A very common question asked in cafes around Houston is, "What is your dark roast?" We think people are trying to ask, "What coffee has the biggest, most pronounced flavor today?" But there's some confusion here.
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One aspect of coffee is often overlooked but very important. There are, in essence, two different philosophies of coffee roasting. The early years of American roasting brought what coffee geeks call "roast profiling," which means that the coffee, no matter where it's from, is roasted until it's very dark and oily in order to mask any flavors of the particular region. In the photo above, beans 14 through 16 would be achieved through roast profiling. This style also brings astringent, acrid flavors that generally are so bitter and unpleasant, a normal coffee drinker must load in cream and sugar to mask the pungent flavors.
Putting cream and sugar in coffee destroys the whole idea of coffee being a healthy treat with no carbs or sugar and little to no calories. The coffee geeks don't blame anyone for wanting or needing sugar or cream, because the roast profiling process leaves unpleasant flavors that must be fixed somehow.
But the coffee roasters of the world learned how to fix this problem without sacrificing the health benefits of coffee. They called this new style of roasting "bean profiling." Bean profiling developed when really high-quality coffee started being produced scientifically by farmers around the world. Careful attention to growing and processing practices yielded unique flavors and textures from each coffee-growing region that farmers wanted to highlight instead of mask. Roasting companies followed suit, roasting to accent the positive characteristics of these specialty coffees. Beans 7 through 12 above were achieved through bean profiling. This was a huge step in learning how to present each country's coffee properly.
Choosing coffee to drink at home or even choosing a café to frequent can be a daunting task if you are quality-minded. We highly recommend going straight to the beans to see if the coffee is worth trying. If you see any oily residue on the beans served at a café, we suggest leaving. This signifies roast profiling, not bean profiling, and isn't worth your time. This also works when you're selecting coffee to make yourself. If it's oily, don't bother. We can't promise that just because coffee isn't oily, it will be phenomenal, but this is a great first step.