Almost everyone drinks coffee that’s burned to a crisp, and they like it that way. If you give them specialty coffee that’s been recently roasted and with a proper level of roast, they won’t like it. They are so used to the burned flavor that they think that’s what coffee should taste like. A “medium roast” from the grocery store is darker than any specialty roaster will ever roast their beans. Specialty coffee is always dry in appearance, the beans do not appear oily, because it is not roasted to that degree.
The shelf life is not so critical as people in this thread are claiming. If you get coffee that was roasted within the week, and then it takes you a month to consume it, it’ll still taste good at that point.
I consumed farm direct Kona for about 5 years straight but in the last several years I’ve been trying specialty coffee from a few select roasters. Specialty beans are sold by the pallet at auction. A little tip for how to get the best coffee in the world: go to these auction websites and see who is listed as winning the auctions. Buy beans from them.
This is what drove me to start home roasting in 1985; Coffees were roasted too dark for my taste!
An oily sheen on the bean is the tell tale of a dark roast. The cell structure of the bean has been fractured and the oils released. These beans will go rancid faster than a medium or light roast because the oils are exposed.
My preference is mostly for a medium roast for espresso. ‘Full City’, fully developed body, and roast flavors (like chocolate and nut) but preserving the more subtle origin flavors (such as fruit and floral notes). This is the roast zone after ‘first crack’ and before ‘second crack’ begins.
I’m not sure why the dark roast has been so promoted except that it will be easier to produce a consistent flavor profile and you can also hide the flavor defects of lower quality beans.
To quote Thomson Owen of Sweet Marias; “Coffee is a crop, not a can of pop!” Consistency from crop to crop should not be expected.
If you are a mass coffee producer and you want a consistent flavor year after year, roasting so dark that all the distinctive character is lost is one way to do it! And you can easily get by with lower cost and quality commodity beans.
Today we have much more choice in roasting styles thanks to all the variety of artisan roasters. You can find super light nordic style roasts like what Tim Wendelboe has championed (that barely taste like coffee!) all the way to the charred remains like some that Charbucks and Peet’s are still doing.
I try to draw analogy with other foods and cooking but they all fall short as the complexity of flavor development chemistry of coffee is like nothing else! But we have all toasted bread, and probably burned it black as well! Think of the flavor differences between a perfectly golden brown and a blackened piece of toast. One is sweet with caramel and browning flavor while the burnt toast is bitter and acrid.
Look at all the flavor differences you can get by cooking an onion differently from the raw hot and pungent (analogy fail here as green coffee beans are in no way palatable!) to a soft sweet fully caramelized French onion soup. If you blackened the onion here it will be bitter not sweet and you may as well toss it and start over!
The other part of home roasting besides always having fresh roasted coffee is being able to source the green beans you like during the crop harvest cycle and then roasting them to your own preferred taste! It’s just another home cooking culinary experience! Great flavor rewards here!
I also like to bake bread. Compare fresh bread out of the oven to week old store bought mass produced bread.
Well said. Roasting coffee is just a special case of roasting anything that contains proteins and sugars. As you raise the temperature you’ll progress through drying, Maillard reactions, caramelization, carbonization, and ultimately combustion. I think of City roast as being dominated by origin and Maillard flavors, Full City to Vienna as increasingly dominated by caramelization, and French and Italian as being progressively ruined by carbonization. By the full carbonization stage, all bean character is lost — it’s literally just charcoal.
Starbucks is notorious for over-roasting their beans. “Dark roast” inherently requires more roasting, but most of the time it seems companies do it too long… and hence, the oily sheen that you mention.
It’s like somehow most people got the idea that the darker the roast, the “richer and more potent” the coffee. And this just isn’t the case. You can brew a strong coffee from medium roasted beans. I’ve also found that medium roast just tastes better, after some trial and error buying. The logic seems to fit — you roast to a medium darkness and you don’t lose the quality characteristics of the beans, a flavorful and appealing taste. Dark roast goes too far. It can smell more intense, but in taste it’s almost always bitter… requiring sugar and milk to temper it, make up for what’s lost.
The absolute best coffee should be so good that you would only want to drink it black. Next, for coffee that’s a little bitter, adding milk softens it. And then finally dark roasted coffee that’s bitter & acidic requires also adding sugar. That has been one of the “litmus tests” for me—if all I need to do is add milk for the coffee to taste good, then it’s decent. I’m really eager to get to that point where even milk isn’t necessary.
I think this “darker = richer” association is due to the fact that a bag of dark-roasted beans has a stronger smell than a bag of light-roasted beans, due to the flavorful oils being pushed out to the surface of the bean. But this doesn’t translate to the brewed cup, which is all that really matters.
How refined are you taste buds? I've been freezing beans for years now in 5lb increments. Only issue is when I get certain beans, but most do fine in the freezer. Also, some beans require resting on arrival before freezing.
If you have the option not to freeze (buy/roast small batches), then an air-tight container works very well.
I don’t know the answer to freezing, but I do know that a lot of the negative mentions of it in articles don’t make clear that they are talking about putting it back and forth in the freezer as you use it.
I freeze it in the unopened original package plus a freezer bag to prevent punctures, until it is time to start using it, then I keep it in a tight jar, and I don’t know why that would be worse than leaving it on the shelf for many months or a year.
That article describes what I do, it starts with the advice against storing the coffee in the freezer between uses and then way down in the article it points out that freezing the unopened bulk purchase is fine in the freezer until use (time before use counts though).
The bottom line is that lower temperatures do slow the staling process. Coffee also has incredible ability to absorb odors so I don’t mess around with any bag containers. I use only sealed mason jars for storage.
I generally roast every 7-10 days so I don’t worry about temperature and aging. But I do notice a difference between summer and winter during those 7-10 days! I have frozen beans (in sealed mason jars) if I will be out of town and need a stash to last a few days when I get home. It’s better than leaving for week(s) at room temperature.
IMO 18+ year green bean roasting experience, I’ve noticed that at about 14 months, in sealed poly bags, beans started to turn a ‘straw color.’ But who knows how long that they were sitting at the merchant?
They still roasted fine, but one has to do a lot of experimentation to truly determine any degradation and I’m not that hardcore.
The staling chemistry process for green vs roasted is entirely different. To be conservative I would say the green beans will last at least a year… but there are exceptions; mostly dry process beans can fade in their more subtle flavor character.
Roasted beans have expanded by 50-70% in volume, opening the cell structure to oxidizing and the oils are more exposed as well.
Roasting coffee is nothing less than a complete transformation of the bean. To demonstrate this, try grinding and brewing coffee with green beans!