Single Origin Shots

The roast of the town

The Melbourne Age

Tuesday March 23, 2010

Breanna Tucker meets a man who spills the beans about coffee.

A small team of 14 hover around several roasting machines, their brows furrowed in concentration and their eyes alternately on the timer.At 2 minutes they remove a sample to take a deep whiff of the green beans roasting inside. They check note the color, small, temperature and time. The process repeats every two minutes until ”Crack!” You have just a few minutes past this point to get it right.

“What you’ve done is utilized conductive heat to create energy in the rotating drum, elevating the endothermic temperature until the energy is transferred to the beans. Eventually becoming convective heat as the energy is now within the beans until the intensity causes weaknesses within the cell walls of the beans, ultimately becoming exothermic. “ US based coffee strategist Tracy Allen explains to his class.

“Usually, you’ll hear the first crack around 8 or 9 minutes depending upon conditions. After that you’ve only got a few minutes left to finesses the beans to the shade you are trying to achieve,” he says. “If you get distracted, even for 30 seconds, you can ruin the work of 9 sets of fingers that handled the beans before you, and lose a lot of money as well. “

Allen is referring to the coming together of science and art of roasting by hand. Once handle primarily by larger scale wholesale roasting facilities, roasting has is quickly becoming embraced by cafes and retailers looking to give their cup a personal edge.

Allen Founder and CEO of Brewed Behavior (, a full-scale coffee consultancy out of his office in Kansas City, says the trend was partially sparked by the economic downturn. Customers are spending $3 or $4 on a good latte less often and instead choosing to brew their own coffee at home.  The has caused café owners to shift their focus more heavily on whole bean sales, pushing owners and staff to learn more about their coffees than ever before.

This month Allen taught the craft to a class Baristas, producers, roasters and trainers on the Gold coast. He then flew to Melbourne to lead a 4 day course at Dimmatina Caffe’ and sponsored by The William Angliss Institute’s Coffee Academy.

“Retailers now want to learn how to choose it, test it, grade it a d roast it from start to finish so they can hands-on work shops for their customers, “ he says. This way customers see the value of their beans and they pay for them.

“In this course, I’m teaching them how to roast without the support of electronic technology. They learn to roast by sight, sound and smell, that along with a reliable wristwatch is all they need to become an artist” he says.  In addition they will learn to assess their roasting skills identifying both positive and negative characteristics by cupping each roast.”

Allen was a college student when he started roasting coffee using a popcorn popper in the early 80’s. Today he is most recently finishing a 3 year term on the Executive Committee of Specialty Coffee Association of America, as well as chairing the rules and regulations committee for the World Barista Championship.

He spends at least seven days per month in his Kansas lab and the rest traveling to Africa, Asia, Central and South America to work with both coffee producers and roasters. But before now, he had never been to Australia,.

“In all honesty, I’m actually embarrassed about how long it took me to get here,” Allen says. “some of my favorite people in coffee are Australians and it’s amazing how well-respected they are in the industry.”

Allen believe Aussies make some of the best cups of coffee in the world, “simply lacking the density to put them on the map in terms of quantity and that’s okay.” He points to people such as David Makin, who has placed as high as second in the World Barista Championship. Those people are craftsmen and numbers simply don’t matter.

Does he believe Melbourne is the nations coffee capitol?  “Out of the 14 students in the Gold coast class, many flew in from Melbourne and, statistically that shows the level of commitment behind the quest to compete in the Melbourne market,” he says.

Allen goes on to say those who are passionate enough to search for the “perfect cup” have a much deeper motive than scoring the ultimate caffeine hit. “Somewhere along that journey you realize you’re not simply making amazing coffee, you are improving lives.”

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