Charcoal Coffee Roasting At Home

Charcoal Roasting

Introduction to Charcoal Coffee Roasting

In recent years, coffee drinkers have witnessed a revival of traditional brewing and roasting methods. Among these, charcoal roasting stands out for its unique flavour profile and aroma it imparts to the beans. However, it’s more than just about taste; it’s a nod to an age-old tradition that many have forgotten in the rush for automated, quick-fix solutions.

The Unique Appeal of Charcoal Roasting

Coffee is deeply personal. For many, it’s not just a beverage but an experience. Every sip can tell a story, reveal a history, or even transport you to a different part of the world. Charcoal coffee roasting adds depth to this narrative. When coffee beans are roasted over charcoal, they absorb the smoky, earthy character of the burning wood, offering a flavour that’s distinctively rich and bold. It’s not for everyone, but for those who appreciate its depth, the reward is unparalleled.

The method of charcoal roasting is reminiscent of a time when things were done more slowly, allowing for a deeper appreciation of the process. Unlike modern electric roasters that often prioritise volume and speed, charcoal roasting is intimate. It demands patience, skill, and an understanding of the beans themselves.

Why We’ve Chosen This Traditional Method

When my wife, Susana, and I first encountered charcoal roasted coffee, we were captivated. It wasn’t just the taste – though that was exceptional. It was the entire experience, from observing the transformation of the beans to the rich aroma that wafted through the air. This is the coffee we drink at home, a little treat we’ve kept for ourselves. But the more we delved into it, the more we realised that this was an art form that more people should experience.

While we’re not currently selling our charcoal roasted coffee, we believe in sharing knowledge. This article is our attempt to do just that. The insights we’ll share here stem from our personal experiences and a genuine love for the art of coffee roasting. And who knows? Perhaps in the future, as more people recognise and appreciate this method, we might just scale up our operations.

Many may wonder why, in an age of technological advancements, we would turn to a seemingly outdated method. The answer is simple: authenticity. Charcoal coffee roasting, with its challenges and nuances, offers an authenticity that’s hard to replicate. The flavours are robust, the process is transparent, and the outcome is always a pleasant surprise. It’s a labour of love, and every bean roasted is a testament to that dedication.

The Intricate Process of Charcoal Roasting

Charcoal coffee roasting is both an art and a science, with each step meticulously calculated yet open to the spontaneity that makes every batch unique. Let’s delve into the details.

The Preparation: Bean Selection and Heating the Charcoal Bed

Every exceptional cup of coffee starts with the right beans. For our personal roasting sessions, we’ve developed a fondness for Peruvian coffee beans. Known for their rich flavour and aromatic profile, these beans take particularly well to the charcoal coffee roasting process, absorbing the heat without losing their inherent character.

However, it’s not just about the beans. The quality of the charcoal matters immensely. We use a dedicated charcoal bed, using only charcoal from sustainable woodlands and forests located within Wales and the wider UK, ensuring it’s heated to the right temperature before introducing the beans. This preparatory phase is vital, setting the stage for the roasting magic that ensues.

Observation and Timing

The actual roasting process is where the magic happens. Once the charcoal bed is ready, the beans are introduced. Here, instead of relying on machines, human observation and intuition play crucial roles. As the beans dance over the hot charcoal, they start to transform. The heat gradually penetrates the beans, making them release their chaff – the outer skin. This process, witnessed as a visible change in the beans’ texture, is fascinating. They turn from their initial off-white green hue to more vibrant shades, signalling the stages of roasting.

As the beans undergo this transformation, a careful ear can discern subtle pops, much like popcorn kernels in a microwave. This ‘first crack’ is a critical moment in the roasting process. It signifies that the beans are expanding and releasing moisture. In charcoal coffee roasting, even though the beans might appear medium roasted, they are, in fact, only lightly roasted at this stage. This discrepancy is due to the caramelisation happening over the direct flame, giving them a deceptively darker hue.

How to Roast Coffee Beans at Home Using Charcoal

The Finish: Cooling and Storing

Once the beans reach our desired level of roast, the final and equally important step is to cool them down. This is crucial to halt the roasting process and preserve the flavour profile we’ve so carefully cultivated. My wonderful wife, Susana, takes charge of this phase, ensuring the beans are cooled promptly.

In a commercial setup, this cooling would be done in a controlled environment. However, for our personal use, the process is simpler yet effective. Once cooled, these beans are stored and labeled, ready to be brewed into a delightful cup of coffee.

Every batch we roast carries with it a story – of careful selection, attentive roasting, and a deep love for coffee. Charcoal coffee roasting might seem daunting to some, but with patience and practice, the results are worth every moment spent.

The Maillard Reaction: A Deep Dive into Coffee Chemistry

When diving into the world of coffee roasting, one can’t help but come across the term “Maillard Reaction.” It’s a cornerstone of coffee chemistry, playing a pivotal role in developing the flavour, aroma, and colour that make each brew unique. Let’s unpack this scientific marvel.

What is the Maillard Reaction?

Named after Louis Camille Maillard, the French doctor who first described it in 1910, the Maillard Reaction isn’t exclusive to coffee. It occurs in various foods when they’re subjected to heat. In simpler terms, it’s a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars. This process is responsible for the browning effect seen in various cooked foods, from toasted bread to grilled steaks.

The Impact on Coffee Roasting

Within the context of coffee roasting, the Maillard Reaction is paramount. It breaks apart simple sugars and amino acids in the coffee beans, forming a plethora of new flavour and aromatic compounds. The intricate dance of these compounds creates the unique taste profiles we associate with different coffee roasts.

Interestingly, the rate at which the Maillard reactions occur becomes significant from around 140°C upwards. They typically proceed rapidly between temperatures of 140°C to 165°C. However, reactions can initiate at even lower temperatures and continue until the beans reach what roasters refer to as the “first crack.”

Influencing Coffee Characteristics

The Maillard Reaction influences everything in coffee from flavour notes and bitterness to body and mouthfeel. By manipulating this reaction, roasters have the power to significantly impact a coffee’s characteristics. For instance, a longer Maillard Reaction increases the complexity of sugar browning, enhancing the texture and mouthfeel of the coffee. Conversely, a shorter reaction tends to reduce body, mouthfeel, and complexity in sweetness and flavours.

The Art of Using the Maillard Reaction

Harnessing the power of the Maillard Reaction isn’t just about understanding the science; it’s about feeling the beans. As roasters, we take this knowledge and combine it with our own intuition and experience. This balance allows us to bring out the best in every batch of beans, ensuring a consistent yet unique flavour profile.

For those just getting started in the coffee roasting world, it’s essential to familiarise oneself with the Maillard Reaction. Knowing how it works and, more importantly, how to use it to one’s advantage, is a crucial step towards achieving that perfect roast.

Maillard Reaction
Maillard Reaction

A Hands-On Approach: The Art of Charcoal Roasting

For many, the term “coffee roasting” might conjure up images of large, stainless steel machines, precisely controlled environments, and the hum of modern technology. However, at its heart, coffee roasting is as much an art as it is a science. Charcoal roasting, in particular, offers a return to a more hands-on, traditional method that is steeped in history and character.

Traditional Yet Unconventional

Charcoal roasting is both a nod to tradition and a divergence from the mainstream. While the coffee world has largely shifted towards high-tech roasting machines, the age-old method of roasting beans over hot charcoal remains a cherished technique for some. It’s the juxtaposition of this method in today’s fast-paced, automated world that makes it stand out.

The Unique Profile of Charcoal Roasted Coffee

When coffee is roasted over charcoal, it undergoes subtle transformations that distinguish it from its machine-roasted counterparts. The beans are slowly and intimately kissed by the heat, resulting in a flavour profile that’s distinct yet familiar. As they roast, the beans change colour, from an off-white green to deeper hues. This transformation is more than just visual. It’s an aromatic and flavourful journey from raw bean to roasted perfection.

The Nuances of Charcoal Coffee Roasting

Unlike machine roasting where the heat is often uniformly applied, charcoal roasting can be a bit unpredictable. When we reach the first crack, a stage where the beans sound like popping popcorn, beans roasted over charcoal might look medium roasted even though they are technically light roasted. This anomaly is due to the caramelisation of the sugars over the open flame.

A Personal Touch

One of the most significant advantages of charcoal roasting is the personal touch it offers. When I roast coffee at home for my wife, Susana, and myself, it’s not just about the beans; it’s about the experience. It’s the tactile connection to the process, the rhythm of turning the beans, and the anticipation of the perfect roast. This method might not be the most efficient for commercial use, but its charm is undeniable. It provides a sensory experience, a dance of sights, sounds, and aromas that makes the resulting cup all the more special.