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Artisan Coffee School completed its first ever classes in SCA Roasting in February and it was an incredible few days for the students, the ASTs (Authorised Specialty Trainers) and the school itself. We have wanted to offer Roasting as an option for some time now and finally decided to go ahead when Donovan McLagan, owner of Urban Espress and South African Cup Tasters Champion 2012/2015/2016/2018, agreed to come across from Port Elizabeth and teach for us.

The day we began was one of those moments for me, which I think everyone in the specialty coffee industry experiences at least once, where you think to yourself:

I don’t know anywhere near as much as I think I do.

I had completed the Roasting Foundation elsewhere back in early 2018 and it was a simple enough affair; set-up procedures, gas, air-flow, some small amount of cupping and shut-down procedures. We roasted at the time of course but it was geared towards end temperatures and final colour rather than what was happening and more importantly, why are these things happening. I was left with the question: when does the science begin?

Intermediate. Intermediate is when the science begins.

From what Donovan taught us I realised that there were two main elements that drive his style of roasting and therefore his teaching, neither of which happen without the other.

  1. Understanding the chemical makeup of the green coffee and how and when they are affected is key.
  2. Taste is King.

We looked at the composition of the green beans, moisture content and density of the beans prior to and post roasting. We went deeper into airflow and heat transfer (radiant, conductive and convective). We spoke about the acidic composition of the green beans, how and when these acids are affected during the roast and how that affects the final cup. On top of which we delved into sugar, caramelisation and Maillard Reactions, which play an enormous role in developing the body, sweetness and final balance of the product.

Ultimately all of this broke down into two broad and potentially obvious categories in my mind:

  1. How well have you developed the potential flavours present in the green.
  2. How easy have you made it to extract those flavours (solubility).

I came away from these two days with my head absolutely buzzing with new ideas, different ways of looking at topics I already knew about and even completely changing my view on certain aspects of what I believed to be true about coffee.

Essentially, exactly what these courses should open us up to – development.

Mike O’Riordan
Head of Training, Artisan Coffee School