There seems to be an increase in web traffic around the concept of being able to share profiles for particular coffees out there. This article discusses the pros and cons of attempting this.
When the topic of Profile Swapping came up, it conjured images of some sultry ’50 Shades of Brown’ references. Can you really have a healthy relationship with your coffee if you are going to let it freely spend time with other roasters? Profile swapping needs to have expectations set so no one feels cheated.
It is curious to think of how one might get themselves to a place where seeking out the profile of someone else would have value on their own machine. This thinking is fraught with some of the obvious reasons that will make it impossible to do.
Differences in machines, thermocouples, roasting conditions, different drum capacities, charge weights, stored thermal energy and in fact differences in the lots of coffee are all reasons that moving a profile from one machine to another “just doesn’t work”. It is common knowledge that these factors would make it impossible to move these profiles from one machine to another.
And yet… people are doing it. Are they all just ignorant or is something else going on? Turns out that there is a little of both.
If you are trying to find ‘the right answer’ you ask the Brewers Cup Champion how they roasted a coffee and intend to match it exactly – that makes you fall into the ignorant camp. For all of the reasons listed above you will fail at profile matching.
If you are trying to ‘get pretty close’ and then finish off the profile on your own machine, then you may be on to something! There are some pretty solid examples of this being done with good results. For it to work however you will needs two important things: A plan and a tool! Let’s explore both.
A Plan for Profile Swapping
Since you know that just copying the profile won’t work, a plan for how to execute on this is key. The following suggested plan has worked but can always be improved. It is up to you on how much work you want to do yourself vs. letting someone else do it.
Step 1: Match the green coffee. If you are even going to get similar results you will need similar coffee. In the profile swapping I have witnessed, it was for the exact same lot of coffee. If you don’t have that then you need to be as close as possible or why are you using the profile in the first place. An example of close but not exact coffee would be Same Farm – Different Lot. Perhaps it is Same Farm – Different Varietal. Point is, in order for the profile to be close in terms of matching the flavor profile it has to be similar coffee. Just two coffees from the same country will not be close enough.
Step 2: Analysis of their profile. How and when does the heat enter the bean? Studying even a little about heat transfer in coffee you will find out about the three basic types of heat transfer: Conductive, Convective, and Radiant. By looking at someone else’s profile you are hoping to see where, how, and what type of a transfer took place throughout the entire roast. The operating theory here is If you can match how the heat enters the bean then you should get identical taste results. A profile then is a roadmap of just that. If you can follow the map exactly then you will get to the same place with the same results. The caveat of course is that you have similar roasters with similar capabilities. This does not work moving from a drum roaster to an air roaster for instance.
Step 3: Step by step process. To isolate one roasting variable at a time you really need to understand the variables you can attempt to control.
Color – Outside or Bean color is what you use to know when to stop roasting. The Internal color is what you check to see if you got all of the heat penetration needed to match the other profile.
Time – Even if you hit the outside color correctly you need to do it over the same amount of time. This will generally get that inside color to the right place. If you hit the other variables correctly then the flavors should match as well.
Curve – There a lot of things the profile curve will be called, but basically you need to match the time and temperature readings all the way through the roast. This will then virtually guarantee that the same heat entered the bean at the same time.
Drum speed – For most small roasters this type of matching is not an option as your roaster will have just one drum speed. If you do have the control, set it to match the other profile.
Air Flow – Some of the most delicate flavors are influenced dramatically by airflow both early and late in the roast cycle. As with drum speed, you may not have control over this. Trying to transfer between a Diedrich and a Probat would make matching airflow very difficult.
A Tool for Profile Swapping
You gotta cup. Now let’s be honest – most people reading this are a little intimidated by cupping and therefore will poo-poo its value in the ‘real coffee world’. Well, you’re wrong! It is THE MOST IMPORTANT TOOL in results analysis for roasting.
To make it less intimidating, here is a secret: You only really have to calibrate with yourself. You can sit in a dark room and cup and cup and cup. Once you can score the same coffees the same way over a period of days, you have mastered cupping for you. Now you might want to try and calibrate with whomever swapped their profile with you.
Use profile swapping for what it is: A way to see what others are doing to see if you can learn something about your own roasting. Don’t try to find the right answer ‘out there. The right answer is on the tip of your tongue!
Rocky Rhodes is an 18 year coffee veteran, roaster, and Q-Grader Instructor, and his mission now is to transform the coffee supply chain and make sweeping differences in the lives of those that produce the green coffee. Rocky can be reached at rocky@INTLcoffeeConsulting.com