Coffee Roasting

Charcoal Roasted Coffee

Charcoal Roasted Coffee: A Revival of Tradition and Flavour


In the world of coffee, the search for the perfect cup is endless. From the highlands of Ethiopia to the bustling streets of Italy, coffee has woven itself into the fabric of cultures around the world, each with its own method of coaxing flavour from the bean. One traditional technique is experiencing a remarkable resurgence: charcoal roasting. Steeped in history, this method offers a distinctive approach to unlocking the deep, nuanced flavours of the coffee bean. Renowned for its craftsmanship and sustainable practises, charcoal roasting stands out in the modern coffee landscape where innovation meets tradition.

The appeal of charcoal-roasted coffee lies not only in its rich, complex flavour profiles, but also in its homage to a simpler time when coffee roasting was an art carefully practised by skilled artisans. Unlike conventional methods that use gas or electric heat, charcoal roasting releases heat from the charcoal slowly and subtly. This process, which is deeply rooted in tradition, offers a unique flavour experience that is difficult to replicate with modern technology. The resurgence of this method is a testament to the timeless pursuit of quality and flavour, attracting coffee lovers who are looking for more than just a caffeine boost, but a sip of history in every cup.

As we delve deeper into the world of charcoal-roasted coffee, we explore not only the historical significance of this method, but also its impact on the environment, the intricacies of its flavour profiles and the craftsmanship required to master this ancient art. This journey through the past and present of coffee roasting shows why charcoal-roasted coffee is more than just a trend. It is the revival of an age-old tradition that promises to enrich coffee culture with every infusion. Join us as we uncover the secrets of charcoal roasting, where every bean tells a story of flavour, tradition and sustainability, inviting us to experience coffee in its most authentic form.

Coffee Roasting
Coffee Roasting

The Evolution of Coffee Roasting Techniques

The history of coffee roasting is as rich and varied as the beverage itself and has evolved over the centuries through innovation, tradition and cultural exchange. This evolution reflects not only technological change, but also a growing understanding of how roasting affects flavour, aroma and the overall coffee experience. From humble beginnings to the sophisticated practises of today, coffee roasting has come a long way and has shaped the way we enjoy coffee around the world.

Ancient Origins

The history of coffee begins in ancient Ethiopia, where, according to legend, a shepherd discovered the energising effect of the coffee cherry. Originally, coffee was not consumed by brewing the roasted beans as we know them today, but by eating the fruit directly or by mixing it with animal fat. However, when coffee spread to the Arabian Peninsula, the art of roasting began to take shape. Early roasting methods were rudimentary and consisted of roasting the beans in open fires or heated pans, which allowed for simple, direct heat transfer to the bean.

Middle Eastern Innovations

The Middle East, especially Yemen, played a central role in the development of coffee culture, including roasting techniques. As the popularity of coffee increased, the need for more sophisticated roasting methods led to the use of large, open pans. This method allowed for more even roasting, although it still required constant attention to ensure even heat distribution. The coffee houses of Istanbul, Damascus and Cairo became centres of social life where the art of coffee roasting was refined and celebrated.

European Refinement

When coffee arrived in Europe in the 17th century, the demand for this exotic beverage increased exponentially. The introduction of coffee to the European market led to innovations in roasting technology, including the development of the first coffee roasting machines. These machines, which were often operated by hand, allowed greater control over the roasting process and marked a significant departure from the pan roasting methods of the past. The drum roaster, a cylindrical device that could roast the coffee beans more evenly by constantly rotating them, became a staple of the coffee roasting industry.

Industrial Revolution and Beyond

The industrial revolution of the 19th century brought about dramatic changes in coffee roasting, which developed from an artisanal craft into a standardised industrial process. The invention of more sophisticated roasting machines, which could process larger quantities of coffee and offered better control over roasting temperatures and times, revolutionised the industry. During this time, gas and later electric roasting machines were introduced, providing a cleaner and more consistent heat source, further refining flavour profiles and making coffee accessible to the masses.

The Modern Era

Today, coffee roasting combines the wisdom of traditional methods with advanced technology. Modern roasters have precise control over every aspect of the roasting process, from temperature and airflow to roasting time, enabling the creation of specific flavour profiles. Innovations in roasting technology continue to push the boundaries of what is possible, with techniques like fluid-bed roasting and software that can create profiles and reproduce exact roasting curves. These advances have not only increased consistency and efficiency, but have also opened up new avenues for experimentation and flavour development.

A Return to Tradition: Charcoal Roasting

In the midst of this technological progress, charcoal roasting proves the enduring value of traditional methods. This age-old technique, which offers a slower, more artisanal approach to roasting, is celebrated for its ability to impart unique, complex flavour profiles to coffee. The resurgence of charcoal roasting is driven by a desire to return to the roots of the craft, emphasising quality, sustainability and the nuanced pleasure of coffee enjoyment.

The evolution of coffee roasting reflects humanity’s enduring passion for coffee — a beverage that has captivated cultures around the globe. From the open fires of ancient Ethiopia to the sophisticated roasters of today, the art and science of coffee roasting continues to evolve, offering endless possibilities for discovery and enjoyment in every cup.

Charcoal Sustainability

The Science and Sustainability of Charcoal Roasting

Charcoal roasting, an ancient method rediscovered by modern artisans, is characterised not only by its contribution to coffee flavour, but also by its impact on the environment. This section looks at the science behind charcoal roasting and how this method fits in with sustainable coffee production practises.

The Scientific Principles of Charcoal Roasting

Charcoal roasting relies on the unique properties of charcoal, including its ability to generate uniform, high heat. This heat penetrates the coffee beans from the inside out, which is a significant difference to conventional roasting methods where the heat is more superficial. This internal heating ensures a more even roast and reduces the risk of under- or over-roasted beans, which can affect the flavour profile of the coffee.

In addition, the slow and even release of heat from the charcoal allows for a more controlled roasting process, enabling the roaster to carefully develop the flavour characteristics of the bean. This method gives the coffee a richness and depth of flavour that is often described as smoother and more complex than beans roasted with gas or electric heat.

Sustainability of Charcoal Roasting

The environmental benefits of charcoal roasting are significant, especially if the charcoal comes from sustainably managed woodlands. Using charcoal made from renewable resources helps to reduce the carbon footprint associated with coffee roasting – a concern for an industry that is increasingly aware of its environmental impact.

Sustainably managed woodlands contribute to the preservation of ecosystems, support biodiversity and play a crucial role in carbon sequestration. By choosing charcoal from these sources, roasters can ensure that their coffee production not only results in great flavour, but also promotes ecological balance and sustainability.

Furthermore, charcoal production, when done responsibly, can be part of a broader waste reduction and energy efficiency strategy. The conversion of wood to charcoal produces biochar as a by-product, which can be used to enrich the soil and sequester carbon, further enhancing the environmental benefits of this roasting method.

A Holistic Approach to Coffee Production

The choice of charcoal roasting reflects a holistic approach to coffee production, where every step, from the selection of beans to the roasting method, is considered in terms of its impact on the final product and the planet. This method is in line with the principles of sustainable agriculture and responsible consumption and appeals to consumers who value ethical and environmental considerations in their purchasing decisions.

Roasted Charcoal Coffee

Flavour Profiles: The Charcoal Difference

The choice of charcoal roasting, especially the use of charcoal from native British species, is a deliberate return to traditional methods that give coffee a distinctive and memorable flavour profile. This approach not only honours the heritage of coffee roasting, but also harnesses the unique characteristics of local wood sources, contributing to a sustainable and regionally inspired coffee experience.

The Impact of Native British Charcoal on Flavour

The use of charcoal, sourced from native British species, offers a unique roasting dynamic. Whilst the specific mechanism of heat transfer — such as the emission of far infrared rays associated with Binchotan charcoal— – may differ, the principle of even and thorough roasting remains. Native British charcoal provides a consistent, high quality heat source that can be skilfully controlled to ensure even roasting without necessarily relying on the specific properties of far infrared rays. This method allows for a nuanced development of flavours and brings out the natural sweetness and complexity of the coffee.

The gentle and sustained heat of the charcoal allows for a slower roasting process, which is crucial for the full development of the coffee’s flavour profile. This slower process ensures that the beans are not shocked by sudden high temperatures, which can lead to uneven roasting and the loss of delicate flavours. Instead, the beans undergo a gradual transformation that allows the sugar to caramelise and develop a rich, full-bodied flavour with a subtle, smoky undertone that is not overpowering but adds depth to the overall flavour of the coffee.

Charcoal Roasting and Light Roast Beans

The effect of using native British charcoal is particularly beneficial for light roast beans, where the aim is to bring out the flavours inherent in the bean without overshadowing them through excessive roasting. This roasting method enhances the natural acidity and fruity notes of the beans, making it ideal for speciality coffees that aim to bring out the unique characteristics of single origin beans. Careful control of the roasting process ensures that the subtle flavours are preserved. The result is a coffee that is vibrant and complex and reflects its origin.

The Artisanal Touch

The use of charcoal from local British woodlands emphasises the artisanal aspect of coffee roasting. It shows that we are committed not only to producing a great tasting coffee, but also to being environmentally responsible. The choice of local charcoal sources emphasises the commitment to sustainability and reduces the carbon footprint associated with transporting charcoal from distant locations.

Coffee Moisture Control

Heat and Moisture Control

One of the most important advantages of charcoal roasting is the efficient heat transfer, which plays a decisive role in reducing the water content of the coffee beans more effectively. The heat generated by the charcoal is both intense and controllable, allowing for a gradual and complete reduction of moisture in the beans. This aspect is crucial because the moisture content has a direct impact on the roasting dynamics and the development of flavours in the coffee bean.

Moisture Reduction and Flavour Development

While the beans are exposed to the persistent heat of the charcoal, the water they contain begins to evaporate. This dehydration is a delicate process. It must be gradual to allow the beans to fully develop their flavours, but also efficient to ensure even roasting. The unique thermal properties of charcoal, including its ability to maintain a stable temperature over an extended period of time, facilitate this balance perfectly.

This control over moisture evaporation is crucial to unlocking the coffee’s potential. It allows for a more even Maillard reaction and caramelisation, which contributes to the body, sweetness and complexity of the coffee. Precise control over the drying phase means that each bean can reach its flavour peak, providing a rich and layered taste experience.

The Importance of Artisanal Skill in Moisture Control

Reducing the moisture content when roasting coffee is not only a matter of science, but also an art that requires skill and intuition. The roaster must understand the subtle signs of the roasting process — colour changes, cracking noises and the development of the aroma —in order to accurately determine the moisture content of the beans. This expertise is particularly important when roasting with charcoal, where the artisan’s interaction with the heat source directly influences the outcome.

By integrating moisture reduction into the narrative of charcoal roasting, it becomes clear that this method offers unrivalled control over the transformation of the coffee bean. From the initial drying through the development phase to the final roast, careful control of the water content is key to achieving an outstanding flavour profile.

Charcoal Roasting Artistry

The Artistry of Charcoal Roasting

The art of charcoal roasting goes beyond the mere technical aspects of moisture reduction or temperature gradient control. It embodies a deep connection between the roaster and their craft, a dialogue that has evolved over centuries yet is deeply personal and a testament to individual skill and intuition. This section explores the nuances of the art of roasting and shows that charcoal roasting is not just a method, but a manifestation of passion, tradition and creativity in coffee production.

Mastery Over Fire

At the heart of charcoal roasting is the mastery of fire, a primal element that demands respect and understanding. The roaster’s ability to harness the unpredictable nature of flame and smoke marks the beginning of the artistry of this method. Unlike modern roasting machines with digital controls and automated profiles, charcoal roasting requires a hands-on approach. The roaster must master the intricacies of heat management and make real-time adjustments based on sensory feedback from the beans — visual cues, flavours and sounds guide the roaster in shaping the character of the roast.

The Roaster’s Palette

Charcoal roasting can be compared to painting, where the beans are the canvas and the heat is the brushstrokes. Each type of wood used to make the charcoal brings subtle flavours to the coffee, much like different pigments bring out new shades of colour. The choice of indigenous British woods for charcoal production imparts a local terroir to the coffee, infusing each batch with the essence of the landscape. This regional distinctiveness allows roasters to create a unique flavour palette for their surroundings, offering coffee lovers a taste that is not only delicious but also deeply rooted in place and tradition.

The Ritual and Rhythm

There’s a ritualistic rhythm to charcoal roasting, a cadence that harmonises with the natural world. The process is meditative and requires patience and presence. Each roast is an event, from the first lighting of the charcoal to the careful monitoring of the progress of the beans. This rhythm fosters the connection between the master roaster and their craft, a connection that can be felt in the final product. The art here is not just in achieving the perfect roast, but in the journey itself —in the decisions that are made, in the intuition that is followed, and in the respect for the raw beans and the primal power of fire.

Legacy and Innovation

The art of charcoal roasting is also a bridge between heritage and innovation. It honours the traditional methods of coffee making while inviting constant experimentation and personal expression. Roasters who use this method are not only preserving a piece of coffee history, but actively contributing to its evolution. By experimenting with different types of wood, roasting times and bean origins, they push the boundaries of coffee flavour and experience. This blend of reverence for the past and enthusiasm for the future defines the charcoal roasting community, a collective of artists dedicated to exploring the potential of coffee.

By embracing the art of charcoal roasting, we recognise the roaster as an artist, the roast as its expression and the coffee as a shared experience. This method, with its demands and rewards, reminds us that the best coffee is not simply produced, but crafted with intention, skill and a deep love for the bean and its journey from earth to cup.

Global Coffee Roasting

Charcoal Roasting Around the Globe

This method enjoys a rich heritage and modern presence in different parts of the world. Each region brings its own traditions and innovations to charcoal roasting, contributing to global coffee culture. Here we briefly explore how charcoal roasting is celebrated and practised in different countries to emphasise its universal appeal and diverse expressions.

Japan: The Art of Sumiyaki

In Japan, roasting with charcoal is known as “sumiyaki“,” a method that has been refined into an art form. Sumiyaki coffee is known for its smooth, rich flavour, which is achieved through the careful roasting process using white charcoal (binchotan), which is prized for its purity and even heat development. This traditional Japanese approach emphasises the harmony between the roasting process and the resulting coffee flavour, offering a unique experience that is deeply rooted in the country’s culinary culture.

Indonesia: A Tradition of Rich Flavours

In Indonesia, with its vast archipelago and rich heritage of coffee cultivation, there are also traditions of charcoal roasting. The practise varies from island to island, with each region incorporating its local specialities into the roasting process. In some areas, the coffee is roasted over coconut shells, which gives the beans a distinct, slightly sweet flavour profile that complements the inherent characteristics of Indonesian coffees.

Middle East: The Birthplace of Coffee Roasting

In the Middle East, where coffee culture has its roots, charcoal has long been used to roast coffee. The tradition of roasting coffee over an open fire, often in a pan or on a rotating drum, is still part of the coffee culture in this region. While this method has been modernised in some areas, it retains the essence of ancient practises and highlights the deep, rich flavours that are characteristic of Middle Eastern coffee.

Africa: Open-Flame Traditions

In Africa, the country of origin of coffee, many communities continue to roast coffee using traditional methods, including over an open fire. Although charcoal is not used exclusively, the principle of roasting coffee beans over a direct heat source has been part of African culture for centuries. This practise brings out the bright, fruity notes of African coffee beans, which are known for their high acidity and complex flavour profile.

The Global Revival

The global revival of charcoal roasting speaks to a growing appreciation of traditional methods that add depth and complexity to the coffee experience. Across the world, from artisan roasters in America to speciality cafés in Europe, there is a renewed interest in adopting and adapting charcoal roasting techniques. This revival is not just about flavour, but also about sustainability, craftsmanship and a connection to the roots of coffee culture.

With the adoption of charcoal roasting, the global coffee community recognises the value of diversity, tradition and innovation. This method, with its different manifestations around the world, enriches our understanding and appreciation of coffee and invites us to explore the unique stories and flavours that each region has to offer.

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History of Coffee Roasting

Exploring the History of Coffee Roasting

History of Coffee Roasting

Coffee roasting has a long and significant history, dating back centuries to its origins in Africa and the Middle East. The exact details of how the discovery of roasting coffee beans came about are unknown, but it is believed to have originated in these regions. Coffee roasting plays a significant role in the global coffee industry, transforming coffee cherries into the beloved beverage enjoyed by millions worldwide.

Evolution of Coffee Roasting Techniques

Over time, coffee roasting techniques have evolved, transitioning from ancient methods to modern advancements in technology. The history of coffee roasting is rich and varied, with different cultures and regions adopting their own unique approaches. Ancient civilizations roasted coffee beans using thin, perforated pans over open flames, while others baked them inside ovens. As the demand for coffee grew, dedicated roasting tools, such as cylindrical roasters, were developed.

In the 18th century, commercial roasting methods were introduced, providing a more efficient and consistent way to roast coffee beans. This marked a significant shift in the coffee roasting process, enabling larger quantities of coffee to be roasted at once. These advancements led to the popularisation of coffee as a beverage, making it more accessible to people around the world.

Today, coffee roasting has become a sophisticated art form, with roasters utilising advanced technology to create customised roasting profiles. Modern coffee roasting machines are equipped with precise temperature control and airflow systems, ensuring a consistent and even roast. Roasters can now experiment with different roast levels, bringing out the unique flavours and aromas of each coffee bean.

In addition, the rise of specialty coffee has further pushed the boundaries of coffee roasting. Roasters are now focusing on sourcing high-quality beans, often from specific regions or farms. They carefully roast these beans to enhance their inherent flavours and showcase the unique characteristics of each origin. This attention to detail and craftsmanship has elevated coffee roasting to new heights, with coffee enthusiasts around the world constantly seeking out the best roasted beans.

Coffee Roasting Techniques Throughout HistoryAdvancements in Coffee Roasting Technology
  • Ancient methods involved roasting coffee beans on thin, perforated pans over open flames.
  • Some cultures baked coffee beans inside ovens.
  • Development of dedicated roasting tools, such as cylindrical roasters.
  • Introduction of commercial roasting methods in the 18th century.
  • Precise temperature control and airflow systems in modern coffee roasting machines.
  • Ability to experiment with different roast levels and enhance the flavors and aromas of beans.
19th century coffee roaster
Depiction of a 19th Century Coffee Roaster

Ancient Coffee Roasting Methods

Coffee beans were roasted on thin, perforated pans over open flames, allowing for even heat distribution. Some cultures even baked the beans inside ovens, resulting in a different flavour profile. These ancient practices laid the foundation for the coffee roasting techniques we use today, showcasing the ingenuity and resourcefulness of early coffee enthusiasts.

The historical significance of coffee roasting cannot be overstated, as it has shaped the way we enjoy coffee and contributed to the growth of the global coffee industry.

Historical Development of Coffee Roasters

As coffee gained popularity, dedicated roasting tools were developed to enhance the roasting process. One such tool was the cylindrical roaster, which provided a more efficient and consistent way to roast coffee beans.

Key Milestones in Coffee Roaster Development
1. Ancient methods: Roasting coffee over open fires or baking in ovens
2. Invention of cylindrical roaster: Improved efficiency and consistency
3. Commercialisation of coffee roasting: Introduction of dedicated roasting methods in the 18th century
4. Technological advancements: Modern roasters utilising advanced technology for customised roasting profiles

Today, coffee enthusiasts can explore the diverse flavours and aromas of green coffee beans, which have gained popularity for their unique characteristics. Coffee roasting continues to be a vital component of the global coffee industry, transforming humble coffee cherries into the beloved beverage enjoyed by millions worldwide.

Traditional Coffee Roasting Methods

Traditional coffee roasting methods have varied across cultures and regions throughout history, with each one contributing to the rich tapestry of coffee roasting practices. From the ancient traditions of Africa and the Middle East to the indigenous practices of the Americas, coffee roasting has evolved into an art form that showcases the unique flavours and aromas of different regions.

In Africa, coffee beans were traditionally roasted in a flat, iron pan over an open flame. This method allowed for controlled heat distribution and imparted a distinct smoky flavour to the beans. Meanwhile, in the Middle East, coffee was often roasted in shallow pans, commonly made of copper, to achieve a more even roast. These ancient techniques were passed down through generations and played a crucial role in shaping the taste and quality of the coffee consumed in these regions.

As coffee spread to other parts of the world, new roasting methods emerged. In the Americas, indigenous cultures developed their own unique approaches to coffee roasting. Some tribes roasted coffee beans in clay pots or earthen ovens, while others used hot sand or hot stones to achieve the desired roast.

To summarise, traditional coffee roasting methods have contributed to the diverse range of flavours and profiles found in coffee today. Whether it’s the smoky notes of African roasts or the earthy undertones of ancient American techniques, each method brings its own cultural and historical significance to the art of coffee roasting.

RegionTraditional Roasting Method
AfricaRoasting in flat iron pans over an open flame
Middle EastRoasting in shallow copper pans for even heat distribution
AmericasRoasting in clay pots, earthen ovens, or using hot sand/stones
Shallow Copper Pan Coffee Roasting
Shallow Copper Pan Coffee Roasting

Commercialisation of Coffee Roasting

The commercialisation of coffee roasting has transformed the coffee industry, fuelling the demand for high-quality roasted coffee beans. As the popularity of coffee grew, so did the need for efficient and consistent methods of roasting. In the 18th century, commercial roasting methods were introduced, revolutionising the way coffee beans were processed. This shift in the industry allowed for larger-scale production and distribution of roasted coffee, catering to the growing consumer market.

One of the key advancements in commercial coffee roasting was the development of specialised roasting equipment. Dedicated roasters, such as the cylindrical roaster, were designed to handle larger quantities of coffee beans, resulting in a more efficient roasting process. These roasters utilised advanced heating mechanisms to ensure a uniform roast, enhancing the flavour and aroma profiles of the coffee beans.

The commercialisation of coffee roasting also led to a greater emphasis on quality and consistency. As coffee became a sought-after commodity, roasters began to focus on sourcing the finest beans and perfecting the roasting process to highlight their unique characteristics. This attention to detail resulted in a wide range of flavour profiles, catering to the diverse tastes of coffee enthusiasts around the world.

Commercialisation of Coffee Roasting
Transformed the coffee industry by fuelling the demand for high-quality roasted coffee beans
Introduced specialised roasting equipment, such as cylindrical roasters, for efficient production
Emphasised the importance of sourcing quality beans and perfecting the roasting process

Today, the commercialisation of coffee roasting continues to shape the coffee industry. Roasters now have access to advanced technologies that allow for precise temperature control and roasting profiles. This enables them to experiment and create unique flavour profiles that cater to the ever-evolving preferences of coffee drinkers.

The demand for high-quality roasted coffee beans shows no signs of slowing down. As the coffee industry continues to evolve, the commercialisation of coffee roasting remains an integral part of delivering a superior coffee experience to consumers worldwide.

Modern Coffee Roasting Techniques

Modern coffee roasting techniques encompass a wide range of methods and processes, reflecting the global practices that have evolved over time. Roasters today utilise advanced technology and innovative approaches to achieve the perfect roast and unlock the full potential of each coffee bean.

One popular method is the drum roasting technique, where coffee beans are loaded into a rotating drum and heated evenly. This method allows for precise control over temperature and airflow, resulting in a consistent roast. Another technique is hot air roasting, where a stream of hot air circulates around the beans, evenly roasting them while preserving their delicate flavours.

Roasters also experiment with different roasting profiles to highlight the unique characteristics of various coffee beans. Light roasts are preferred for showcasing the nuanced flavours and acidity of specialty coffees, while medium roasts provide a balance between flavour and body. Dark roasts, on the other hand, are known for their rich and bold flavours, achieved through longer roasting times.

Roast LevelRoasting TimeFlavour Characteristics
Light Roast8-10 minutesBright acidity, floral notes, fruity flavours
Medium Roast10-12 minutesBalance between acidity and body, caramel and chocolate notes
Dark Roast12-14 minutesFull-bodied, bold flavours, bittersweet notes

Additionally, specialty coffee roasters place paramount importance on a meticulously managed roasting process. Elements like bean temperature, airflow, and the pace of heat application are rigorously overseen to curate the intended flavour profile. These roasters prioritize procuring premium beans from distinct regions, dedicating unwavering attention to every facet of the roasting journey, ensuring each cup of coffee stands out as a remarkable experience.

Ancient Coffee Roasting Practices

Ancient coffee roasting practices were rooted in ingenuity and resourcefulness, as early civilisations discovered the magical transformation of coffee beans. These practices varied across different cultures and regions, each bringing their own unique techniques to the roasting process.

In Africa, coffee beans were traditionally roasted over an open fire, with the beans placed in clay pots or baskets and stirred constantly. The gentle heat of the fire allowed for an even roast and brought out the rich flavours and aromas of the beans.

In the Middle East, a different approach was taken. The beans were roasted in shallow, circular pans made of metal or ceramic. These pans were heated from below, typically using hot sand or pebbles, which provided a consistent and controlled heat source for roasting.

CultureRoasting Method
AfricaOpen fire roasting in clay pots or baskets
Middle EastRoasting in shallow pans with heated sand or pebbles

These ancient methods required patience and skill, as the roasters relied on their senses to determine when the beans were perfectly roasted. The aromas, colour changes, and crackling sounds were all signs that the beans were reaching their optimum flavour and were ready to be enjoyed. As coffee gained popularity and spread to different parts of the world, the roasting techniques evolved and adapted to local traditions and available resources. The ancient coffee roasting practices laid the foundation for the modern art of coffee roasting, where technology and precision have taken centre stage.

Despite the advancements in roasting technology, these ancient practices remind us of the origins of coffee and the remarkable journey it has taken to become the beloved beverage we enjoy today.

Modern Coffee Roaster
Modern Coffee Roaster

Advancements in Coffee Roasting Technology

The evolution of coffee roasting has been greatly influenced by advancements in technology, from ancient tools to cutting-edge innovations.

As the demand for coffee grew, dedicated roasting tools were developed, such as the cylindrical roaster. These roasters provided a more controlled environment for roasting, ensuring more consistent results.

Commercial roasting methods were introduced in the 18th century, revolutionising the coffee industry. These methods employed large-scale roasting machines that could handle large batches of coffee beans at once, increasing efficiency and production. With the advent of modern technology, roasters have been able to fine-tune the roasting process to achieve desired flavours and aromas.

Today, modern roasters using advanced technology to create customised roasting profiles. Roasters have access to precise temperature control, airflow management, and data logging systems, allowing them to experiment and refine their roasting techniques. Green coffee beans, which are unroasted, have gained popularity for their unique flavours and aromas, further expanding the possibilities in coffee roasting.

Advancements in Coffee Roasting TechnologyImpact
Ancient ToolsDirect heat contact, quick roasting
Cylindrical RoasterControlled environment, consistent results
Commercial Roasting MachinesIncreased efficiency, large-scale production
Modern TechnologyPrecise temperature control, customized roasting profiles

The advancements in coffee roasting technology have shaped the industry and allowed for the exploration of new flavours and techniques. Coffee roasting continues to evolve, driven by a passion for the perfect cup of coffee.

Specialty Coffee Roasting

Specialty coffee roasting has a rich history, intertwining traditional processes and techniques with the quest for the perfect cup of coffee. From its origins in Africa and the Middle East, the art of roasting coffee beans has evolved over centuries, resulting in the diverse range of flavours and aromas we enjoy today.

Traditional Coffee Roasting ProcessesCoffee Roasting History Timeline
  • Roasting over open fires
  • Baking inside ovens
  • Rotating drums
  1. Ancient times – coffee roasting over open fires
  2. Middle Ages – baking coffee beans inside ovens
  3. 18th century – introduction of rotating drums for commercial roasting

Today, specialty coffee roasting has reached new heights, with roasters utilising advanced technology to achieve precise and customised roasting profiles. The process involves carefully monitoring and adjusting factors such as temperature, airflow, and time to bring out the unique flavours and characteristics of different coffee beans.

The popularity of specialty coffee roasting has also led to a renewed appreciation for the flavours and nuances of green coffee beans. These unroasted beans offer an array of flavours ranging from fruity and floral to nutty and chocolatey. Roasters experiment with different roast levels and techniques to highlight and preserve the distinct attributes of these green coffee beans.

Specialty coffee roasting has played a significant role in the global coffee industry, elevating coffee from a simple beverage to an art form. It continues to captivate coffee enthusiasts and connoisseurs alike, as they savour the complex and delightful flavours that emerge from the roasting process.

Coffee Roasting TechniquesCoffee Roasting Process
  • Direct flame
  • Hot air roasting
  • Drum roasting
  • Green coffee beans are loaded into the roaster.
  • The roasting chamber is heated to the desired temperature.
  • The beans undergo a series of chemical reactions, including caramelisation and the Maillard reaction.
  • The roaster closely monitors the colour, aroma, and temperature of the beans to determine the ideal roast level.
  • Once roasted to perfection, the beans are cooled to halt the roasting process.
  • The freshly roasted coffee beans are then ready for grinding and brewing.


The history of coffee roasting is a testament to the ingenuity and artistry that goes into crafting the perfect cup of coffee. Dating back centuries, the origins of roasting coffee beans can be traced to Africa and the Middle East. Throughout history, various techniques and technologies have been developed to enhance the flavor and consistency of the roasted beans.

The 18th century saw the introduction of commercial roasting methods, marking a significant milestone in the development of the coffee industry.

Coffee roasting practices have varied across cultures and regions, with some roasting over open fires and others baking the beans inside ovens. Currently, coffee roasting stands as a refined artistry, with contemporary roasters leveraging state-of-the-art technology for tailored roasting blueprints. Green coffee beans, celebrated for their distinct taste profiles and scents, have also risen in esteem among coffee aficionados.

Coffee roasting’s historical impact is profound. It’s been instrumental in sculpting and propelling the global coffee sector, metamorphosing raw coffee cherries into the cherished drink relished by countless individuals globally. The progression from initial roasting discoveries to today’s advanced methodologies underscores the unwavering commitment and zeal of coffee roasters in curating unparalleled coffee moments.

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Charcoal Roasting

Charcoal Coffee Roasting At Home

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.

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