This may be the most hotly debated question regarding specialty coffee in our time. Roasting determines so much about what we ultimately experience in our coffee and is not a minor detail. It quickly goes from subtle to extreme when describing the ways different roasting styles interpret a coffee. We will attempt to be as objective as possible, as taste is ultimately a subjective and personal thing.
Roasting for Comparison
Coffee professionals know that there is more transparency for determining coffee 'defects' when a coffee is roasted lightly. It has been the tradition for 'cuppers' (professional coffee tasters) to roast a particular way out of pure utility. A darker roast will obscure the elements that the taster is trying to analyze. Interestingly, until recent years, this 'cupping roast' was not typically used outside of this environment.
The process of cupping became more commonplace, and those who were exposed to it started to crave lighter roasts more and more. Alongside the popularity of these 'cupping roasts,' all kinds of theories started to develop—which were explored ad nauseam. This was an inevitable progression, as roasting has surprisingly few acknowledged standards for being such an obviously critical aspect of coffee crafting.
Do Different Coffees Need Different Roasts?
Coffee beans come in many shapes, sizes, densities, and cellular structures. Instead of thinking about them needing to be 'roasted differently,' it is helpful to think of them as simply being different, physically. If a baker has seven different types and sizes of cookies to bake, he may have different temperatures and times associated with each. It would be misleading to say that they are all 'baked differently' as the desired chemical changes associated with baking are universal, but with different ways to get there for each.
How Difficult Is It To Roast Coffee?
Roasting coffee is simultaneously ridiculously simple and inexhaustibly complex. It would take less than an hour to have a roaster teach another individual to follow a few rules and perform an actual roast. What cannot be taught quickly is the intuitive sense of responsibility and knowledge used to develop these rules. This is the labor of a lifetime and any roaster that claims to have this aspect mastered should be called into question.
To put things very simply, roasting is always a balancing act among what is maintained, what is lost, and what is synthesized through the energy we add. Coffee smells good and coffee tastes good. These good things should be maximized.
Is roasting at home a good idea? Unequivocally, yes! If you can manage to invest a bit, you will be very pleased with the ability to craft on this level. Even if you bomb a roast or two, there are a lot of forums online that will help you navigate the peculiarities of whatever roaster you end up getting. Often, it is less about roasting and more about hacking your way into more control.
Connecting With The Bean
Whether you decide to roast at home or not, understanding more of this stage will help you appreciate your coffee more. Next time you are at your local roastery, see if you can get more information on what the roaster's philosophy is. It is fun to see how people's convictions determine their crafting. You may be surprised at how deep the convictions run.