Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Fourth Wave

I have been reading up on the light roast v. dark roast debate, and it has me rather intrigued. In case you haven't noticed, there is a light roast craze going on in the coffee world. Coffee geeks are calling this the "third wave" of roasting in the U.S., with the first wave being the distinguished Alfred Peet, and the second being Starbucks.

In wave one, Alfred Peet introduced us to specialty coffee. (This will require further definition in a future post, but for now think, stronger, darker, bolder than anything commercially available in the 1960's.) He roasted on an antique, 5-kilo machine at his shop in Berkeley, California. Here is a photo of the actual, original roaster, which lived in our house in California until we sold it for a larger, more practical, less sexy roaster.

In wave two, Mr. Peet taught the Starbucks guys how to roast, and they applied their marketing genius to take the latte international. As much as we all hate to give credit to the evil empire, they taught the masses to appreciate more flavorful, fuller-bodied coffee.

Now, here we are in the third wave, and I keep reading inaccurate and disparaging comments about any coffee that has gone beyond the 'second crack'--terminology that refers to darker roasts (and another future-post subject). Based on all I have heard about Mr. Peet over the years, I'm imagining him at least fidgeting in his grave. 

Jim's take on this debate is multi-faceted. First, it's largely a matter of personal preference. Jim recalls Alfred liked the smokiness imparted by the super-hot perforated drum on the old Royal pictured. Jim prefers a cleaner and lighter roast than that. Personally, I can't stomach a coffee so light it tastes like tree bark. Next, there is a certain art to developing each bean to its fullest potential in terms of flavor, body, acidity, and the proper balance. That's the 'art' in artisan coffee. Finally, it's about bean selection. Every bean has an ideal roast profile, be it light, French, or anything in between. Some people think the flavor nuances of the region or farm are basically cooked out of a darker roast. However, it is possible for a highly skilled roast master to maintain these subtleties while still developing body--but this often requires venturing beyond the second crack.

For Jim, this is where things get exciting. If you have met him, you will understand completely. He talks about bringing the coffee right to the edge of a cliff, and knowing the exact nanosecond to stop the roast to keep it from going over the edge. That was in the old days, barely pre-second-wave. Knowing where the edge of the cliff is allows him to step back appropriately and find the coffee's sweet spot. Jim's style is passionate, bold, and adventurous. I believe these qualities are evident in his coffee, the same way he believes that if he is having a hard day or strife at home, it comes through in the roast. We do what we can to prevent that, and roast happy coffee.

So, what will be the fourth wave?

No comments:

Post a Comment