Bold & Brewtiful
The Science of Roasting Small Batch Artisan Coffee
By Steven Joseph
Hot and strong? Maybe dark and steamy? Or blonde and chilled? Whichever way you take your coffee (yes, coffee) myriad options are currently at your disposal. What was once simply an afterthought following a meal, or a complementary companion to breakfast, is now a $100 billion global industry. The caffeinated brew is the most sought-after commodity in the world after oil. As a planet, we consume 500 billion cups of coffee a year. But one small company in South Florida is seeking to change the way we taste, smell, and think about coffee. And it’s not with an approach you’d easily suspect.
The Rabbit Coffee Roasting Company
For the past several years, the artisan/small-batch movement has been sweeping the country, from cottage-industry baked goods to microbrewed beer. Now, The Rabbit Coffee Roasting Company in West Palm Beach is bringing specialty-roasted coffee beans to the nation’s attention, as an alternative to the mass-produced coffee-giants on our grocery shelves, populating our neighborhood dispensaries, and filling our travel mugs. By having a say in every step of the process, from the location the beans are grown, to whether they’re husked before drying, to the degree to which they’re roasted, The Rabbit Coffee Roasting Company is capitalizing on all of the subtle nuances and flavors that can be coaxed out of the coffee bean, similar to oenologists who control everything that goes into a bottle of wine from the grape to the cork.
The brains fueling The Rabbit Coffee Roasting Company are two men who share the responsibility of “master-roaster” and have built their niche from the bean, or ground, up. Iain Yeakle, 28, of Palm Beach Gardens first began his fascination with coffee as a teen, touring the country as a musician, and drinking gallons of it along the way to stay awake on the long drives. Yeakle eventually bought an antique hand-crank drum roaster on eBay from a woman in France. “I got into coffee while traveling. And I wanted to roast my own coffee, and so I started with the basics,” he said.
The Crackle Behind Roasting
Yeakle taught himself the science of coffee roasting mostly on the fly. “I was using sound, sight, and smell to determine the roast. There was so much trial and error.” The sound that Yeakle is referring to is something known as “first crack.” The raw coffee beans (technically berries) come out of canvas bags with between 10-12 percent moisture content. At that point, if you were to grind and brew the beans, the liquid would not even be called coffee, and practically undrinkable. During the roasting process, the beans are heated and the majority of the remaining moisture evaporates, similar to the hardened kernels of corn in a batch of popcorn. At a certain point, also much like popcorn, the outer shell of the bean will actually crack.
The beans puff up and increase in size, doubling in volume, and the outermost skin of the bean will begin to chaff off as the beans tumble in the roaster. The beans are a pale milk-chocolate brown and at this stage the beans could begin to be ground, brewed, and drunk. The technical label for the beans at this point is “City Roast.” Each incremental second in the roaster then begins to affect the taste, color, and smell of coffee. During this time, the coffee is known as “City Plus.” After a long enough period of time, the beans will then go through “second crack.” At this stage, the coffee is a deep, dark brown, borderline black, and is known as “Dark Roast” or “Vienna Roast.”
Because of the extremely quick chemical changes that take place between first and second crack, roasting is really a hands-on process to manage the exact characteristics that are sought after from a particular batch. As the sucrose decomposes in the bean, the coffee begins to lose some of its natural sweetness and takes on that acrid, bitter taste that has become all-too common among mass-produced coffees. Yeakle is literally striving to hit the “sweet spot” with every batch.
The Rabbit Coffee Roasting Company sells both whole beans and pre-ground coffee, but for the best flavor experience, Yeakle recommends grinding the beans at home to release the bouquet. The other product being tinkered with right now is a cold-brewed coffee extract, a division spearheaded by the other master-roaster, Adriano Cerasaro. Cerasaro, an Italian immigrant practically raised in coffeehouses, calls the extract, “a very refreshing drink, especially in Florida, it’s perfect.” “I’m from Italy,” he says, “coffee is the culture. In America you have bars, but in Italy, our bars serve coffee and brioches.”
For more information, go to: www.TheRabbitCoffee.com or call 561.351.1954 or email: contact@TheRabbitCoffee.com