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Roast Levels and Roasting Style


We don't roast coffee on automatic.

Our restored vintage Probat GG 45-kilogram cast-iron, double-walled roaster operates by hand. We control temperature and air flow throughout the roasting cycle.

This timeless war horse lets us steward every batch to its perfect roast point.

Each origin reflects its growing region's soil, altitude, and environment. By discerning the ideal roast level, we reveal every distinctive characteristic in your cup.

Every roaster has their interpretation of roast levels. These are usually learned, passed on and then further developed. The Cravens roast levels are based upon traditional Northern European influences, which I (Simon) learned at Seattle’s Best Coffee. They had in turn been passed on by International Coffee and Tea, a roaster from the 1950’s and 60’s.

Northern European (N.E.): Our lightest roast. During roasting, coffee goes through two development stages called “cracks”; described as so because the beans actually make a cracking sound as they expand and release moisture. The first crack (in our 1940 Probat vintage cast iron drum 100 pound roaster) comes at around 14 minutes, depending upon the origin. This is the initial release of the remaining moisture in the bean as it expands its internal cellular structure (visualize a honeycomb structure opening up). The second crack begins about 4 minutes later, around 18 minutes when the coffee reaches its full development stage, while at the lightest roast. This is when coffee – after being ground for the brewing process selected - becomes “coffee”.

In our Northern European degree of roast the fully developed natural flavor of the bean is packed in the cell structure ready to be released in the brewing process. We use the N.E. degree of roast on our Natural Process coffees – Ethiopia Nura Korate, Sumatra IKA Farina and Sumatra Kopi Gayo - and African coffees, which is additionally Tanzania Mondul Estate Peaberry and Rwanda Misozi.

Why N.E. on these coffees? Because we have found it is the best level to fully exhibit the finest qualities of the origin. Whereas for the washed coffees from Central and South America, the Vienna Roast level (see below) is a better application to fully accentuate the characteristics of the origin.

Role of Roasting: I (Simon) have had the tremendous fortune of source country travel to locate and secure our coffee. Over the past 20 years and 100 plus farm visits I have had the privilege to listen, learn and absorb the complexities of coffee farming (and I never stop learning). As a consequence I believe the role of the roaster is to “steward” the coffee through the roasting process. Our job is to fully accentuate and exhibit the enormous and significant amount of work undertaken by the farmers, wet mills (processing) and dry mills (grading). They are ones who produce the unique flavor coffee is able to release and for us to enjoy. The roaster is a steward. However, this is not always the case for all roasters, many who will tout that is they who are able to do magic with the coffee. I politely disagree. It is the farmers and their families and then the many people along the way who allow this to happen.

Vienna Roast: This is our medium roast, although it is literally only seconds further along from the Northern European degree. For N.E. the cracking just needs to have started rolling, which means the beans have “crested” the hill of being at full development. For the Vienna roast the Roaster is listening for the coffee to reach a crescendo and the cracking is fully rolling. The craft here is to drop the coffee from the drum at its perfect rolling cracking point so that, just as with N.E., the flavor of the coffee is still retained in the bean structure. Vienna is the lightest roast level for washed coffee from Central and South America.

How we roast: Our primary machine is the afore-mentioned 1940 Probat GG 45 Kilo (100 pound) double-walled cast-iron drum roaster.

Why vintage roasting machines? Control of the process and protection of the natural flavor of the coffee. The cast-iron drum, multi-level gas burners and free-air flow all allow us to gently roast the coffee and protect all its natural flavor. Most modern roasting equipment is set up for production speed and connection to technology. This is in the form of what is called “profile roasting”, which is an app program controlling the temperature and time of the roast cycle.

Our roasting is based upon how the coffee is developing in the drum through the stages up to cracking cycles. The difference being our Roasters are using their senses of sight and sound to make the determinations on the roasting process – not an app. This is a factor because the moisture content of coffee is variable. Newly arrived coffee will roast differently from coffee that has “rested” and “settled”, which it does over time. Coffee from Nicaragua roasts differently than coffee from Sumatra, and both of them different from Ethiopia. The plant type, growing conditions, processing and grading are all different and thus have to be taken into account as the coffee tumbles in the drum. We are able to achieve consistency with our senses.

Italian Roast: The first of our two dark roasts. Following the second crack we reduce the temperature to allow the coffee to transition carefully and under control into the dark roasts, rather than “race” into them. During this stage the oils from inside the bean transition to the surface of the bean (hence the move to darkness) from its internal structure. What is happening in darker roasts is that the natural flavors are graduating out while a more roasted and toasted flavor profile is imparted into the bean. The craft is to ensure this is an equal exchange. Done too rapidly and the coffee has that burnt, acrid and unpleasant aftertaste.
For the Italian roast the Roaster is using sight over sound and looking for the oils to have skated over and coated the surface of the bean.

French Roast: Our darkest. Following on the observation of the coffee by the Roaster they are looking for the oils to have completed the coating process and they are now caramelizing. This is observed by seeing the oils make a slight bubbling motion, which indicates the caramelization stage has been reached. This is a dark as you can go. In addition, the Roaster is looking to preserve the crease of the bean, When you look at dark roasted coffee the crease across the bean should not be charred. It should have maintained its integrity. It can be said that it is easy to dark roast coffee – but it is not. It is hard to do it well, where the darker nuanced natural flavor of the coffee is enhanced by the contribution of the caramelization step.