Specialty Coffee Roasting for a Caribbean Palette
What does ‘specialty coffee’ even mean?
Typically, we’re talking about arabica coffee beans that are treated with care and respect from the plant to the final cup. There are countless steps (literally) taken by farmers, green coffee buyers and exporters before that coffee reaches my hands to roast. So it’s a huge responsibility on my part to roast the beans to bring out their best flavours and I can't disrespect all the hard work that’s been put in before me.
At the start of my roasting journey in 2016, I absorbed so much information to make sure that I took all the right steps. I knew that I was getting into something that virtually did not exist in Trinidad at the time, and I only had resources online as my guide. Countless YouTube videos alongside a robust online course helped me understand the ins and outs of specialty coffee roasting as well as endless hours practicing with small batches to get the right flavours.
What I never considered at the time, was the palette and personal tastes of my country, and where we have come from as a nation with our own preferences of coffee flavours.
I’ll admit, it even took me some time to appreciate what I was roasting at the start of my journey. The first true light roast coffee I ever tasted was my own, never before had I tasted berries and green apples in a cup of coffee, the acidic bite with every sip was both enjoyable yet so foreign to my taste buds that I second guessed myself almost every time, thinking that there was something wrong with the roast. Only now after a few years of experience, as well as the extremely valuable feedback from customers have I realised that myself, as well as most Trinis, simply ‘like what we like’.
We are a nation that was raised on dark roasted robusta coffee, it’s only recently that we’ve started using french presses, percolators and pour overs. I am sure that everyone reading this probably has a family member or friend who still boils their coffee and water in a pot then strains it (milk and sugar down hard) and absolutely loves that burnt finish, smokey flavour and the ridiculous caffeine kick to face that robusta beans provide. This super strong, dark roasted and sometimes burnt coffee with insane preparation methods and practices may be extremely frowned upon internationally, but it's simply part of who we are, and will always have a place in our coffee drinking culture.
I’ve adjusted my roasting over the last year to accommodate this and honestly, while I stray from many traditional specialty roasting practices, the feedback we get has never been better. I roast for the people. My light roasts are closer to a medium, my medium roasts sometimes close in on the dark realm, and my dark roasts I focus on deeper, richer finishes rather than straight up burning coffee beans. I believe in a solid mid ground for specialty coffee roasting for a Trinidad and Tobago audience.
I use the best possible raw materials and put my all into roasting them to provide what is expected out of a good cup of coffee, all the while providing hints and notes of where these coffee beans really came from. My goal with every roast is to preserve the full spectrum of flavours that can be found within the green beans while adding in the exciting flavours of the roast process, it’s a balancing act.
Over the last 3 years I think that I’ve gained a good sense of exactly where we stand as a specialty coffee drinking nation, my dark roasts outsell my lighter roasted blends by a lot, but I still believe there is a huge opportunity for customers to give light roasts a chance and potentially experience and learn something new.
In short, specialty coffee roasting isn't as much a technique, as it is an understanding. If you’ve made it this far into this ramble, I commend you. If you have any thoughts you’d like to share, please do! Customer feedback has been my greatest teacher.