of the estate, making it very appealing to any locals who may be longing for a different way of life.
Steep mountains create many micro-climates, weather and soil may change dramatically from one field to the next, and intimate knowledge of the land is vital to premium coffee production. At Carpenter Estates, workers whose families have been right there for many generations are capable of profound understanding and close relationship with the land and all plants that grow there. Jon observed that the overseers seemed to know personally every single coffee tree on the farm, and had an awareness of the individual needs of each, even though there are many thousands of trees in their care! They understand the particular soils in each corner of the mountainous landscape, the differences between the various strains of coffee in each plot, and exacting details of the care needed to improve the quality of the beans on each and every plant. This is knowledge passed down through generations, and creates a connection to place which is very meaningful (and very different than the perspectives held by most of us in the West).
Within each estate is a microcosm of overall PNG society. There are 3 main tribes that have claim to these lands: the Huli, Gogodala, and Meldpa. For millennia, their relationships to each other have been trying, sometimes violent and rarely commingled. This is typical of PNG’s 1000+ diverse cultures, and is fairly normal in traditional tribal societies in general. For Westerners, it may be easier to think of each tribe as more-or-less a village. Everyone is settled together in one place, sharing laws, language, spiritual beliefs, and agricultural practices. Neighboring settlements may contain different tribes with very different laws, languages, and practices, and these differences are still acutely felt when members of different tribes work together. On the Carpenter Estates, there are essentially 3 mini-villages to accommodate each of the tribes, but services like school and market are shared by all. In the fields, crews are made up of members of all 3 tribes, and they find ways to work together effectively, but split into their separate groups at the end of the day.
The special needs of these unique cultures do present challenges to efficiently running the estates, but managers have organized the workflow skillfully, and their extremely fastidious quality control coupled with expert processing proves that they have learned how to do it right. Each estate has independent fully functioning coffee production facilities – nursery, expert botanists, wet mill and drying patios. The one exception is that the 3 estates share a dry mill (used for final grading, sorting, and bagging of beans) for the sake of efficiency.
The mills on the estates have a very effective streamlined process that is running 365 days a year due to PNG’s perfect climate. Freshly harvested beans first enter the “wet milling” stage that sorts out the obviously bad beans and any sticks or debris, then the fruit is stripped off and clean beans soak in spring water for 12-36 hours to loosen any remaining fruit. Fancy pressure washers are used to fully wash the beans, and then they dry on patios until they reach the ideal 12% moisture, and finally go through “dry milling” to remove parchment and to be sorted by size. An extra step that is uncommon in other countries is to employ a large staff of real people (not automated machines) to closely inspect everything and pick out any remaining defected beans. This very precisely-controlled process leads to coffees that are clean, consistent, and far superior to many other coffees coming out of PNG.
The current owners are not the original founding family, as is often the case on well-established estates, but many of the managers have been born and raised in PNG (though they are of European/Australian descent) and they see their work as uplifting and benefiting the land and the people who live there. Not only are they creating sustainable agricultural practices with premium shade-grown coffee trees intermingled with native cloud forest species, but also running an enterprise that effectively increases access to the most beneficial aspects of modernization while still allowing locals to retain their traditional ways as they see fit.
Workers at the Carpenter Estates are proud to be a part of a thriving business as well as intimately connected with their lands. They were born on these lands, and they will die there just like countless generations of ancestors. On the other hand, the estates provide structure, security, income and material improvements like electricity and clean water, making for a much higher standard of living than in surrounding villages. For many of the workers, access to sanitation, health care, and education for their children are dreams come true. Although they still maintain an ancient connection to the land, they are very grateful for the prosperity and comforts that come with modern technology (even if their lives may appear impoverished and challenging from the perspective of a US citizen).
The secret to PNG coffee is the people who produce it. On the Carpenter Estates, ancient agricultural heritage and intimate connection to land and all the plants on it makes for exceptionally attentive growing, harvesting, and processing, and ultimately produces some of the best coffees on the market.
Papua New Guinea is a fascinating region, even for those who are not interested in coffees – rich history, unique cultures, unparalleled biodiversity, and isolation from world markets have made this young nation truly unique. Nowhere else on earth will we find the same combination of ancient traditional life-ways with the chaos and opportunity brought by rapid modernization.
For coffee fans, mysterious PNG is even more enchanting due to its offerings of many uncommon and delicious beans. In 2017, Jon made a trip to PNG to visit some of our favorite estates and learn about the challenges and benefits that come with their unusual approach. He met lots of lovely kind people and was surprised by huge differences in culture and agriculture.
In brief, a lush tropical climate combined with high mountain ranges encourage an enormous diversity of “micro-climates” and create a land with unparalleled cultural and biological diversity. The Highlands region is perfectly placed to provide the ideal conditions for growing coffee. But the complex and peculiar sociopolitical situation in PNG makes effective, profitable coffee farming very challenging. Life is so very different than what we know in the West that it requires a lot of explaining to really accurately paint a picture of it – this article will highlight just a few of the most notable characteristics of the “Wild West of coffee production.”
Papua New Guinea was, until 1975, a neglected colony controlled by Australia. The entire island (which is now half PNG, half Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua) was a battleground for European colonial powers in the 19th century, until 1905 when the Brits kicked out other European settlers and turned over control of the territory to the Commonwealth of Australia. It was also the site of intense conflict between Japanese and Australian troops during World War II. But preceding and outlasting these colonial histories are the indigenous peoples who have inhabited the island for millennia – their ancestors were some of the first humans to journey out of Africa, and their cultures are some of the most ancient in the whole world.
With the backing of the UN, Papuans appealed for and gained independence in 1975, but it remains a part of the British Commonwealth system and is heavily dependent on Australian aid money for industrial development and public services. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s uprisings and civil war plagued Papuans as they struggled to find their place in the world.
Today, although traditional practices of head-hunting and ritual cannibalism have virtually disappeared, other forms of violence remain – PNG ranks very low on indexes of human rights and violence against women, and vigilante murders of “sorcerers” are not uncommon. Public education is woefully inadequate and illiteracy rates are extremely high.
On the other hand, PNG is unequaled in beautiful dense diversity, with over 1000 distinct cultures speaking over 800 languages. Many of these communities still practice traditional ways that are rarely seen anywhere else on earth. It is considered a “megadiverse” region because of the incredible numbers of unique endemic species. Wild food grows everywhere; banana trees sprout up like weeds.
It is also abundant in many natural resources, and exports of raw materials (gold, copper, petroleum, palm oil, tuna, etc) make up the majority of the economy. This fact in itself has led to many of the difficulties that Papuans face, as almost all of the corporations engaged in extraction are of foreign origin and do not seem to care much about their impacts; scientists predict that well over half of PNG’s rainforests will be destroyed by 2025.
One way in which Papuans have attempted to alter the legacy of colonization is to establish a system of “customary land title.” Only a tiny fraction of the land is held by private property owners; about 97% of the country is considered to belong to the indigenous inhabitants, and passed on to future generations by their traditional methods. This interesting concept can lead to big challenges; there are constant and unending arguments over who has the primary rights to any given piece of land. And as you might imagine, denying the right to private property makes it pretty tricky to run a coffee estate!
Today, even the most impoverished developing nations have at least a few modern-looking cities. Papua New Guinea has just one, the capitol Port Moresby, pop. 300,000. Port Moresby has one shopping mall, one movie theater, and a handful of expensive hotels catering to tourists. All of these have been built in the last 10 years, giving a sense of how extremely isolated PNG has been. The city has well-maintained roads and some tall buildings, but is conspicuously non-Western in appearance; everything is locked down and gated, most houses and buildings are surrounded by tall walls, and security guards search cars and send pedestrians through metal detectors just to get into an ordinary restaurant. Police are notoriously corrupt and appear to spend most of their time harassing people at random in hopes of extorting bribes.
With the exception of a few foreigners, nearly everyone who lives in Port Moresby has left traditional village life to seek economic opportunity, most of them walking for many days just to get there, and only able to visit home once or twice per year. Most of these folks feel blessed to have clean water and electricity, amenities almost unheard of as recently as the ’70s, even though their lives may appear very hard-scrabble and destitute by Western standards. Jon observed that the mall and the movie theater are extremely popular – hundreds of people go there just to hang out and watch the hustle and bustle, even though they do not have enough money to purchase anything.
Rural PNG is another story entirely. Just getting to any location other than Port Moresby is a hefty challenge, because roads are incomplete and very poorly constructed. There are a couple of major highways connecting Port Moresby to other nearby economic centers, but beyond that it is typical to find roads that just end suddenly or disappear into enormous potholes. Adventurous travelers may find success traversing in a 4×4 truck, but they won’t get anywhere quickly! Most tourists who want to visit other areas do so in chartered bush planes. About 85% of Papuans live in tribal villages and practice traditional subsistence agriculture. They walk anywhere they need to go, and most of the time they have no incentives to travel outside of their familiar territory, especially given the potential for violence from other tribes with ancient rivalries.
Most of the premium coffee coming from PNG originates in the Highlands region, a mountainous spine stretching the length of the island. The Highlands are astoundingly abundant, covered in tropical cloud forests and relatively dense human populations.
A foreign visitor may be surprised and disturbed to see that nearly all of the trucks (no cars can handle the Highlands “roads”) are customized with thick steel bars welded across every window, sometimes even the windshield. But locals will reassure them that it is really not that bad – petty crimes and opportunistic thefts are just an accepted part of daily life in impoverished places, and relatively minor security precautions will discourage most anyone with devious intents.
Traditional village life is easy to witness in the Highlands; the main highway out of the city of Mount Hagen is dotted with clusters of humble houses and tiny local restaurants and pubs. Areas with more dense populations may have ramshackle flea markets, but stores as we think of them are non-existent. Most of the vendors have tiny rustic fruit and vegetable stands, plus a few racks of cheap clothes made in China hanging out in the sun. There are very few other industrial products beyond the most essential tools. Often, locals gather along the roadside and get great entertainment from watching traffic puttering by. For some, the one road snaking through their village may be their only exposure to the outside world. In fact, PNG is known to have numerous “uncontacted peoples” and there are still many settlements that have no roads whatsoever.
The climate in the Highlands is enviable, about 70-80° F every day, all year round. Proximity to the equator ensures consistent warmth, while the altitude keeps it from getting too hot. Seasonal concepts like spring, summer, autumn, and winter have no place in PNG; it is just Dry or Rainy. For those unfamiliar with tropical weather patterns, this can be hard to imagine. Basically, between November-March it rains every day, and the rest of the year it is sunny every day. We can’t even imagine weather conditions more different than what we get here in Wisconsin!
The combination of perfect temperatures and perfect altitudes create conditions in which coffee trees have an unbroken endless growing season, and they yield flowers, fruits and beans 365 days a year!
Almost all PNG coffees undergo standard washed processing, making them significantly different than neighboring Indonesian coffees, which use a special local processing method. PNG fans rave about their coffees’ sweetness, often describing them as bright, syrupy or “full-bodied,” with notes of honey, melon, or cocoa.
On the other hand, many PNG coffees may be unpredictable or a little rough. This is because almost all of them are processed and bagged in aggregate mills, which do not engage in cultivation at all. At one point, there were a number of coffee estates in the Highlands, but most lost their property rights when Papuans gained independence and insisted on reducing foreign control of their lands. When the “customary land title” policy was implemented, many European settlers just gave up and returned to their motherlands – but the coffee trees remained.
So now, most coffee harvesting is done by enterprising individuals who wander the Highlands rainforests and pick any ripe coffee cherries that they may find. Estate owners complain that they must constantly defend their crops from thieves who sneak in late at night and cart off as much as they can carry.
Due to lack of expertise, many of these “coffee foragers” pick far too many under- or over-ripe beans, just grabbing whatever they come across until their pick-up truck is overflowing. Truckloads of freshly picked cherries line up outside of aggregate mills every single day, and foragers are paid pennies per pound. This is justified by saying that the quality is low and that the mill workers are forced to spend countless hours screening out under- or over-ripe cherries, but we can’t help but wonder… if the mills paid people better, maybe they would try harder to do a good job?
Regardless, at the end of the day, coffees coming out of these aggregate mills are very mixed up – many different varieties coming from many different locations – and they can be inconsistent and sometimes intense, edgy. For some, this is part of what makes PNG coffees exciting, but for others it is unappealing.
The good news for our coffee connoisseurs is that there are a handful of estates which have managed to hold onto control of their lands, and these professional operations are practicing stringent quality-control measures and producing reliably outstanding beans that we love.
Supervised by expert coffee producers, the mills on the professional estates have a very effective streamlined process, beginning with the “wet milling” stage that sorts out the obviously bad beans and any sticks or debris. Then the fruit is stripped off and clean beans soak in spring water for 12-36 hours to loosen any remaining fruit. Fancy pressure washers are used to fully wash the beans more quickly and efficiently than the channel systems that are used by most processors. After this, beans dry on patios until they reach the ideal 12% moisture, then go through “dry milling” to remove parchment and to be sorted by size. A final step that is uncommon in other countries is to employ a large staff of real people (not automated machines) to closely inspect everything and pick out any remaining defected beans. This very precisely-controlled process leads to coffees that are clean, consistent, and far superior to many other coffees coming out of PNG.
One of the farms with which we work closely is called Kimel Estate. In the heart of the Wahgi Valley (one of only 3 locations where the sensitive Blue Mountain cultivar can grow), this smaller estate is noteworthy for its indigenous ownership – it was purchased from the Australian founders by a coalition of local tribes in 1979 – and its pursuit of sustainability through recycling of wash water and composting fruit/pulp into fertilizer.
We highly encourage our customers to try premium Papua New Guinea coffees. From megadiverse rainforest origins to sweet and sparkly cup profile, PNG coffees are unique and exciting, and the “Wild West of coffee production” may be the next frontier for intriguing and delicious boutique beans.
We are very excited to launch another custom BCT Blend. With a lovely sweet South Indian Nilgiri BOPF black tea and a unique blend of premium fruits and herbs, this versatile tea will appeal to many different tastes.
This unusual mix will surprise you with a big punchy flavor! The fine sweet Nilgiri brings only light astringency and virtually zero bitterness, while a dynamic fruit blend of currant, black currant, lemon peel and hibiscus turn the cup a pretty red color and provide a tart fruit punch note right up front. A little spearmint subtly rounds out the vibrant flavor profile; it may be noticeable only in an effervescent aroma and slightly chilly mouthfeel lingering after other flavors fade.
“BOPF” stands for “Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings.” The “Orange Pekoe” part of the name indicates that this is an above-average quality tea, while the “Broken” and “Fannings” descriptors mean that we have only the smallest pieces left over after the larger pieces (considered higher grade) have been sold. This is still a very yummy tea! but due to lower grading it is available at a discount price. Keep in mind that the small particles cause this tea to extract faster – basically, you get a stronger cup from significantly less leaves. Fortunately, this exceptional Nilgiri is very sweet and does not turn bitter, making it a perfect match for the strong tart fruits and cool herbs in this blend.
We have tested this blend at various steep times, and found that with less or more extraction the flavor profile changes dramatically. Steep for a shorter time (2-3 minutes) to highlight the black tea and spearmint flavors. Steep for a longer time (4-6 minutes) and watch the liquor turn bright red as it further infuses strong sour flavors of hibiscus, currant, and lemon.
Steeping Time: 2-6 minutes
Water Temp: 212 F
Nilgiri “Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings” tea, spearmint, lemon peel, hibiscus, currant, black currant, elderberry, natural and artificial flavorings