Cafe’, City, City+  A Rose by any name….

One of the most asked questions, and misconceptions, that we respond to at Waffle’n Joe is “What do the roast levels mean?”. Like most things the answer is more complicated than it might appear.  

Lets deal with the easy part of depth of roast.  What is the correct name?

Coffee terminology has been affected by many different cultures and national regions.  If you’re in the North West, a light roast may be called “Cinnamon”, where if your in Alabama it is simply “Light.” Here in the East, Cafe’ is the customary way we ask for a light coffee.

Green Beans to Those Roasted to Perfection

From the beans perspective, a roast starts at room temperature in an atmospherically controlled environment of some sort.  Large roasters will store their green unroasted coffee beans, in humidity and temperature controlled vessels, often using air and gravity to move the beans from storage to roaster, then directly to packaging.  At Waffle’n Joe’s we receive our beans in the 50-60 kg burlap bags that are iconic in the coffee trade. To protect the raw beans on there boat trip to the States, most of the regions and farms that we purchase our green beans from use an inner bag made of gas impermeable membrane (http://grainpro.com/gpi/#).  Unprotected beans have a higher likelihood of molding or mildewing in transit as well as losing some of the delicate flavors we strive to bring to your cup. Once we receive our beans from our green beans distributor, we divide and vacuum pack them in roast size batches. Vacuum packing preserves and protects in much the same way as the green bags do with the added benefit of pre-portioning the beans for roasting.   

After receiving and packaging we begin the roast process in our computer monitored roaster.  We don’t use any automatic roasting processes at Waffle’n Joe. Our belief is that the Artisan aspect of roasting is limited by automating the process.  No two harvests of beans are exactly the same, and neither should the roasting process be! Artisan roasting and our roast philosophy is something I’m passionate about but we’ll leave that for another post.   Back to the beans…

Roasting and Color

Any discussion of roast descriptions ultimately gets tied to the roasting process.  In simplest terms when we roast coffee beans we control temperatures and air flow in a rotating drum to uniformly heat (roast) the beans, raising their internal temperature up to 390-425⁰.  During the roast process many chemical and physical changes happen.  The first noticeable change is when the beans go from their dried brownish green color to a golden yellow.   This color change is accompanied by an aroma change from grassy to a nutty bready nose. Though the color may be golden, this is not the stage that we call cinnamon or Cafe’.  The beans continue to roast, increasing in temperature to around 365⁰ when they begin to audibly crack and open up while almost doubling in size.  It sounds and resembles popcorn popping. Our roasters have to use ALL of their senses!  Right at this “First crack” is where we call a roast Cafe or light City. A cafe roast accentuates the sharper more pointed flavors like citrus or green grass.  As the roast continues the beans darken and usually within 2-3 minutes a second crack can be heard. Where first crack is caused by the rapid release of steam, second crack is heard from the breaking of internal structures of the beans.  More importantly to the taste are the many chemical reactions that are happening: sugars forming and combining, acids breaking down, the culmination of a Maillard reaction that has been going on since early in the roast. This City to City + roast point will generally be a richer roast.  Some of the sharper flavors prominent in Cafe roasts will be in the background or roasted out. City roasts will accentuate dark fruit flavors, nutty mouth feel, and sweetness. As the roast continues for 60-90 seconds past “Second Crack” very dark roasts are created that are best suited for blends, or customarily used for espresso roasts.

Roast Philosophy

At Waffle’n Joe our goal is to roast in a way to bring out the flavors that are naturally in the beans, therefore our darkest roasts rarely will even make it to second crack.

Which roast is best?  We encourage our customers to try our single origin coffees at our different roasts levels in order to find their personal favorites. Coffees from different growing regions have individual characteristics which are accentuated by different roast levels. Once you find your favorite you can experiment by coming up with your own blend. Truly making your best cup of coffee.


Joseph GiubardoComment