You may have seen the poll I recently posted to the blog asking you to make a choice between two hypothetical cups of coffee. In essence asking if you would prefer to drink an average coffee (ie rated on green quality) that was roasted to show it at it’s best, or a really excellent coffee that was given an average roast, showing it at less than it’s best. While a little confusion and debate lingered over what exactly a 90 point roast would be, in no small part fuelled by the honourable Mr Cho’s mischief (I love you really Nick), a clear winner emerged in the vote. You chose the average coffee that was given a really excellent roast.
So would I for what it’s worth.
I didn’t want to pad the question with too much detail, for fear of leading the answers, but when I was originally thinking about this question, I envisaged the average roast to be one that was certainly drinkable, though regardless of level perhaps had a discernible roast characteristic, perhaps was a little flat or muted, and in general didn’t highlight the best qualities of the coffee. The really great roast for me is most often the one that you don’t notice the roast, just the coffee. Sometimes I like to comment that these seems as if the beans had grown on the tree already roasted. I say this again without allusion to the level of roast (within reason).
Green quality is constantly improving due to advancements and refinements in growing, harvesting, processing and even shipping. One could argue that green quality has improved (when looked at quite broadly) at a rate exceeding that of roast quality. The ratio of 90+ point coffees to roasters of comparable quality seems to be dropping year on year.
In the discussion that followed the poll a theme emerged of the quality of roast being a personal choice or preference, or even a geographical trait. One man’s 90 point roast, might be another man’s 80 point roast. While this wasn’t in my original thoughts, I do accept that it would probably seem to be more difficult to come to a consensus on a roast score than on a coffee score. Unquestionably there will be many opinions on what the best roast of a certain coffee would be, but I would hope we can all identify a roast of high quality.
Roast level (as opposed to roast quality) can be looked at as having regional idiosyncrasies. We could look at the differences between a typical Norwegian roast and a typical US roast and maybe draw some conclusions, perhaps tainted by our personal preferences. We can paint with broad brush strokes saying that US roasters burn the arse out of their coffee, or that the Scandanavians merely leave the coffee out in the sun for a short period of time to reach their desired level. This is of course bollox of the highest order. Roast level only says so much, an Agtron machine cannot tell you how good a coffee tastes, whether it has been tipped, scorched, baked or otherwise befuddled.
I’m probably not ever going to be fan of coffees roasted past a certain level, but I can appreciate a good roast that spans a reasonably broad range. I could envisage there being several 90 point roast interpretations of a given coffee.
There will be more excellent coffees grown this year, than I could possibly drink, or will even have the opportunity to drink, and some of the most expensive, most coveted lots will be roasted carelessly. This happens, a lot, I’ve drank them. It sucks. I guess this was my point leading into the question. I’m glad to find myself in agreement with a majority. Kudos to you dear readers, kudos.