What Is a Coffee Roast Profile, and Why Does It Matter?

February 17, 2021Jennifer Lewis
French press, coffee

French Press coffee originated in the 1800s. Adobe Stock image.

One of the most intriguing aspects of coffee is that each brew and each bean has its own story, a detailed account of its origin and background, which results in the rich and flavorful tastes we know and love today. For coffee enthusiasts, experimenting with different types of roasts can become a hobby in itself. Not only are there countless coffee beans to choose from all over the world, but there are also many methods and styles of roasting those beans — formally known as the coffee’s roast profile. 

A coffee roast profile is the detailed process of what was done to the raw bean to create the finished brew. Myriad factors contribute to the process, and to the final result, making experimenting with coffee roasts both exciting and challenging. 

Roasting coffee is a precise and complex process, so we’ll stick to the basics.

The two main factors in building a successful coffee roast profile are temperature and time. Darker roasts require more time roasting at a higher temperature, whereas lighter roasts finish faster at a lower temperature. Though these are the two most important components, there are other elements to consider, such as the moisture content of the raw beans, environmental conditions, and bean density. These can heavily impact the outcome of the roasted bean and the brew. The process can be identical, but if the beans’ raw makeup is different from the previous batch, the results will differ. Ultimately, the coffee’s flavor, acidity, and balance depend upon what happens during the green beans’ roasting process.

Another factor to consider before roasting is the desired roasting type. Roast levels range from light to dark. Because that can be subjective, advanced roasters utilize a color analyzer to assign a number to roast levels. One person’s medium roast could be considered a dark roast to someone else; the color analyzer removes the subjectivity. Roast level is completely up to the drinker’s preference, as the taste will vary. Lighter roasts tend to be slightly sweeter and contain more of the origin characteristics, whereas darker brews are richer and full-bodied and tend to work better with dairy and sugar.  

guinness world record, edwin parnell, black rifle coffee company
Edwin Parnell, Black Rifle Coffee Company’s product development specialist, cupping coffee in Guatemala. Photo by Marty Skovlund Jr./Coffee or Die Magazine.

Many consider coffee roasting an art form, and there is technically no right or wrong way to experiment. However, there are some crucial steps to ensure the roast profile results in the best possible batch: measuring the heat, observing color changes, and tracking the total roast time. Note taking is pivotal — the more information you can collect, the better. In addition to temperature, color, and bean density, roast masters need to document aroma, texture, and taste to improve the process for the next batch and to better understand the finished product.  

Edwin Parnell, product development specialist at Black Rifle Coffee Company, fell in love with coffee after moving to the Northwest — America’s coffee hub — and soaking in as much information about different types of roasts and how they are made. After buying his first 1-pound roaster, Parnell began experimenting and soon realized his hobby was beginning to become a calling. 

“The biggest piece of advice I can give to someone starting out is first and foremost be patient,” Parnell said during a recent interview with Coffee or Die Magazine. “Coffee roasting is trial and error; you will fail, and that’s a good thing because those failures are more important than the successes, as they teach you how to be better the next time around.” 

Parnell continued, “Start by experimenting with the types of coffee you enjoy best — for example, I prefer lighter roasts, so that’s typically what I work with. As you’ll be doing a lot of taste testing, it’s important to start with what you enjoy drinking yourself. In the end, coffee roasting is fun and not something anyone should be intimidated by. It’s interesting and incredibly rewarding to make your own personalized batch of coffee, created solely by your own concoction. It really is thrilling, and I urge anyone who has the slightest interest to give it a shot. You won’t be disappointed.” 

Jennifer Lewis
Jennifer Lewis
Jennifer Lewis is a contributing editor for Coffee or Die. A native of New York, Jennifer is a media relations manager in the music industry and a freelance writer who specializes in true crime, entertainment, and culture. She’s traveled throughout the world not only to find her own story, but to also hear the stories of those longing to tell them. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her cat, Avery.
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