The photo for this article was provided by the interviewee.
Earlier last year, I ordered a bag of Wee Stoater from Unorthodox Roasters, a Scottish roastery whose coffee names live up to the name "Unorthodox." There's Mindblown, Dee Calf, and a range of other odd names when you look at their coffee offerings.
Intrigued by how they roast coffee, I decided to reach out to Unorthodox Roasters. Mark Edwards, the wholesale manager at Unorthodox Roasters, got in touch with me to answer a few of my questions. The interview is below.
Could you tell my audience a bit about you and your role at Unorthodox Roasters?
I am the wholesale manager at Unorthodox Roasters. As well as building relationships with our clients and ensuring that they are supplied with coffee, I also work on every aspect that goes into producing it. This ranges from the initial stages of sourcing the green coffee, weighing it for roasting, sorting the green coffee afterwards (to make sure there aren’t any stones, etc. in the batch), and the actual roasting of the coffee itself! I then cup the coffee regularly to make sure we are serving the best quality coffee for our customers and finally, I am in charge of the cleaning and maintenance of the roaster.
What is the first thing you do when you arrive at the roastery?
The first thing I do when I arrive is to turn on the boiler. There’s a kind of ritualistic start to every day at HQ. The boiler goes on and someone makes V60s for everyone working that day. It’s a nice easy start to the day and it allows us to catch up a bit which is not always easy when it’s busy.
I hear a lot of people talk about "roast profiles." Could you tell me a bit more about what a roast profile is and give an example?
Roast profiles are the way in which we decide to roast specific coffees. This applies to a few things; the time we roast the coffee for, different levels of gas during certain points of the roast, the temperature at which we drop the beans into the roaster, air flow, drum speed. There are more specific things we need to do or certain ways we need to react during roasts that can change with every coffee.
For example, take YellowCake, our Kenyan coffee. We like to start the roast with quite a high gas percentage at the beginning which creates an amazing acidity and vibrancy that’s great in a Kenyan. In order to couple the bright fruitiness achieved at the beginning with an awesome buttery body. We treat the coffee quite gently towards the end and are a little more cautious with our gas application.
How do you determine your roast profiles for your coffees?
We roast test batches of the same bean with different variables and we cup them all. This means we can pick out the characteristics of the bean and tweak the roast profile so that we can get the most out of these characteristics.
How much of your time do you spend tasting the samples you have roasted?
Let’s just say you can tell when it’s roasting day... We test every batch of coffee we roast for two main reasons: The first reason is for quality control - making sure the coffee roasted is of the highest standard and the second to enable us to make changes to the roast profile so that we can get the best out of every bean.
What advice would you have for someone interested in coffee who wants to become a roaster?
The main thing I would say is to get involved. Speak to people in the coffee industry, go to coffee festivals, become a barista. I was a barista long before I began roasting. Working backwards like that is probably the best way not only to get involved in the coffee industry but to learn the processes as well. That said, you can actually roast coffee at home, all you need is some green beans and a frying pan. There is a frying pan roasting guide on our website, have a play around, see what it tastes like, where do you think it could be improved? What changes could you make to make those improvements?
What skills do you use the most on a day-to-day basis as a roaster?
One of the skills I use the most is the ability to be reactive to what is happening. There are times
when the roast reacts in ways that you don’t expect (say, for example that the beans are from a new harvest). As a roaster you can’t panic, you have to work methodically, a lack of reaction or overreaction can harm the taste of coffee.
Analytical skills are also essential. You need to be able to see how the roast is progressing in comparison to the roast profile you have decided upon. You’re essentially plotting the course of the roasting, it’s good to know exactly what you need to replicate from the beans entering the roaster, to first crack and so on.
Do you like to have your coffee with a snack? If so, what snack do you prefer?
To be honest, no not really! I don’t tend to eat when I’m having coffee. Maybe a croissant or a biscotti would be quite nice but in general no snacking for this guy.
If you could visit any coffee origin in the world, what would it be and why?
That is a tricky one! Colombia I think. Coffee over there is enormous! Not only that but the scenery over there looks epic. You seem to be able to get everything; vast rainforests, huge mountains, deserts you name it Colombia has it!
What coffee are you drinking at the moment?
In the house I am currently on Live Wired, our El Salvador natural. Almost port like tasting notes and has an all round funkiness that I really love in a natural coffee.