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The history of coffee roasting

Within the last 30 years at Lincoln & York, we have witnessed incredible developments surrounding the techniques for roasting of coffee. It’s hard to imagine that roasting coffee has been occurring since the 15th century and still transcending .

The history of coffee in itself is fascinating and the roasting of is arguably even more so. 

To begin with, roasting coffee was elementary. Only small amounts of coffee beans could be roasted at any one time due to the lack of equipment and the methods used meant that roasts were inconsistent. However, back then, coffee would have been more popular for its caffeine content than flavour.

Coffee roasting

Today, roasting coffee requires superior knowledge, scientific expertise and a passion for great tasting coffee. The demand for quality coffee continues to rise, as does the experimentation for newer, greater tasting coffee, and a lot of this is achieved through the roasting.

Roasting coffee in pans

Coffee roasting has come a long way from the thin, perforated pans that would sit above an open flame, toasting coffee beans. But, back then, this was the first, consistent method for roasting coffee across the Middle East, Africa and Europe. 

As the popularity of coffee grew, the need for larger quantities resulted in new ideas about how to roast coffee.

Roasting coffee in drums

The next significant development in coffee roasting came in the 17th century when drums were created to house the coffee beans. 

The coffee roasting drum meant that the flames on the fire could be reduced, as the heat would be sustained inside the drum, making it safer and more practical. By further introducing a hand crank to the drum, a more even roast could be achieved, highlighting how coffee roasters were now beginning to understand how roasting could impact flavour profiles.

Roasting coffee industrially

In the 19th century, coffee roasting was given the industrial revolution treatment. Patents began flooding in for more commercial roasters. Until then, many were content with roasting coffee at home. 

Furthermore, the revelation of gas supply meant that the smoky aromas and flavours caused by coal and wood on open fires could be removed, for a cleaner coffee flavour profile. 

Throughout this innovative era, many inventors were competing to create a coffee roaster which contained features to make coffee roasting increasingly safe, practical and more consistent. 

There are debates surrounding who was the more influential. From the UKs Richard Evans in the 1820s through to Jabez Burns of the US in the mid 1860s and the Probat company who patented the ‘Kaffeeschnellröster’ (rapid coffee roaster) in 1880.

Roasting coffee electrically

At the turn of the 20th century, electricity was becoming more accessible. Many industries, including the coffee industry adapted, making use of electric motors and electric heat to reduce the intensity of the labour and improve the accuracy of the roast. 

The ability to replicate conditions meant that coffee roasters could control heat exposure, providing more consistent coffee roasting results.

Types of coffee roasters

As soon as Germany passed the first laws to guarantee coffee purity in 1875, coffee roasting came out of the kitchen and moved into the factories. As a result there was an increased demand for large-scale coffee roasters. 

Although there are a few different examples of coffee roasters available today, the majority tend to be based off 19th century drum roasters. Drum roasters use a combination of convection, conduction and radiation to roast coffee successfully. 

Examples such as fluid-bed roasters rely on convection through heated air being forced through a screen beneath the coffee beans, making them lift, tumble and roast somewhat evenly. 

New coffee roasting technology

Today, modern technologies have allowed coffee roasters to become better informed about the make-up of coffee and the ‘roasting curve’. 

More and more is being done to help coffee roasters understand the properties of the coffee cherry before roasting. Tools that accurately measure the moisture levels before roasting, for example, allow for a greater chance of measuring and understanding chemical changes in the coffee roasting process. 

Roasters themselves are also better equipped to measure variables and analyse why a roast is successful or not, thanks to technologies which provide digital temperature readings and profiling software that ensure efficiency and consistency.

Also as the impact of global warming continues to be widely felt across the world – all industries are looking for ways to reduce their carbon emissions – and coffee roasting is no different. With the majority of industrial roasters still powered by gas, many businesses are looking to technological advancements to better understand if fully electric roasters could play a bigger part in the future of our industry.

Roasting coffee at Lincoln & York

We owe a lot of what we do to the trials and tribulations that have been already been carried out in the coffee roasting industry. Without its rich history, the efforts of many people and companies, we wouldn’t be able to offer a wide range or variety of the quality coffee we offer today. 

Having said that, our company began in a garden shed and has witnessed its own evolution through trial, error and sacrifice to get it to the stage it’s at today. 

Proudly, our current coffee roasting facility in Lincolnshire now boasts accolades such as one of the only UK coffee roasters to have its own contingency facility.

Add to that our six Brambati drum roasters, (including one the size of six baby elephants – 600kg) and our fifteen packing lines capable of fulfilling orders from 60kg to 6,000kg and you soon realise how far coffee roasting has come. From the days of an open fire and a pan, to an international operation still searching for advancements on the traditional drum roasting methods!

To learn more about roasting coffee you can download our booklet – ‘The Art of Coffee Roasting’ or get in touch with one of the team.

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