Coffee Roasting Demystified

Ubud Food Festival 2018

The annual celebration of all things foodie hit Ubud again last April 13th-15th and The Greedy Cat was there, skulking around for freebies.

Food trucks at Ubud Food festival
Food trucks at UFF

At the main site, which is next to the Indus hotel, there are various stands representing different restaurants or boutique grocery stores from the town offering free tasters, which I hoovered up in the name of research (“Best Brownie” award goes to Gluten Free Kitchen – you’re welcome).

It seems to me a wasted opportunity though, that they are simply there with a selection of items you can go and buy at their shop in town any time, without giving you any incentive to buy. Fortunately there were a few exceptions, and I took full advantage of Elevated Cacao’s exclusive gift boxes going for 50k – usually worth 80k – buying up 6 of them, and Stark beer, who were selling their delicious, Bintang-destroying, local craft beers for 30k-40k, definitely worth a toast!

Between sniffing out free samples and avoiding anything covered in (UFF sponsor and decidedly anti-foodie) ABC sauce I went to check out some of the demonstrations in the main tent, which were running every 90 minutes and featured famous chefs, local restaurants and some crazy cooking challenges, in the style of Ready, Steady, I got to see a famous Balinese chef, who had previously cooked for royalty, prepare a selection of seafood cooked in Balinese spices. His sous chef (an Austrian volunteer from the audience) provided a comedic counterpart to the proceedings, claiming what he called “salt” was in fact MSG and looking rather less than impressed when tasting his food.

UFF Workshop: Coffee Roasting with Seniman Coffee

If you feel the need to escape the crazy traffic and the crowds at the festival site, you can also experience the food festival at some of Ubud’s more well-known restaurants and establishments who sign up to host different food-related events. I was lucky enough to be invited along to a workshop all about coffee roasting at the 5th-best Coffee shop in Ubud – Seniman Coffee.

Rodney, Director of Coffee at Seniman and Head Roaster, Edi talked us through the roasting procedure. Both are qualified to grade coffee, a rare honour to have two people in the same establishment sharing this status, but that’s Senimans! Coffee is in their blood.

Pan Roasting

A pan is set up at the front of the room and a camera is set on the beans so we can see the process of them changing from green to brown. A barista is given the unenviable task of moving the beans constantly with a whisk. We are told that the roasting will take between 10-12 minutes (depending on how you like your roast), so while we’re waiting for something to happen, Rodney talks to us about the coffee process and how they get the green beans ready for roasting.


Processing the Coffee

Rodney passes around the red coffee fruits and asks us to break one open to reveal the coffee beans within and taste the sweet membrane surrounding them. Coffee fruits like these will soon be ready for picking in Indonesia, which harvests between May and July.

The coffee process refers to the washing and drying of the beans, which can occur in various different ways and which in the past could be used to determine the provenance of the beans e.g. Semi-washed process was used almost exclusively in Indonesia. These days however, countries are breaking with tradition and using a variety of different processes to prepare their beans for roasting, in order to cater for a more diverse consumer demand.

Rodney describes each of the different processes as follows:

Natural Process

The fruit is dried whole, then hulled and roasted.

Honey Process

The outer fruit is removed but the membrane is left on for drying. The membrane is then washed off before roasting.

Washed Process

The fruit and membrane are both removed and the bean is dried with the parchment on.

Semi-washed Process

Is similar to the washed process, but the beans are often stored with the fruit pulp still on. This is then removed at a later date, and then dried.


First Crack

We return our attention to the pan, where our barista is earnestly moving the roasting beans, which still look unchanged. I’m thinking how impatient I’d be getting if I was waiting for my morning cup of coffee but Rodney tells us that we are on the brink of first crack.

Sure enough, a few moments later, we start to hear a popping sound, a bit like popping corn which, according to Rodney, means that we have arrived at first crack.

So what is first crack? This is the point at which the bean reaches a temperature of around 205ºC and an exothermic reaction is produced, separating water and CO2 within the bean. The bean starts to increase in size, causing the crack to appear. It’s important at this point to maintain the heat in the bean. If it starts to lose it’s internal temperature, the bean can taste baked.

All this science, before breakfast!

Different Roasts


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The different stages of coffee roasting

At 10.40 first crack is finished and we reach a point which is known to Baristas as a City Roast. This bean can be ground and brewed and enjoyed. However, if the bean is left for just another 20 seconds, the roast is known as City+. The surface of the bean has become a little smoother and second crack has almost begun.

A Full City Roast is when the bean is right on the verge of second crack, after around 11.30 minutes and then, 20 minutes later we have Full City Roast+.

We can see that once the cracking starts, changes produced by the heat have a big effect on the taste of the bean, with mere seconds between different roasts. The second crack is the sound produced by the fracturing of the cellulose structure of the bean and up until this point we have a bean roast which still displays its origin character. Those who prefer to drink their coffee black will notice the flavours more at this stage.

Once the second crack is fully underway, we move onto Vienna (or continental) stage and a Light French roast, which is – counterintuitively – one of the darker roasts. A dark roast is at odds with buying coffee for its distinctive origin notes, as dark roast coffees tend to taste more like each other. Big coffee chains will use a dark roast to ensure their brews taste as similar as possible around the world – differences will be obscured by the carbony roast flavours.

Espresso always requires a dark roast so be aware that any coffee served from a machine is likely to be a dark-roast. Some coffees are excellent at this stage however and if you add milk and sugar, you are unlikely to notice origin notes in any case.

A Full French roast is essentially carbon; the sugars are burned and degraded, the bean loses structure and size, and the aromas and oils evaporate, leaving you with a thin, useless cup of coffee.

The time between Light French roast and a coffee disaster is a full 25 seconds! Certainly too much stress for a morning. Surely there must be another way?

Surely, come this way…

Machine Roasting

We are taken across the road to the Seniman workshop space and led through to the back, where all the beans for selling and brewing are roasted, and are introduced to the yellow beast.

2018-04-14 10.41.57

The yellow beast is loaded with 12kg of coffee at a time and then does it’s thing. It takes a similar amount of time as the pan roast, but considerably less elbow grease and a lot more science. All is needed is a roaster on hand to monitor the temperature, check on the colouring and decide when to pull them out. There is an extra chute which filters out any foreign objects that might have found their way into the beans. Once they are ready, the beans pour out into a chute and they are cooled by the – rather less sophisticated – point-an-electric-fan-at-them method.

The advantages of machine roasting are clear. Aside from the scientific temperature monitoring and control, a drum inside the machine ensures that the beans are moved constantly, ensuring a consistent roast – no elbow grease required! However, beans still have their own individual character and no roast is ever the same, even from the same machine. Big coffee brands such as Starbucks, Illy and Segafredo who need their coffee to taste consistent as possible, take few chances and ship all of their beans to their central HQ for roasting (yes, this means that Indonesian beans travel to Seattle for roasting then get sent back to Indonesia for sale in their shops. A Kintamani latte bought on Jalan Raya Ubud must be one of the locally produced products with the biggest carbon footprint around!).

From Bean to Cup

Once the beans have bean roasted they are bagged for sale or serving. But how fast does the turnaround need to be? Are coffee beans best served as fresh as possible or do they mature like a fine wine?

The answer is somewhere in between. We are told that for good espresso, beans should rest anywhere from between one and two weeks. Espresso with freshly roasted beans is not as wonderful a thing as it sounds, apparently.

For everything else, fresh beans are all good. I’m relieved to hear that, after slaving for 12 minutes over a hot pan, we are at least allowed to enjoy the fruits of our labour, rather than waiting for two weeks!

Cold Brew

The final thing that is demystified for us is cold brew coffee. If you’ve ever wondered how to enjoy your coffee cold without watering it down with ice, then wonder no more. The miracle of cold brew is actually a surprisingly simple process, which you can even do at home by yourself. The grounds are simply steeped in cold water for anywhere between 10 to 24 hours. The mixture just then needs to be filtered and it’s good to go. So you can prepare your cold brew in a french press before you go to bed, stick it in the fridge, then in the morning just plunge and your caffeine fix is ready to go.

There is also the drip method, whereby cold water is slowly dripped through the coffee. Rodney tells us though, there is no “right” way and it seems cold brew is not such a connoisseur’s brew but a more efficient way of getting caffeine into your system quickly.

With all this new knowledge sinking in, Rodney invites us to taste the coffee that we watched being roasted earlier, and we head across the road and drink shots.

I’m keen to know how the master roaster prepares his coffee in the morning, imagining some 2-hour ritual starting with him hand-selecting and washing some juicy coffee fruits from his home-grown bush in the garden. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. We are somewhat shocked to learn that Rodney keeps a bottle of cold brew concentrate in the fridge so that he can simply add water in the morning and knock it back. “Too busy for anything else!”, he laughs.

“Pretend you know what you’re doing” is the motto at Senimans and it seems quite appropriate. Great coffee but without the pretension, and I for one am relieved to know that I will not have to start hand roasting my own beans in shame every morning!


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