Date: October 2002

Column/Title: A Roast Master's Perspective on Dark Roasts: John Weaver

Author: John Weaver


When Ken asked me to do this tasting with him I agreed with some trepidation. I was afraid that my honest and unbiased opinion might be viewed as skewed because of my position as head roaster at Peet's Coffee & Tea. However, my intention is to help. Everything involved with coffee is interesting to me, and blind tasting coffee has always been an enjoyable and valuable experience.

For those of you who are not familiar with my experience in coffee I'll give you a nutshell version. It's my 23rd year roasting coffee at Peet's.The first four years I learned directly from Alfred Peet on Probat 45-kilo and 120-kilo roasting machines. In 1985 Jerry Baldwin bought Peet's. In a few years we upgraded the plant to a Probat 75-kilo and a 240-kilo/R1000. We now work with a Probat 120-kilo and two 240-kilo R1000s. We can roast 4000 lbs an hour. Four other roasters and I sometimes produce over 90 different roast batches a day. We pull a sample from each batch and taste the previous day's outturn every following day.

Peet's is known for its deep roasting style. Many in the industry believe we go too far or too "dark" with our roast. Our large and loyal customer base begs to differ.

We occasionally taste competing companies' coffees against ours, and often find some excellent coffee out there. With this cupping I did my best to compensate for my own subjective perspective and approach these samples with an open mind, ready to consider coffee that would be too light for Peet's roast, yet could be someone else's French or Italian roast. I also maintained an open mind about coffees that were even darker than ours. Our French roast is so dark it's legendary, but one coffee submitted for this cupping matched our French roast in darkness and another one managed to be even darker.

As for procedure, Ken sent me 23 samples in unmarked bags identified only by number. I then read their degree of roast or roast color by M-Basic Agtron machine. The range for ground was 41 (dark) through 19 (extremely dark). I then tasted them blind, without displaying the Agtron number, and reduced the group to ten with the two really dark samples included for sidebar discussion. I emailed my results to Ken. While still identifying the coffees only by number, we found that we agreed on most of my top picks. I then tasted the remaining ten to twelve samples and used the Coffee Review rating system to score them. Then I wrote a few comments on each of the ten. I only learned the identities of the coffees after I determined my scores and wrote my comments.

For those roasters and other professionals who are reading this, my suggestion is to taste, taste, taste. Taste your competitors' coffees. Be as unbiased as you can. And always taste your own coffee at the end of each stage of production.

There are some smaller roasters trying to duplicate or better what larger dark-roasting companies have been successful with for years. If you are going to roast dark you need to buy the hardiest green you can find and roast and taste every day to determine and monitor your roast style and taste.