We’ve been talking to The Orkney Roastery about the interesting parallels between making great tasting coffee and great tasting whisky. We caught up with Sara Tait of The Orkney Roastery to swap notes on flavour wheels, small batch production and generally being hands-on!
Sara, why is small batch production so important to The Orkney Roastery?
“Quite simply, the best coffee comes from freshly roasted beans – freshness has a huge influence on the flavour and taste experience, so we only roast to order. That means some days can be exceptionally busy – when hospitality started opening up again, for example, we were swamped with orders and roasting up to 12 batches a day. To a certain extent, our small batch approach is also dictated by the size of our roaster. We can only roast 10 kilos of the ‘green’ beans at a time, and that gives us a yield of 8 kilos of roasted beans. But we’re very comfortable with this – we like to keep things small and hands-on.”
How do you go about creating a signature blend?
“Based on discussions with our clients about aspects such as flavour, body, finish, sweetness and complexity, we’ll build a picture of the ideal profile they’re looking for. Then it’s a case of knowing what character and flavour different beans will bring to the coffee and how long to roast them for to achieve this. Although there are just two types of coffee bean – arabica and robusta – we use beans from all over the world and their character and flavour can vary hugely, influenced by their country of origin. Additionally, the robusta bean carries more caffeine and also helps give the coffee the ‘crema’ on top – so there’s lots to consider! It was a steep learning curve to begin with and although we didn’t have any total disasters, we’re definitely more confident now that we’re more established and experienced.”
In whisky-making, we consider it an art to maintain consistency from batch to batch. Is this true for you too?
“Yes! Every time we put on a roast, it’s always slightly different so we always withdraw a few beans and, when they’re cool, we grind them and put them through our light metre and sample the coffee too. We judge consistency on both colour and flavour and we have a five-point leeway. We use flavour wheels and spider diagrams, exactly as you do in whisky-making, and that helps us set guidelines for each blend and each batch.”
How ‘hands-on’ is the process?
“The ‘technology’ of the roaster only takes you so far and we really have to pay attention to what’s happening inside. We need to manually adjust the gas levels for example and when the beans are no longer green but have a hint of light brown to them, we need to open up the flume to let some air through. Beans reach what’s known as ‘first crack’ after about 15 minutes in the roaster – this is when the oils are released – and for a lighter coffee you want to take the beans out at this point. For mid roasts you’ll leave them in a little longer and for dark roasts, like an espresso for example, you’ll go to a ‘second crack’ but the difference between first and second crack is only about five minutes. At this point you’re up at about 220° and things are pretty hot in there! The more roasts we do in a day, the hotter the roaster gets too, so that can affect timings and has to be factored in. Looking at what’s happening, listening to how the beans are behaving and roasting in very small batches – yes, it’s definitely a really hands-on process!”