What is Coffee and How We Roast

February 23, 2023 4 min read

What is Coffee and How We Roast

Fig Leaf Coffee Company is a small business that is unique and special. We are dedicated to our customers and masters at roasting coffee and educating our audience. We are a family run business that cares deeply for our customers and our customers are considered part of our extended family. Our business is more than just another shop. We want to provide you with an experience to equip you with tools to make better coffee decisions. Understanding the coffee industry lingo, a huge part of enjoying coffee products.

Being a unique business means that sometimes we have to explain what we actually do here. We’re not your typical coffee shop or café with a place to sit down and work. We are not a catch-all business that carries subpar bakery, ice-cream, sushi, sandwiches with then coffee as an afterthought. We focus on one thing above all else and that’s roasting specialty coffee. To understand that last sentence more fully, we need to define a few things first and ask why that’s all we do here.

What is Coffee?

Coffee is actually the seed of the coffee cherry fruit. When this fruit is harvested from a coffee plant by the farmer, it is called raw coffee or green coffee. It is actually green in color and fairly tasteless. After the cherry is harvested it must be processed either by fully washing off the skin and pulp (washed method) or letting it bake in the sun (natural/honey process) and dry milling it. The farmer is then left with raw coffee to sell to the world either via cooperatives, direct sale or specialized importers. Before the farmer is paid, the coffee is graded by grading experts. A number of different factors are reviewed but for our purposes it must be classified as Specialty Grade or we don’t buy it. Specialty Grade means that the coffee has scored 80 points or above (out of 100). This is achieved by having fewer than 5 defects per 12 oz of coffee. A number of different things are considered defects (taste issues, insect damage, fungus damage, etc.). Most of the coffee we purchase range between 85-90. We search out those really high scoring coffees during the year too. We label those as Ultra-Specialty and come in very small quantities. They are in small quantities as they tend to cost 8-20 times more than our regular Specialty Coffee offerings.

Specialty Coffee Defined

Now that we understand the term Specialty Coffee and a bit about processing, we can talk about roasting. Coffee roasting is the manufacturing process we use to turn that green seed into a usable product that so many of us rely on each day. A special machine (coffee roaster) is used to accomplish this process. The green coffee seed is tumbled in a giant drum over heat and air to help the seed dry out, expand and develop natural flavors. A number of different things can positively or negatively impact these natural flavors during roasting. For example, if the heat is too high with not enough air-flow the seed will burn on the outside but still be green on the inside leading to sour or bitter tasting coffee. The roasting process will vary with every coffee. Some coffees need low heat in the beginning and high airflow while others need higher heat in the beginning with high airflow. I make the recipe for each coffee but the ingredients are green coffee, heat, airflow, drum rotation and ambient temperature. This is where my expertise and years of roasting really make a difference.


Roast Level and Weight Loss

When green coffee arrives to us it contains a large amount of moisture still. The moisture in the coffee is very important as the existing moisture conducts heat. If the coffee arrives with very low moisture, the outside of the seed roasts faster than the inside leading to roasting problems. I can gauge the moisture content when we do sample roasting. Without proper moisture, we can’t produce great products. An easier way of looking at moisture content is understanding that higher moisture equals higher weight of green beans. When I put 10 pounds of coffee into the coffee roasting machine, we don’t get 10 pounds out. We end up with 7- 8 pounds of roasted coffee. That roasting process reduces moisture and also weight. This is something we also need to account for during the pricing of our coffee. That weight loss factor differs for every coffee based on how light or dark I roast the coffee.  


The details I have touched on above are just the tip of the iceberg for specialty coffee roasting. I have dedicated years of my life to understanding things like climate changes, green coffee processing, the roasting machine, natural flavor production and thermal dynamics. Without that focus and without customers that care about what we do here, I couldn’t produce the product amazing coffee. So, when you stop into the store and we say that we don’t serve coffee by the cup you know what we’re focusing on.

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