The Italian Job
Following on from completing my Q grade in 2016, I decided to float an idea to my colleague Niko about a trip to Italy, not for the sun but to learn from the best.
One of the reasons behind this trip was to get answers to questions that no book or blog could satisfy. Since Niko joined Bell Lane back in 2017, his roll has been coffee quality & training manager. With Nikos passion for good coffee and his growing knowledge of roasting, questions have arisen in Bell Lane regarding roasting, questions that we had yet found the answers too. After many hours online and every coffee book we could think of purchased we still had a void and no answer. For me sometimes the solutions are closer that you think. So, I put my thinking hat on and came up with a plan.
I reached out to a fellow Q grader Paolo from His Majesty the Coffee to see if he could spend some time with him at his roastery in Monza, Italy. The idea was to see how another roastery worked, to gage are Bell Lane optimising our production and roast quality. The other key caveat for this trip was that Paolo also roasted on a Giesen Roaster and he has years of experience, due to his R&D work with Giesen. For me, Paolo is probably one of the most experienced speciality coffee roasters in Europe. He has spent much of his coffee life, researching his craft, understanding this equipment and building up vital knowledge. If he couldn’t answer our questions no one could.
After many emails our trip was agreed, we booked the flights, packed our bags and left for Italy for the week.
Some key questions that needed answers stemmed from analysing our coffee profiles. A key and fundamental element for coffee roasters is to understand key points along the roast lifecycle, one such is the Rate of Rise. The rate of rise is in our eyes the key to being able to manipulate your coffee roast profile, meaning optimising the flavour in the roast. This skill comes with experience built up over time, learning how to consistently manage a slow declining rate of rise, this is crucial to great coffee roasts in our opinion. We had grasped the fundamentals of roasting for espresso and filter, but we wanted to manipulate the roast to achieve different outcomes.
We landed in Italy late on a Sunday evening, made our way to a little hotel in the middle of Monza, Checked in and straight to bed. We woke the next morning early, had breakfast alfresco accompanied by the mandatory frothy 8oz cappuccino. The weather was typical Italia in July, it was going to be warm, it was 8am and already the temperature was 19dgs.
We arrived at the roastery in a sleepy industrial area 20 mins outside Monza, the little roastery was warm and welcoming with its W15 custom design Giesen roaster standing pride of place as you entered.
The theme of the next few days was theory in the morning and practical roasting in the afternoon. The coffee we roasted in the afternoon was part of his normal production roasts, this was ideal as we could see and understand how they planned their day. The morning theory each day was very intense with a lot of detail, including graphs, sheets and white boards, it felt like I was back in school, but in a very good way. In the next few days we covered all the essential elements from Green coffee harvesting, processing and seasonality changes. Sample roasting including measuring moisture and density, more importantly understanding how moisture and density can affect the roast profile and adapting the roast profile to work with bean density. How charge temperature can improve the roast and what phases you need to work with during roasting to enhance bean character and trick to enhancing the natural flavours in coffee by roasting.
For me the theory part was amazing, it answered questions that I had unanswered in my head for some time, it was now clear that what we were doing in our roastery in Mullingar was correct but having the opportunity to confirm it with such a professional was invaluable in my eyes.
As the days moved on we roasted coffee on a small profile roaster, this was different to what we used in Bell Lane. We use a sample roaster, but a profile roaster is a mini roaster, you can manipulate all the parameters of the roast, from gas to airflow and drum speed. This makes it much easier to profile your coffee, you can then take the parameters from the profile roaster and use them on the larger 30kg machine. Profile roasters only roast between 200 and 500g so wasting coffee is not an issue.
Every morning we started with a cupping session with the coffee from the day before, cupping the coffee with Paolo was great, his quality control processes are on point and very detailed. We evaluated the colour, aroma, the fragrance and taste on all the coffees and scored the. If they didn’t score where they should have, they didn’t leave the roastery. During this process one day Paolo decided to test myself and Niko, were not aware of his plan. Paolo had four coffees on the table, they were all the same, the only difference was they had been roasted differently. We had to differentiate between baked coffee, over roasted, under roasted and perfect roast. This was a challenge; did we get it correct? … the answer no, we had two coffees mixed up, under roasted and baked coffee. Its sound easier than it was. Trust me.
Spending the few days with Paolo in his roastery was one major perk for both Niko and I. Apart from the beautiful location of Monza, the amazing food, weather and the occasional few beers. What we were able to do for me sums up our industry as something very special. I don’t know of many other industries where you could spend time shadowing a competitor and piggyback on his invaluable knowledge and experience. For me the coffee industry is very special and the people working in it are quite unique.
Moving forward in the next few months, Bell Lane are excited to launch a range of speciality coffee which will be enhanced with everything have learnt, in Italy with Paolo. Our Single Origins will be launched at the end of 2018 showcasing our new branded packaging and will be complimented with on line Subscriptions retail options.
Thanks for reading