We’ve all heard the words — varietals, floral, caramel notes. You’d imagine they relate more directly to wine but when you need to describe something as intense and varied as coffee the language doesn’t change. In this exclusive interview with master roaster, Christopher Noseworthy, from Te Aro Coffee Roasters in Toronto, you’ll see the world of coffee seems very familiar.
Your Send Me To Vienna Profile says you started off as a grumpy barista. How did you get into roasting coffee?
Four years ago I helped a friend open her own roastery/cafe. I had to learn on the fly how to roast coffee, while simultaneously serving customers. It was pretty hectic and I eventually left that position for Te Aro in 2010. I started as a barista again but my experience and interest in the roasting side of things quickly became top priority. Te Aro is a rapidly growing company and has a lot of opportunity for someone like me. After shadowing the boss for a few months I was allowed to roast on my own. Fast forward to 2012 and roasting is my life; it is all I do and I love it.
When do you know a roast is done?
Like all roasters, I wait at least until first crack (around 390 degrees fahrenheit bean temperature) when the moisture in the bean is forced out. An audible pop can be heard, slowly at first, then increasing in intensity. After that, it is really up to my senses and intuition, while keeping everything I now about the bean in mind — the origin, the soil, the processing involved, the specific varietal I’m working with, etc. Near the end point I am pulling out samples and smelling them, trying to detect the characteristics I want to highlight for that coffee specifically — floral or fruit or caramel notes. For some coffees I know instantly when they are “done,” for others there is a bit of uncertainty but typically a window lasting from a few seconds to a minute. I try to be mindful enough to not over-roast the coffee, to let the origin shine through. Wow that was a long answer.
Photo Credit: Chloe Norman
There are almost a dozen different blends. Aside from where the beans came from what makes the blends so different?
I am not sure what you mean by this question: “a dozen different blends”? We have only a few. Maybe you mean varietals/cultivars? In that case yes, there are dozens, possibly hundreds, although only a handful are considered specialty. In terms of that, differences can include the number of cherries per branch, the height of the plant itself, the shape and size of the seed within, and its density, all of which influence the cup. An old varietal called Bourbon has a round shape with nice body and spicy chocolately notes to it, for example; while Pacamaras (hybrid of Pacas and Maragogype varietals) are very large in size and have very nice floral and lemony characteristics.
What is your favourite?
My favourite varietal? I like talking about varietals. My favourite is Ethiopia Heirloom. These are very unique and basically wild-growing varieties that haven’t really been pinned down, genetically speaking. They are super floral, creamy-bodied, super-fruity cups of coffee that sometimes are more like tea. Within the category “heirloom” there are literally thousands of varieties that have yet to be discovered, just growing wild in the forests of Ethiopia. I think it’s beautiful.
What do you think of the coffee heavyweights like Van Houtte and Starbucks?
I don’t really have an opinion on Van Houtte as I have never tried their coffee, but I can give credit where its due with Starbucks: if not for them, the specialty coffee industry (or “Third Wave” or whatever) would not have occurred. Starbucks got people interested in good coffee, and then they abandoned that for money, so specialty shops filled the gap and started offering great and exceptional coffee.
What coffee mecca would you like to visit most?
Definitely the many coffee-producing nations in Africa (Ethiopia, Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Congo etc.), especially Ethiopia, widely considered to be the birthplace of coffee. There is just so much promise there, with the thousands of varieties waiting to be discovered. Combine that with increasingly sophisticated processing and you have the world’s best coffee. Or wait maybe you meant places that have amazing coffee shops, like Portland or Vienna. Well I have already been to Portland so I would have to say Vienna.