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Eric Leidlein of Espressions Explains What You Might Be Getting Wrong About Roasting

Eric Leidlein poses with his favorite of the two roasters he works with.
Eric Leidlein poses with his favorite of the two roasters he works with.
Heather Hoch

Eric Leidlein has been roasting coffee in town for eight years, so if anyone knows the ins and outs of the coffee bean world, it's him. Starting as a barista, then roaster at Lux, and eventually working with Four Barrel beans at Giant Coffee, Leidlein says his experience as a barista has helped him develop unique flavor profiles as a roaster. Now at Espressions, a wholesale roastery in a warehouse in East Phoenix, he experiments with two large roasters, tracking data for every batch on spreadsheets but also using all five senses to tell when the coffee is roasted to his standards.

See also: Moka: The Closest Thing You'll Get to Espresso at Home for Under $50

Roasting shouldn't be automated. Eric Leidlein knows there are automated roasting machines out there, but he prefers the control and interaction of his two manual machines. His Primo roaster goes through 30 pound roasts at one time, while the larger roaster batches 60 pound roasts. He charts each roasts time and temperature, noting subtle differences in roast times, even when the bean, type of roast, and machine are all the same.

Use all of your senses. Since he does everything manually, Leidlein uses his senses to check for doneness when roasting. At first crack, you can hear the beans crackle almost like popcorn. You can see the color gradually go from a light greenish brown to a deeper brown as it roasts. You can feel the oils start to come out, usually in darker roasts. You can even taste the differences, if you have time to stop and brew. However, best of all, you can smell the coffee roasting, which Leidlein says gets him a lot of complements on bank trips. When will someone make a roasted coffee perfume, already?

It's a coffee rainbow!
It's a coffee rainbow!
Heather Hoch

Darker doesn't mean more caffeinated. While the flavor of a dark roast will be a lot more smoky and bold, those roasts aren't going to give you any more of a jolt than light roasts. While some believe some of the caffeine is burnt off in the process of roasting, overall it's about the same.

Lighter doesn't mean better. Coffee geeks are wild for light roasts right now. His experience with Bay-area roasters like Four Barrel and Blue Bottle have shown the trend going towards lighter and lighter roasts, sometimes looking barely roasted at all. Leidlein prefers a mid-level roast because the beans have time for flavors to develop, without getting overpowered by smokiness. However, he also says dark roasts pair well with desserts. In the end, it's a matter of taste.

Leidlein checks the batch for doneness.
Leidlein checks the batch for doneness.
Heather Hoch

The difference between roast times can be a matter of minutes or even seconds. Seriously. Light roasts take about 13 minutes and some change to roast, while dark roasts are right around 15 minutes. Since there are a lot of variables for how long it will take a batch of beans to roast, Leidlein relies on his stopwatch and a few tell tale signs to tell when his coffee is getting close to being ready.  

A dark roast took about 14 and a half minutes on this run.
A dark roast took about 14 and a half minutes on this run.
Heather Hoch

The customer is always right -- well, at least they aren't wrong. At Espressions, Leidlein likes working with customers to develop a roast that they'll love, rather than telling them what they're going to get. Flavored coffees, decaf dark roasts, and tart, acidic light roasts are all within the realm of possibility.

A coffee is only as good as the barista that brews it. Espressions dedicates time to barista training because if a cafes baristas can't pull a proper shot of espresso, it doesn't matter how well they roast their coffee. While classes aren't currently available to the public, it's nice to know folks in town are committed to coffee education.

"Automated machines kind of lose the artistry in roasting," Leidlein says.
"Automated machines kind of lose the artistry in roasting," Leidlein says.
Heather Hoch

Consistency is key. Providing the roasts for Urban Beans, Chop Shop, Steve's Espresso, The Mission, and a host of other spots is a lot of pressure. However, Leidlein says his good relationship with his coffee importers means he can ensure quality and consistency for those restaurants and cafes. With about 9,000 pounds of coffee roasted every month, he thinks this is one area that Espressions does better than other boutique roasters in town.

You can use any roast in any coffee maker. Finally, Leidlein says one of the most common misconceptions he hears from folks buying coffee is that you can't use an espresso bean on anything other than an espresso machine. He explains that that's definitely not true. While the grind does matter for your brewing purposes, dark espresso roasts can go in drip makers.

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