The photo for this article was provided by the interviewee.
When I ran out of beans over a month ago, I stopped in my local coffee shop and asked for some beans. They gave me some beans they served in the cafe although I was not sure where they were from. I later found the beans were from The Missing Bean, a speciality direct trade coffee company based in Oxford. I've been following them on social media and I decided to reach out to see if I could get a peek behind the scenes of roasting.
In this interview, I talk with Silviu Rad, head of coffee and business development at The Missing Bean, about what it is like to roast coffee at a professional roastery. Silviu used to roast full time and now roasts one day per week.
What is the first thing you do when you start work in the roastery?
First thing is brewing a coffee and sitting down for a short catch up with the roastery manager. We make a plan for the day, check stocks of roasted coffee and do the roasting list.
How long does it take you to set up the roaster for the day?
The roaster is left clean and ready from the previous day. After you turn the roaster on, we usually let it warm up on a set temperature and gas level for an hour. While the roaster is warming up we weigh the batches we have to roast that day. They are either 7kg or 9kg batches which we want to have ready as soon as we start.
How much time do you spend at the roaster? Do you roast continuously or is the roaster only in operation at certain times in the day?
We usually have the roaster ready to go at 9 a.m. and we finish at 16-17 the latest.
The maximum time we would spend at the roaster will never be more than 8 hours. You have to be extremely focused to follow temperatures and graphs at all times which can be exhausting. Half way during roasting day we have a lunch break but you don't want to take long breaks while the roaster is on.
After you establish a routine you know how long you have to wait in between batches (we wait about 7 minutes). If you break this pattern your roaster can drop in temperature quickly which might make your next batch hard to control. Also, if you take long breaks while roasting you end up wasting gas and increasing your bill unnecessarily.
What skills make for a good coffee roaster?
Good tasting skills. If the roaster has a good palate he will know how to adjust roasts and what to change when he first tries a coffee.
Good maths. This just helps with everything a roaster does. There are a lot of numbers (quantities, stock, temperatures) you have to deal with.
Ability to stay focused.
Good physical shape. There is a lot of lifting involved.
Walk me through the sample roasting stage. How do you know what roast profiles to try out on new beans?
This one is quite easy. For samples we use the small Ikawa roaster, so we only roast 50g at a time. Even if the roast doesn't go well it is not a huge waste. We try multiple different profiles and then taste, after we agree on something close to perfection we try to replicate in the big roaster.
This is the most difficult part. What we usually do is try to find a previous coffee we roasted that was similar to the new one and follow the graph and temperatures of the coffee from our database. You have to be careful of all aspects (Altitude, variety, origin, processing method etc). From my experience, the first roast never goes as planned, because the coffee will still have a different density, humidity or size, but after that, the second roast will be easy to get right.
I know that some roasters use software to accompany their practices. To what degree does software influence your roasting?
We use Cropster and it is worth every penny. It saves all your profiles, you can insert the stock of green coffee and the app will modify stock after every roast, it does it all really!
Do you drink coffee off-the-job or do you prefer to drink when you're cupping and tasting?
I actually never drink the coffee while doing the cupping protocol, I learned that is better to spit out or you will get extremely high on caffeine. Most of the times we cup there are 10-12 cups on the table, and most of them you will try 2-3 times. On a daily basis I have to have 2-3 cups of coffee, most of the time filter.
What is your favourite home brewing method?
V60 was and always will be I reckon. From my point of view it just gives the best result. (If you have filtered water and a nice pouring kettle).
What's your favourite snack to have with a cup of coffee?
Oh man, this is the most difficult question of them all but it will have to be a cinnamon or cardamon bun. One of the ones that comes from what is called the best bakery in town.
You can learn more about The Missing Bean on their website at themissingbean.co.uk. I reviewed the Peruvian beans I tried from them earlier this year. [Click here to read the review.](