Roasting (and cupping!) with the Roaming Goat

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I recently received an invitation from Jason Thomas of Roaming Goat Coffee Company to come and hang out at their roasting facility in Worthington. Jason and his business partner, Tim Elkins, started the Roaming Goat after Jason left his previous career as an accountant to enter the coffee roasting scene about four years ago. Tim had been roasting for almost a decade prior to that time. The two work out of their small roasting facility in an office park about a mile off of High Street, and usually roast 1-2 days per week. Tim handles most of the actual roasting process, while Jason does the accounting, distribution, sales, and other office work. I first met the pair earlier this Spring, during this year’s North Market Coffee Roast, where they were first timers. Their Maui Red coffee was one of the big favorites of the show, and that’s when I knew these guys meant business. Over the past several years, Roaming Goat has built a small but loyal wholesale clientele that includes offices and churches around Columbus, and even some vending customers. Last year, they began distributing their coffee to local grocers such as The Hills Markets (Worthington & downtown), Weiland’s Market, and Lucky’s. In addition to that, several restaurants and coffee shops are using their product as well.

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Roaming Goat mainly roasts single origin coffees from around the world, which means they come from one specific location, although they do roast several of their own well-rounded blends. In one corner of the warehouse, a dozen or so bags of green, unroasted beans are stacked on pallets, where Tim keeps them for future use.

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These beans can be kept fresh for up to a year or more, as long as they are properly stored in a dry, temperature-regulated environment.

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Tim separates all of his beans into containers according to roast style and origin. This allows for easy identification when it comes time for packaging and distribution. Tim starts the roasting process by loading beans into the hopper on top. The roasting process dries them out completely, and the beans then go though a series of stages to achieve the type of roast that Tim wants. Depending on which type of roast he is working towards,  they can go through several “color stages” before reaching the first crack.

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To enable the beans to reach their fullest potential at each stage, Roaming Goat uses an Ambex jet impinged roaster which allows a controlled flame to heat the roasting drum to an evenly distributed temperature.

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And indeed, an evenly distributed temperature is important when roasting since each stage requires a certain amount of heat. Here, Tim checks the beans to determine what stage, and what temperature, they have reached. At this point, he knows how much longer the beans need to roast before reaching first crack, which is when the center of the bean actually “cracks” and the sugar inside melts. This also tells him how much longer the beans have until they reach the second crack stage. As important as heat is, time is just as important when it comes to coffee roasting. Tim said that even 15-20 seconds can make a big difference in the flavor and the acidity of the final product. Tim stops most roasts prior to reaching the second crack phase, because after that, it’s very easy for the beans to become bitter.

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Once they’ve reached to their targeted roast, the beans are then released into a large cooling tray below the drum, where a fan turns and rotates its blades to assist the beans in cooling.

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Tim then carefully examines the tray full of cooled beans for any debris that may have worked its way into the bag.  Things like small stones, corn kernels, and other foreign objects are picked out and discarded.

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The beans are then ejected into a labeled bucket for storage and eventual distribution. They are not kept in the roasting facility for very long at all – in fact only for a matter of a few days typically –  before they are prepped and delivered to an awaiting customer.

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As orders are processed, Jason and Tim measure beans out according to weight, and they are either packaged as whole or ground beans, depending on the order.

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Roaming Goat packages their product in a variety of sizes based on their customer’s need.

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During the roasting, Jason showed me the variations in roasts, and the range of color in their final products. Coffees such as the Ethiopian Yirgacheffe and other naturally fruity beans tend to lean towards the light to medium roast…

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While coffee like the Columbian or Dark Guatemalan have a much darker and more oily appearance.

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We also set up an informal cupping station and sampled the Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee. I was kinda psyched, as I had heard about the cupping process many times before, but had never had the opportunity to take part in it myself. A cupping is one of the coffee tasting techniques used by professionals to evaluate aroma and flavor profile. It’s normally done by a group of people tasting and comparing several different coffees from around the world, side-by-side. The samples are prepared using approximately 2 tablespoons of freshly roasted and freshly ground coffee in a 6 ounce cup, and the coffee should be a light roast. Before Jason poured the hot water over the grounds, we took the time to smell the fragrance of the fresh grounds.

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Once the grounds are completely saturated, they begin to form a “crust” on top. After 1-2 minutes, taking a spoon and breaking the crust will release the most potent burst of aroma you’ll have during cupping, and is the best time to evaluate the coffee’s aroma. But you have to really get your nose down in there and sniff, which was kind of awkward in a fun way. We then stirred the coffee gently to work all of the grounds to the bottom of the cup.

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As we began stirring, the coffee almost took on a frothy appearance. This is a shot of the coffee midway through the cupping experience, after being gently stirred and folded.

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The last stage of the cupping process is the best part – the tasting. After the coffee cools for a minute, you take your spoon and sort of push back any remaining grounds that may be floating on the top of the cup. An easy trick that Tim taught us is to just gently blow into the cup, which will create a clear sort of well that you can dip into. Then, we each took turns slurping the coffee from the spoons. For this part, full-fledged, “I’m giving it all she’s got, Captain” slurping isn’t only suggested, it’s required in order to gather the full intensity of the flavor profile of the coffee. The three of us pretty much sounded like we were in a Chinese noodle eating race. The method was proven successful though, as the coffees flavors were magnified greatly. We all agreed that it had a very distinct fruity taste, and maybe just a hint of a molasses-like sweetness.

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Jason and Tim generously offered me some complimentary coffee to take home, as well as samples for the office. I am a fan of lighter roast coffees in general, and now even more so of the Ethiopian after the cupping. Mrs. Grub Guy on the other hand, prefers the dark roast coffees, so Jason included something that she’d like, too (she was very excited!). It was very much appreciated.

I thoroughly enjoyed my morning with the guys of Roaming Goat Coffee Company, and really appreciated their willingness to talk coffee and let me hang out during the roasting process. The cupping was an added bonus that I wasn’t expecting, and was really awesome as well. Jason and Tim are true professionals with a passion for coffee, a genuine knowledge of the roasting business and its techniques, and a desire to simply provide the best tasting, and freshest cup of coffee in Columbus and beyond. And it shows in their business as a whole and in their excellent product. Thanks again, guys.

For more information on Roaming Goat Coffee Company, or to inquire about delivery to your church, office, or retail outlet, check out their website.

 

 

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