Book Review: Coffee Roasting Made Simple

I heard a professor say once that if you only read one scholar, you’ll be a mimic. If you read two scholars, you’ll be confused. But if you read widely enough, you can make your own conclusions. Coffee roasters haven’t had that luxury. There’s really only two current books on coffee roasting: Scott Rao’s The Coffee Raoster’s Companion and Rob Hoos’s Modulating the Flavor Profile of CoffeeIf you roast coffee for a living (or even a hobby), these books are required reading.

But a new book from veteran Estonian roaster Raimond Feil aims to add to the conversation. After 12 years of coffee experience, Feil has published his first book, Coffee Roasting Made Simple. Feil reached out to us and offered to send us a copy for review, which we gladly accepted.

Overview

Feil begins Coffee Roasting Made Simple by discussing the importance of a roasting philosophy. Without a clear idea of what you’re aiming at, it’s impossible to know when you’ve succeeded. For Feil, roasting should accomplish “a natural balance and full potential of all taste attributes that have been encoded by nature into every coffee bean.” Feil compares coffee roasting to ripeness in fruit: to early or too late, and delicious flavor is being missed.

In the second chapter, by far the largest section of the book, Feil examines production roasting. In keeping with the title of the book, Feil takes all of the traditional phases of roasting (drying, color change, caramelization, etc), and conflates them to first phase, (before first crack) and second phase (after first crack). Throughout the section, Feil is always immensely practical, offering tips for adequately preheating the roaster and plotting roast curves. I was surprised, and a little delighted, to see that Feil, like me, believes an optimal roast profile for espresso and filter coffee is different.

Chapters three and four have to do with sample roasting and developing roast profiles. Although more and more roasting companies are moving towards machines like the Ikawa for sample roasting, Feil offers his tips and tricks for getting the most out of a conventional barrel sample roaster and how to transfer sample profiles into production roasts.

Next, Feil examines quality control in chapter five, followed by an assortment of random topics in chapter six.  Feil advocates a rigorous quality control regimen. As he writes, “there is no short cut to roasting well without integrating quality control intro everyday work.” Practically, Feil shares his QC protocol, as well as best fire safety and preventative maintenance practices.

Critical Evaluation 

Throughout Coffee Roasting Made Simple, Feil’s prose is casual, and conversational in tone; more practical than technical. As he says in the afterword, a race car driver doesn’t necessarily need to know how to take apart an engine to win a race. In places, he uses his own idiosyncratic terminology, which might be confusing for those accustomed to other roasting terms, or for beginners who might want to compare Coffee Roasting Made Simple to other roasting guides.

Perhaps most controversial is Feil’s assertion the post-first crack portion of the roast shouldn’t “curve,” in other words, it should maintain a constant rate of rise (ROR). To accomplish this, Feel recommends having a brief “flame off” section of time going into first crack, before cranking the heat again. This is assertion is in direct contradiction to Rao’s idea that the ROR should always be decreasing (never stalling, and never “flicking”). In my own roasting, I’ve tried to follow Rao’s theories on ROR, so I have to admit I’m skeptical of Feil approach. I also have never intentionally roast coffee in this way, so I will withhold judgment until I’m able to run some experiments of my own.

What I admire most about Feil’s book is his willingness to put his roast profiles and notes for specific coffees out in the open, including time, temperature, and development time. For the most part, roasting is still shrouded in secrecy, and any book that contributes to great transparency in my estimation is a good thing. Of course, it’s worth mentioning, it’s really hard comparing charge and drop temperatures across different roasters, but Feil’s profiles no doubt will be a good reference point for the beginner roasters the book is geared towards.

Conclusion

Although I don’t agree with everything in the book, Coffee Roasting Made Simple is a welcome resource in an underserved category. Reading Fiel’s book reminds me of the practical, hands-on education one gets when they first start working under a veteran coffee roaster. In my estimation, it’s a valuable addition to the existing literature on coffee roasting. Veteran and aspiring roasters alike will benefit from reading this book.

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