Chat with the Zoka Roastmaster

by: Prestin Yoder

Just this last week, I had the opportunity to sit down with Zoka's roastmaster John Battaglia to talk about the basics of coffee roasting and what kind of care goes into getting a perfect roast. Not only did I learn a lot, I was surprised by some of the answers he had for my questions. There is a lot more than meets the eye to getting Zoka coffee to the level it's at. John has been in the coffee business for nearly a decade now and his professionalism speaks to this.

Prestin: Systematically as a coffee bean roaster, what is your thinking process about getting the best toasting of a coffee bean? What steps do you bank on?

John: First, before we even purchase anything for production, we test roast and cup it to ensure we are getting the highest quality coffee bean we can get. Second, every bean has its own needs for a good roast. Our roastery understands that we will roast a Nicaraguan differently than an Ethiopian coffee bean. Thirdly, following the basics, the batch size of our roast also dictates how much heat and time we apply to a particular bean. There are so many other elements we look out for in order to see that we roast our beans to where we want it, but these are three main steps.

P: Do you roast certain beans differently? Why?

J: Some beans, like our Brazil Condado Estate, need a longer roast in order to aid in the sugar carmelization of the bean. Its wash is different than that of of the Sumatra, for example, which doesn't need too long of a roast to unlock its signature herbal complex. Every other bean has specific needs: more heat, more time, etc. It is important to understand the specific characteristics of each bean so we can release maximum flavor with the roast. I am also careful that I don't under/over roast a bean and thereby mute out any flavor.

P: Does a darker roast mean bolder tasting coffee?

J: Not necessarily. What really determines a darker or bolder tasting coffee is not so much the roast but the brewing process. A bolder cup is incumbent upon a higher coffee to water ratio and length of extraction. The darker roasts we have may include more body, but the bold characteristics really depend on the bean chemistry. That's why we use a blend for our darker roasts - different beans tend to play off each other better with darker roasts.

P: What's the greatest thing about roasting for you?

J: Next to being the farmer, it's the closest I can get to something that I have always loved and enjoyed - the coffee.