How Much Do You Know About Coffee Roasting? Part 2

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Into the Light

In part 1 of this 4-part series from our Roastmaster, Paul Allen, we learned about the first distinctions of light vs. dark coffee roasting. Here, we delve a bit deeper!

The Bean Speaks

One tap on the laptop starts the roast, and a temperature/time line is plotted. Behind this line there is an older, more permanent line, from a previous roast that has been cupped blind, scored and found to be the top representative. This roast becomes the example of excellence for all roasts to come. Its place is tentative however, as it could be replaced any day by a newer profile that shows more explicitly the intricacies of this bean. We dabble in science (time and temperature inducing chemical changes in the bean) and artisanship (sound, color, experience and taste). Each discipline asks constantly: what actions lead to that elusive best cup?

Less About Trends, More about the Coffee Itself

Trends in coffee roasting have risen and fallen: dark to light, light to dark. Hopefully, the current trend is different: listening to the bean and roasting it, as Davis Tant of Portland Roasting says, “Based on its intrinsic qualities, desired flavor profile and what we know people will love, while still exalting the hard work and dedication it took to get that product into our hands in the first place.” He points out that coffee is essential to many people around the world, and that “to treat it in the mode du jour and not as a carefully cultivated harvest… is disrespectful and exploitative.”

We must remember whose interests we are protecting: we do not want to join a game where the rules are changing only the suit the spectators. Tant says, “We want to taste the inherent qualities in the coffee rather than pander to what could be considered a pendulum swing in the ever-changing coffee market.”

In Part 3 we will look at some definitions and start to see the light as to roasting profile, chemicals and taste.

Why I Loathed the Word “Artisan”

Why I Loathed the Word 'Artisan'

Early one warm and sunny summer morning, I drove from a neighboring town to our coffee roastery. In my hand I held a cup of “artisan roasted” Nicaraguan coffee brewed in a Chemex.  As I took a sip the sun hit my windshield and I experienced a surreal and divine moment. I realized: I was drinking art.

The word “artisan” is hugely popular. You see it as a tag-line for almost every new product released. You see it in artisan teas, artisan cheeses, artisan chocolates, artisan beer. You also see it almost everywhere in the modern coffee industry. Why? Why do so many people use the word “artisan” to describe the food and beverages they create?

1My first experience with artisan products was in craft beer, when I worked as a brewer in a local brewery. In the Portland craft beer industry the word “artisan” is in so many places it became cliché. I began to loathe the word. It became dry and meaningless. Yet, I now know my dislike came from ignorance.

Art is more than just a label. Art enables us to take the passion that lies deep within our souls and to share it with the world. Art is our way to create. Art is our way to give back. It is as the French novelist Emile Zola wrote, “If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud.”

We long to feel important. We yearn to be known. We crave to leave our mark on the world. As if to say, “I was here.  I made a difference.” Thomas Merton once said, “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” Art makes us feel bound with acceptance and free from the monotony of life. In art, we lose ourselves as part of a greater community and find out how significant we really are.

The word “artisan” is more than a marketing gimmick. It is a stamp placed on a product that says, “I was here. I made this. I want to share it with you. Come join me!” The reason why the concept of “artisan” products is common is because at the core, the desire to create beauty and meaning is innate within each and every one of us.

For some it may be wine. For others it may be chocolates, cheeses, or breads. For us, its coffee. We were here. We created this.  We want to share it with you. Come join us!

– Marcus

How Much Do You Know About Coffee Roasting? Part 1

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Into the Light

Dark roast. Light roast. Is it a question, or a statement?

Here is a common scenario in a coffeehouse: “I would like something bold and dark,” says the customer, and when the barista hands over the coffee, he adds sugar and milk before drinking.

The puzzled barista asks, “Why not drink it black?”

“Well, it tastes horrible that way!”, replies the customer, just as puzzled.

I recently asked a group of viticulturists with whom I was cupping, “Do people ever add sugar or milk to wine?”

“No,” they replied. “You’d lose the distinctive notes that tell you where the wine comes from!”

How are wine and coffee different? Is strong coffee always ashy–or can it have overtones of citrus? Can a dark roast show sweetness in the cup? Can a light roast have dark overtones? Do we always have to add milk and sugar to a dark roast just to make it palatable?

Your Mission… Should You Choose to Accept It

The ongoing endeavor of the roaster is to listen while the bean speaks its own native language. Every coffee will sound (taste) different from its neighbors, from other countries. To carry the analogy through, we don’t want to bring out English words when the bean is fluent in Spanish. After allowing speech, we should humble ourselves and learn to listen with our palates.

I am called a “Master Roaster”. Like a doctor, who swears the Hippocratic Oath to practice medicine honestly, and to cause no harm, being a roaster implies to me that I know each coffee’s origin and will manipulate the roasts to bring out its hidden excellence.

We Each Have Our Part to Play

There are three main levels in the chain of coffee: Farmer, Roaster, Barista. The farmer carefully manages the seed (picking ripe cherries only, drying certain numbers of hours, maintaining quality standards), then passes his handiwork along to the roaster, whose craftsmanship will either enhance or inhibit the susceptible seed (mainly through roast profiling–temperature, time, endothermic treatment), and the roaster passes his work along to the home or professional barista, whose attention to detail will either highlight the farmer and roaster’s work, or cause harm to the final cup. All three together complete the chain of specialty coffee, ending with a fantastic cup of coffee in our hands.

Check back next week to learn more about coffee roasting from Paul Allen!

The Price of Cheap

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Coffee prices just keep rising, don’t they? As my mother used to say, “there ain’t no ifs, ands, or buts about it.” Since we all know by now that coffee is expensive, I want to tell you why it is expensive.

On a warm June Saturday in 1938, in the midst of America’s largest economic turmoil, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.  This act made child labor illegal, set a cap on hours worked, and created a national minimum wage. 76 years later it would be an abomination to us to see an 8 year old working 60-80 hours a week at an American factory making substantially less than minimum wage, as once was common.

For the most part, we don’t mind paying a few dollars more for our Made in America products. We puff up with pride when we see a Made in America sticker.  We argue that these products give men and women honest work that helps grow our US economy. If we don’t mind paying a few dollars more for a product made in America, why are we Americans often afraid to pay a few dollars more for a pound of coffee knowing that its laborers elsewhere in the world are getting a fair wage? picking coffee, child labor, caravan coffee, coffee in oregon

We humans like to compartmentalize.  When it comes to coffee, many of us still view it as a commodity, a mindset that has propagated cheap coffee. Cheap means something that is inferior quality and low-priced.  With the amount of time, energy, and materials it takes to produce a pound of coffee, most farmers are getting rock-bottom wages–much less than any American farmer. Yet, the coffee industry is evolving.

We have Fair-Trade, Rainforest Alliance, Socially Conscious, and even some Direct Traded coffees that are changing the industry from cheap to superb. Yes, coffee is more expensive than it used to be. However, this price increase is not only related to the increased cost of doing business–in many ways, it is allowing farmers to be paid more for their labor, edging them and their field workers closer to sustainable lifestyles. The price increase is helping our environment and bettering our global economy.

I want to leave with you some principles I have learned since entering the coffee industry:

– Coffee isn’t cheap.

– Good coffee should not be cheap.

– Coffee is more than a commodity.

– Coffee farmers are more than a means to an end.

– Quality coffee comes at a price–expect nothing less.

— Marcus

Notes from the Master: Over-Roasted Coffee?

Still troubleshooting why your coffee tastes bitter? Last week we talked about how coffee will easily stale and pick up freezer flavors. Here’s another possibility: you’ve got over-roasted coffee.

Every roasting company, large or small, has a different approach to taking green coffee and applying heat until it turns brown and the chemical compounds develop, creating our favorite beverage. Some companies like to use very light roasting, which maximizes the vegetal and bright fruity acid elements in coffees. Some companies prefer a dark roast, for that traditional smoky flavor that pairs well with milk and sugar. Other companies–and we are among them–let the bean determine its ideal profile, treating each origin country and micro-region differently.

We’ll get into how we choose our roasting approach in another post, but here at Caravan we tend to choose a roast that brings out the inherent sweetness and flavors of each coffee. If coffee is over-roasted, it can taste bitter or burnt, and you might blame that on your coffee preparation. In fact, it might simply be the roasting process your beans went through before they reached you.

We enjoy drinking coffees from a myriad of roasting companies! The best way to figure out which roasting profiles you like best is to drink lots of coffee and keep track of what you like. When you figure it out, let us know!

You Can Change the World with Coffee

As our world shifts, the need for sustainability in the coffee industry just keeps growing. To that end, Fair Trade USA recently hosted its 15th Annual Producer Forum, which brought in 113 organizations from 20 countries. The goal was to connect supply chain partners and counterparts from different countires, and to increase knowledge on the current state of the Specialty Coffee industry. Join us here at Caravan Coffee to support Fair Trade and other organizations to keep our love for quality and assessable coffee alive.



A Note From the Master: Stale Coffee

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When coffee meets oxygen, the chemical compounds begin to oxidize. The result? Dull taste and flat aromatics: staling. To slow staling, keep your precious beans away from oxygen, moisture, heat, and light. Store them in an airtight container in a cool, dry place, and no, that doesn’t mean the freezer. (Too easy to pick up smells and freezer tastes.) Keep them out of direct sunlight too, in someplace like a pantry.

Another key to fresh coffee is buying whole beans and grinding them fresh every time you make a cup. Yes, it takes a little more time, but the payoff is worth it—you’re getting the freshest taste possible!

The good news is that we’ll never tire of finding new and improved varieties for you to try, so you don’t have to hoard your precious beans.Post-Note-from-the-Master


A Note from the Master: My take on Sumatra Mandheling


You will either love it or hate it. And if you hate it you may even
grow to love our Sumatra Mandheling.

Coffees in Sumatra are traditionally processed using a method called
Giling Basah, or wet-hulling, which results in a coffee that leaves
the farm with a much higher moisture content than other methods used
more popularly worldwide.

I have heard names like herbaceous, spicy, wild, mushroomy, funky,
earthy, and other things that may or may not sound good to you. But this such coffee does have body which translates into smoothness.

There aren’t a lot of people who fall smack in the middle. It will be
a hate/love relationship.

PS: I love it!!

Below is our podcast that talks all about it. Enjoy!

Check out more podcasts from Above the Press


How to Reuse Coffee

  • Body scrub (recipe: 1cup finely ground coffee, 1cup coconut oil, 1/3cup brown sugar. Benefits: caffeine in coffee stimulates blood flow, grounds and sugar help exfoliate, coconut helps moisturize. Get creative and add things like coco powder, sea salt, ground oats, honey, etc.).
  • In the Garden (It works as a natural slug repellent and the coffee grounds actually have tons of phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, copper, and release nitrogen into the soil as they degrade.
  • Use to clean fireplace (before cleaning out your fireplace throw some dampened grounds on the ashes which will weigh them down and make for a less cloudy and dusty clean up.
  • To clean greasy pans (used coffee grounds are great for getting out hard, cooked on foods. With a scouring pad rub the grounds onto the pans and the abrasiveness of the grounds will clean it right up without needing harsh chemicals).
  • Repel cats from using the garden or houseplants as litter boxes. Mix grounds and orange peels together and sprinkle around garden or plants.
  • Deodorize your fridge (coffee is a natural deodorizer, just put some grounds in an open container and set in the fridge. They can also be used to help de-smell really smelly shoes. Put some dry grounds crumpled up in some newspaper and then set the newspaper in the shoes overnight. They’ll smell fresh again in no time!).For more tips and tricks check out or

How do you take your coffee?

Coffee is the world’s most widely traded tropical agricultural commodity but specialty Arabica is grown only between the tropics. So how is the world drinking it? has made a great visual for us to see just what different countries are doing. This week we are looking at New Zealand, where it is part of citizenship to make one 🙂 and Australia.


-Paul Allen I Roastmaster
Certified both as a Q Grader &with Roasters Guild Level 1 & 2