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Coffee & Roasting

Dark roast, light roast, oily, caffeine levels, antioxidants, bitter, strong….aaaah, what does it all mean!?

There is a whole subset of espresso drink related terminology that we are not going to discuss.  As Silver City’s specialty coffee roaster, our focus is on roasting and cupping.  This post is going to look at roast degree and a few other properties that respond to different roast levels.

Roast Degree

Light Roast
Sight:  Splotchy, light brown, very slight expansion (generally smaller)
Taste:  Bright, light body

Medium Roast
Sight:  Even, medium brown, moderate expansion
Taste:  Balanced, full body

Dark Roast
Sight:  Dark, oily, full expansion
Taste:  Bitter, thin body

These are broad descriptors based on a very generalized roast degree.  However, the nature of the green coffee bean plays a huge role in how it responds in the roaster and what ends up as the cup characteristics.  For example, a bean with high moisture content taken to the same temperature (and therefore same roast degree) as one with a lower moisture content, can end up tasting and looking lighter.  This is because it is less responsive to the heat of the roaster.

Additionally, in terms of body (a quality many people assume is 100% controlled by how dark the bean is roasted), roast degree is only part of the equation.  Two different beans taken to the same final roast temperature can end up with completely different bodies.  Furthermore, the brew method plays a big role in perceived body.

Chemical Properties that Change with Roast Degree

Oil on the beans
We want to address this first because a lot of people are unaware of a little dirty secret.  Yes, darker roasted (actually – ‘overroasted’ ie burnt) coffee is oilier.  However, OLD coffee is also oilier. And once the oil is on the surface of the bean, it is more prone to going rancid.  Fresh roasted coffee that is not burnt should be consumed with 1-2 weeks after it has rested (and may never reach the point of looking oily).  Oily beans are often poorly roasted coffee and/or old.

Note:  In contrast to that description, beans that have been decaffeinated can end up looking oily after roasting (and not be burnt or old).

Antioxidants are substances that inhibit the oxidation of other molecules and may prevent or delay some types of cell damage.  You can find antioxidants in both food and beverages.  Coffee is not the most antioxidant-rich food available but because people do not generally consume large amounts of berries, it is often the source of the majority of one’s antioxidant consumption (see chart below).  So what happens to antioxidants over the course of the roast?

As we pointed out in our post on Fresh Roasted Coffee, the darker the roast, the fewer the chlorogenic acids (CGAs), which are a known to be biological antioxidants.  This graphic says it best –

The darker the roast, the fewer the antioxidants. (For more info, see
The darker the roast, the fewer the antioxidants. (For more info, see

Also, in case you’re curious –

Antioxidant amount based on food

Caffeine Content and Roast Degree
We get asked this question a lot in the drive-through in Silver City!  Which bean has the most caffeine?  Give me your darkest, most caffeinated bean!!  Or even more imprecise – Which coffee is your boldest?

We are not always certain whether the people who ask for ‘strong’ or ‘bold’ coffee are looking for caffeine or a stronger coffee flavor. When we ask, many people say “both” – as in, give me something with lots of caffeine and that tastes like coffee.  Since we are all about the taste of coffees here and don’t water anything down (at least 20 grams of coffee/12 oz water), a ‘bold’ cup refers to everything.  Caffeine – that’s a different story.

Yes, roasting dark causes degradation of the caffeine molecule.  But in reality, that change does not happen until the bean is roasted really dark.  To be precise, over the course of the roasting process, “Caffeine did not undergo significant degradation with only 5.4% being lost under severe roasting.” (Trugo & Macrae).

A much bigger player in caffeine content is the bean varietal.  Some are bursting at the seams with caffeine (often times descendants of the unsavory Robusta species) and others will have less.  Because Silver City is a friendly city, we receive great feedback from our regulars about how the coffee makes them feel.  The black coffee drinkers who travel the world (on our coffee map) are the most reliable because they aren’t under the influence of sugar and they’ve tried everything.  But we take comments from everybody.  Once enough people say something like, “Wow, that Costa Rica really gave me a buzz,” we know that that particular bean varietal likely contains more caffeine and we know to encourage or discourage others accordingly.

Bitter Beans
[Good] coffee should not taste bitter and should not be a menu option.  Another common request is “the least bitter coffee bean.”

“Bitter” can be the result of bad beans (under ripe, over ripe, moldy, tainted etc.), bad roasting or over-extraction when brewing.  We sometimes hear people describe our really bright coffees (such as the brilliant, grapefruit explosion Kenya we had at one point) as bitter but they’re confusing the two terms.  Bitter is sharp, pungent, offensive – like moldy bread.  Brightness can occasionally be overbearing – like, say, in grapefruit juice – but even then, it should not be revoltingly offensive.  Often, roasting a little bit darker can temper a really bright tasting coffee.

Roasting to Serve

As the only coffee roaster in Silver City limits, we strive to serve the most amazing coffee available locally.  Being a small operation and roasting in small batches gives us a great deal of flexibility.  Those willing to purchase a whole batch are welcome to ask for a custom roast.  Everything on our Silver City drive-through window and listed on our online store is roasted somewhere from a light to a medium-dark level – depending entirely on which roast level best represents a given bean.

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New Beans September 2016

The new coffee beans are roasted, rested and ready to go.  If you’re in town, feel free to stop by for a pour-over of your choice of bean at our drive-thru coffee shop in Silver City.

New coffee bean cupping notes:

Ethiopia – Berry, lemon curd & floral
Sumatra – Heavy, buttery, toffee & sweet cedar [ORGANIC]
Rwanda – Chocolate, cinnamon & plum [ORGANIC]
Brazil – Savory dark chocolate
Costa Rica – Berry, cherry and chocolate with a syrupy body

All of the previous coffee beans are now gone, with the exception of the Colombia Decaf.

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New Coffee Beans March 2016

New Coffee Beans

We should have the new beans in Silver City by early next week.  They will be roasted and rested by the start of April.

Congo, Lake Kivu – Organic
Guatemala, Huehuetenango – Organic
Brazil, São Sebastião da Grama
Colombia, Huila

We will be saying goodbye to some of our present beans, including –
Costa Rica
Guatemala, Organic (within 1-2 weeks)
Ethiopia – Organic (within 1-2 weeks)

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How we Select our Coffee Beans

As we are preparing to select our next beans, we felt it was a good time to answer a couple of questions we receive often – How do we select our coffee beans?  And followed by – Are our coffee beans organic and/or Fairtrade?

How do we select our Coffee Beans?
We work with reputable importers who act as liaisons to specialty coffee farmers, who are usually small and family-owned.  Our primary importer selects coffee based on a cupping score, which includes grading on the following criteria:  Fragrance, Taste/Aftertaste/Acidity, Body, Sweetness & Balance, Overall Impression.  Any coffee that receives a score below 80 is rejected.

The flavor wheel was developed to help coffee tasters communicate about coffee flavors. Similar to wine and cheese, coffee can be incredibly complex.
The flavor wheel was developed to help coffee tasters communicate about coffee flavors. Similar to wine and cheese, coffee can be incredibly complex.

By working with an importer who only brings in specialty grade coffee that meets a ‘taste experience’ standard, we know the beans we choose from are going to be all high caliber choices.  When we make a sample order, all the beans we are considering come from good farms, have met the minimum cupping score and are usually grown as small, micro-lots in a quality-controlled environment.  [In contrast, commodity grade coffee is generally bland or unpalatable, grown on large factory farms and harvested by large machinery. ]

Out of the lots available in a given season, we then select beans based on two criteria:

  1. How will this bean complement the other beans on our menu in Silver City?  Do the cupping notes provide nice contrast and variety to the other coffees?
  2. When we taste this coffee, do we have a “Holy moly, that’s good!” experience?

In terms of the contrast mentioned in goal #1, we are not referring to ‘dark roast’ versus ‘light roast’.  Roast degree is controlled by the roaster, not the plant.  Each bean will be distinctive/unique based on altitude, soil, rainfall, bean varietals present in the crop and how it was processed (we will discuss green coffee bean processing in another post).  These factors create the cup personality – the qualities mentioned in our importer’s cupping notes.

In general, we like to have a few ‘bright’, fruity coffees as well as some heavy, earthy coffee options.  Sometimes we’ll be drawn to a nutty coffee or one with ‘tea-like’ tones.  We also enjoy offering coffee beans that are kind of wild.  The Costa Rica, which we are about to replace, was the best wild coffee so far – bright, citrus flavors with a heavy mulled wine-ness.  Absolutely delicious.  Absolutely surprising.

For goal #2, we want each coffee bean option to provide an excellent experience for our customers, either as a drink they enjoy in Silver City or a bean they take/ship to brew at home.  Not every flavor is going to make everybody happy, but hopefully, by providing enough options with diverse cupping notes, every coffee drinker can find a good match.

In summary, we work with an importer who does the preliminary selections based on how FANTASTIC a coffee is; We then sort through our options to select the coffee beans that would work best for us at a given time.

Are our Coffee Beans Organic and/or Fairtrade?
Quick answer – Some are and some are not.

Courtesy of (
Courtesy of (

As we hopefully made clear in our answer to the first question, our objectives lie with selecting high quality, specialty grade, exquisite tasting coffee beans.  Sometimes those descriptors overlap with the common certifications/labels (i.e. Organic, Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, etc) and sometimes they do not.  If you are not familiar with specialty grade coffee, you may not have ever heard for paying extra for great flavor.  But that is how it is done when you work with an excellent importer who has goals aligned with ours – great tasting coffee.

By offering financial incentive to farmers to grow amazing tasting coffee beans, our importer is encouraging the development of a better product (rather than offering extra payment because a farm is certified under one of the popular labels).  This is important, because often the small farms are indeed organic or offer excellent employment practices (and other considerations of the Fairtrade label), but they are not signed up to receive the label.

By focusing on cup quality, farmers choose practices that are the best for the coffee plant.  That means shade grown, high elevation, adequate supply of water and the workers who know how to best groom the plant and process the beans properly.

One of the downsides of ‘Organic Fairtade’ coffee is that it is – without exception – processed and sold by a cooperative.  This excludes independent farms owned by families that utilize ‘child labor’ (i.e. their kids work the farm, which is often admired in other industries) and farms hoping to be paid more for great tasting coffee.  As specialty grade coffee will always surpass Fairtrade non-specialty coffee in terms of quality, and can therefore demand a premium on the open market, choosing to sell one’s beans as Fairtrade may actually be detrimental for the farmer (excellent article here).

Additionally, as cooperative coffee is often batched together, there is no benefit to growing the most amazing coffee imaginable.  What you harvest gets processed together with the other farms participating in the cooperative; thus, tracing a truly remarkable bean (or a bad bean) back to its origin so that you can purchase it again (or avoid that farm) is basically impossible.

The certification programs have their strengths and honorable goals; but just because a coffee does not wear them, it does not mean the farm or farmer is less.  It means their goals are different.  While Direct Trade programs are the easiest way for farm-to-roaster transparency, we feel that working with great importers is nearly as good.  By allowing our importer to shoulder the costs and responsibilities of travel, cupping, transporting, importing, etc, we are able to focus on our strengths – roasting and brewing exceptional coffee.

Closing Thoughts
We choose to focus on the art of roasting.  We select a variety of amazing coffee beans that brew into delightful drinks.  We then work to bring out the best qualities a bean has to offer.

This task is not as simple as throwing a frozen dinner in the microwave and pressing ‘start’.  Variable bean characteristics – the density, moisture content, origin, varietals and processing method all play a role in how the roast goes.  Add to that the local environmental conditions – temperature, humidity, air flow, gas pressure and you have a truly complex, multi-variable and fragile process.  We monitor the roast process using digital profiling software so we can identify where we went right (or wrong) and how to make improvements for the next round.  Because we roast in small batches, we are forced to roast nearly every single day to keep up with demand.

The end result – Our carefully selected, fantastic tasting coffee is always served to you freshly roasted and recently rested.  Our mission – Roast, cup and serve the finest coffee in Silver City.

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Next Coffee Sampling Round

Hurrah for new samples! The coffee beans should be in Silver City sometime this week and we’ll have them roasted and ready after a few days.  If you come by early next week, you can try the new coffees and make requests for your favorite(s). After we spend a few days trying the beans, we select our winners. The countries we are sampling from this round are:

Panama (2)
Congo (1)
Ecuador (2)
India (2)
Brazil (2)
Colombia (3)
Guatemala (2)

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Best Coffee Stand in Silver City

Thank you for voting for Bean Vivant as the Best Coffee Stand in Silver City!
We are delighted to be here and promise to continue bringing you specialty grade coffee from around the world, roasted to delicious perfection.

You can view the full list at New Mexico Magazine’s page for Readers Survey Favorite Restaurants 2016.

2016-02-09 09.35.51
New Mexico Magazine Best Coffee Stand 2016
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Next beans – Roasted by week of 12/21

New beans coming soon to Silver City’s Bean Vivant –

Peru: Cajamarca
Guatemala: Antigua, Sacatepequez
Kenya: Gichugu Division, Kirinyaga East District
Papua New Guinea: Waghi Valley, Western Highlands

On its way out – Our previous Colombian bean from the Huila, Acevedo region. We are really excited about this next order. We should have the beans in house and roasted by the week of December 21st.

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More Beans on the Move

We just ordered our next coffee origins and should have them to Silver City and on tap within a few weeks. Here’s what you have to look forward to:

  • Colombia Acevedo – Cherry aroma with sweet raisin and savory flavors
  • Guatemala Huehuetenango – Chocolate and sweet lemon with a soft cinnamon aftertaste

The Guatemalan is certified Fair Trade and Organic. Also, we’ll continue to cup more coffees to find our next two (or three!) amazing origins to add to the line-up. We plan to carry 5-6 at all times so that means we’ll be rotating out the current spread. If you’re particularly fond of one of the beans presently on the menu, be sure to grab some before it runs out.