Nich Rae, Head of Coffee, talks us through his approach to roasting the competition winning coffee for Carlos Escobar in the Australian Brewers Cup and how it’s literally a game of seconds between hitting the desired profile. 

This was my first experience in a competition setting, where I had to roast the coffee in order to deliver a very specific profile. Coffee at competition level represents the best the coffee industry has to offer. But like everything else in the world, the top comes with a price tag to match.

A coffee that demands that much money per pound could unsettle your nerves, but it is also the most rewarding part of competition. This was even more satisfying after achieving such an amazing result, and gives us the confidence in the systems and practices we believe in and train with. We have a very strong roasting philosophy at Toby’s, and an accomplishment at this level really solidifies the work we do week-in, week-out.

We roasted 8 batches in total, all 1kg size batches in our 5kg Probat. In our case, and unlike some other approaches, airflow plays an integral role in delivering on particular aspects of our coffee.

Airflow, along with the “introduction temperature” of coffee into the roaster, amount of “gas changes”, “final temperature” and “development” (how long after the coffee hits first crack until we drop it out) contributed to key characteristics like acidity, clarity of flavours, mouthfeel and structure . This coffee is up there as one of the most complex I have ever experienced in my life. This complexity also provided interesting tasting sessions with the team, as they would provide feedback to which we would have to adjust with the appropriate roasting changes to deliver on their expectations. We only had the opportunity to roast the coffee 4 times before settling on a profile, and roasting the other 4 competition profiles we would select for in Melbourne.

I believe, the best feeling as a roaster is when you open the roaster’s door and the coffee comes flying out, and you know that you have crushed the bozingas out of that roast. This feeling is then heightened after a quick slurp, shortly after the coffee has cooled down. This quickly turns into excitement as this roast has the potential to win you a national title…..if Carlos can keep it together. This feeling is only possible to be experienced when you surround yourself with the right team, discussing, challenging and giving very honest critical feedback. That’s why to deliver a result like this we had contributions from our entire coffee department.

The selection of the coffee on the day was such a fun, critical, nervous and exciting part of the journey. Watching the team in their element was an awesome experience to be a part of, focusing on each of their strengths to deliver the right decisions for the KING. The roasters focusing on key elements like mouthfeel, body and clarity of flavour, Charlotte using her experience to help navigate the process efficiently and Simon making sure we are all on track.

If there was something I would want a barista or coffee enthusiast to take away from this blog about roasting, or about this experience is every detail has a fundamental impact. The difference between a perfect roast or a baked roast can be as minor as a 3 second delay in a gas change, similarly a great mouthfeel vs a thin mouthfeel might be as little as 8 seconds comparatively in roast time, and introducing the coffee 15 degrees cooler could be the difference between sour flavours vs candied flavours. Every detail counts and experience can not be substituted for talent or desire.

At the end of the day Carlos still had to go out and deliver and deliver he did! The experience was worth the price of admission and we can’t wait to get started on the push for Toby’s to compete at the World’s level….we have the team.

For more on the whole process, take a look at Simon and Carlos’ journey here.

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