It’s the Roaster Not the Roast

By Kait Leonard
Kait LeonardBy Kait Leonard      November 27, 2020

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It’s the Roaster Not the Roast
Photo by Kait Leonard Jack Balder shares fun facts about coffee as he prepares the pot for the next coffee sampling.
Need a little afternoon pick-me-up? Well, put down that espresso and find a lively, lightly roasted bean. Approximately 64% of Americans drink coffee every day, according to Reuters. The number is higher for people over 55. Given the popularity of the brew, it’s surprising that coffee enthusiasts often don’t seem to know a lot about their beverage of choice and many think the strong taste of a dark roast coffee signifies a high caffeine content and a better buzz, but they are quite simply mistaken. Jack Balder, Coffee Director at Bar Nine Coffee in Los Angeles, maintains that if you want a stronger jolt from your cup of joe, you should pick a lighter roast. While there is disagreement in the coffee community about the effect of dark roasting, Balder maintains that caffeine is actually burnt away during the roasting process, leaving the dark roast packing less of a punch. At a recent coffee tasting event, attendees crowded the bar to get a cup of the next sample Balder would produce and to learn some fun facts about the surprising coffee bean. For example, many in the group didn’t know that coffee beans aren’t actually beans at all. They’re the seed inside the fruit of an evergreen plant that can grow up to 32 feet tall. The fruit is known as the coffee cherry. Each one provides two seeds, except for those of the Tanzanian Peaberry variety. The cherry from these trees contain only one seed, and in spite of the name, the Tanzanian Peaberry beans are actually produced in many places outside of Tanzania. While fun coffee facts amused participants as they waited for the next pour-over to finish dripping, people were most awed by the range of tasting notes Balder helped them identify. While it’s probably typical for coffee drinkers to describe their coffee as strong, weak, smooth, or bitter, Balder provided samples that had notes of cherry, milk chocolate, citrus fruit, and even one that tasted “a lot like jagermeister” (a liqueur made of 56 herbs and spices and popular at frat parties) As is common in wine tastings, most budding connoisseurs recognized the flavors once they were pointed out. “I taste the cherry, but I can’t find the chocolate,” said one woman after sipping a medium roast. “I’m tasting leather and whiskey barrel,” said a man in the group in response to a darker roast. Could the tasters have found these flavors in their cups without Balder’s guidance? Probably not. Will they be able to in the future? Perhaps. But to be sure, they will try, and their morning coffee ritual will become a little more fun. During the tasting, everyone seemed to be having a great time exploring their own mouths. When Balder was asked how he ended up roasting coffee, he said that like many people, his java journey began back in his university days, when he was a simple consumer. Like many college kids, his daily schedule started with a trip to the local cafe. “They were like morning bars,” he says, a place to go and hang out, talk to people, ease into the demands of the day. When life dashed his dreams of becoming a professional athlete, he started working in a café. Since then, he’s held about every coffee-related job there is. Now a roaster and Director of Coffee, he takes pride in what he is able to bring out of the beans during the roasting process. And that brings up another point that coffee drinkers might not usually consider. According to Balder, given identical beans, each roaster will bring a unique flare to the roasting process and deliver to the customer a distinct taste experience. For the consumer, this means that rather than buying a specific type of coffee, for example mocha java or Columbian, it makes more sense to find the roaster you like and put your loyalty there. The way some wine drinkers simply like a nice glass of vino with dinner, while others ner d-out over every nuance of taste, aroma, and color, coffee drinkers too have a choice about how they want to enjoy their joe. Some will continue to grab a cup at the local convenience store, adding sugar and milk to make it palatable. But the true coffee enthusiasts might prefer making the acquaintance of a local roaster and exploring the complex notes of the formerly lowly coffee bean. Resource: Retrieved on 11/16/20 from
Kait Leonard
      November 27, 2020

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