home roasting

Home Roasting and Lean Manufacturing

Roaster

On my recent tour of commercial roasters I had fun looking at their manufacturing and warehousing processes.  I like warehousing and manufacturing.  I don’t work in that industry, but I like all the processes: cool conveyor belts and forklifts and all sorts of activity.  Whats not to love?  And when its a coffee warehouse, roaster, and manufacturer just about everything I find cool is located in one place.

The roasters i toured were operating on purpose.  I’m not sure if they are formally Lean or Six Sigma or some other ‘plan’, but they are operating with thought and purpose behind their activities.  Here are some points of Lean, commercial roasting, and how the points may impact home roasting:

  • Chaff is recyclable organic material.  When I sweep my chaff into the lawn, I’m not being lazy.  I’m recycling.
  • Lean puts a lot of emphasis on ergonomics.  How ergonomic is your roasting set up and can you improve it?
  • Blend strategy impacts inventory.  You should chose your blend strategy based on flavor, but if you blend before roasting you won’t need to maintain blend stock.
    • I’m not blending but it was neat to observe that commercial operators approach blending with different strategies.
  • Consistancy.  Lean and Six Sigma want to measure and eliminate varation.  Roasters measure and track varations in their roast.  I wonder if I need to measure and track my finished products.
    • I’ve tried to use a roast log but I didn’t really know how I was going to use it.  I wonder if I can switch from a roasters log to a tasters type of log.  Track the finished level of roast and the finished taste.
  • Green storage is interesting.  Even if you are buying container loads, greens are transported and stored in 150 lb jute bags.  It seems that there are a lot of non-value added steps in this process.
  • Disaster plans: Both roasters had contigencies for disasters.  My backup plan for beans is to run down to starbucks  🙂

Ed

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Cupping

Roaster

Recently I was lucky enough to do a coffee cupping with a master roaster for a really large commercial roaster.  It was a really cool experience.  I tried once or twice to do cuppings at home but its not as easy as it sounds if you don’t know what you are doing.

We did a finished product tasting and a traditional coffee cupping.

Tasting:

We tasted 5 different blends/roasts.  The neat part is two of the sampels were the same blend, roasted to different levels.  I was aware of the importance of roast in an intellectual level but I haven’t actually roasted the same beans to different levels (at least not on purpose).  The roast level was only a little different but the taste was totally different.

The challenge with home roasting is quantity.  How do I roast and taste to different roast levels of the same bean?  I only order a few pounds of each bean and I don’t want to have tons of fresh roast going stale.

But its for science.  Maybe on my next sweetmarias order I’ll order only one coffee instead of an assortment and try and set up a tasting.  You all are invited  🙂

Traditional Cupping:

After the tasting, the rest of the people I was with left and I had the cool opportunity to do a cupping with the Master Roaster by myself.  The first thing I learned was that spitting into a spittoon is harder than I thought.

The spittoon goes between your legs.  I put it off to my side at first and it was just too awkward to be sitting on the spinning chairs and trying to lean over and hit the bucket.  I really didn’t want to spit all over the floor.

The Roast Master hadn’t planned on doing a cupping with me, if he did he would have selected different beans.  The beans that we tasted were the beans that his team cupped in the morning.

As we went around the table tasting, all I could taste was coffee.  I just smiled and tried to taste but it all just tasted like coffee.  I was relieved when he told me that this was hard since all these beans tasted the same.  Shew.  I did taste a difference in the 5th sample, it was brighter than the other 4.

At Home:

As for the practicality of doing this type of cupping from Home roasting, I’m not sure.

I’m not really going to reject a shipment from Sweet Maria’s?  I think I’d be better off doing a tasting.  Roast two different beans or the same bean to different levels and brew up 2 cups in the morning.  That way when I drink 2 cups of coffee in the morning, I’m not over-indulging, I’m tasting for science!

Cooling your Beans!

For years I cooled my beans using a colander and a fan.  It worked, but there were a few flaws with what I was doing.  Among other things, I want to get more ‘professional’ in my roasting.  My cooling method was fine to show a friend, but I’d be embarrassed to show a theoretical ‘paying customer’ what I was doing.  I was hunched over on the ground trying to keep my colander balanced on the fan while using a wooden spoon to stir the beans a bit. 

I came across a remarkably easy to make contraption that works better than I expected.  You take a shop vac and connect the hose to a container.  In the lid of the container you cut a hole just big enough for a colander.  I made mine with the box that the shop vac came in and I used duct tape to hold everything in place.  As I perfect my procedure I’ll switch to a plastic container, but cardboard and duct tape are easy to experiment with (and cheaper).

To use the contraption, you want to suck air into the shop vac (as opposed to blowing air out).  In just a couple of minutes I am able to bring the beans down to the ambient temperature.  To remove chaff, reverse airflow for a bit until there is nothing else to blow away.

Now that I have a device that can consistently cool the beans, I can experiment with taste.  During one of my future roasts, I’ll pull out a cup of beans before cooling and then compare those beans with the beans that were properly cooled.

Ed