The photo for this article was provided by the interviewee.
Fortitude Coffee Roasters, which has two cafes in Edinburgh, is deeply rooted in the Scottish coffee scene. In addition to running two cafes, Fortitude roasts its own beans. I was curious about how Fortitude roasts their coffee so I decided to reach out to their team. Bruce, their head roaster, got back to me to share some insights about Foritude.
Could you tell me a bit about yourself and your role at Fortitude?
My name is Bruce and I’m head of coffee production at Fortitude! My role is to make sure that all of coffee is being roasted to the highest standard and as consistently as possible across every single batch that we send out. I work alongside Matt, carefully assessing our coffees every week and planning our roast profiles to make sure we’re bringing the best out of the fantastic green coffee we’re sent by hard working, incredible farmers.
What is the first thing you do when you arrive at the roastery?
The first thing I do every morning is fire up our roaster - we give it a little time in the morning to warm up before production starts - and then usually I’ll put some music on and brew some coffee for us so our brains can warm up too. As the roaster is heating I’ll start to put together my production schedule for the week and catch up on any emails from the weekend.
What equipment do you use to roast? Why do you use this equipment?
We roast on a Diedrich IR-12 and absolutely love it. It’s a super consistent machine and it gives us amazing control over the airflow during roasts which gives us much more versatility between conductive and convective heat transfer which have very different effects on your coffee profile.
Conductive and convective are the two main types energy transfer used in coffee roasting. By heat transfer we are referring simply to how the heat is being moved from the the roaster to the beans. Conductive is heat being transferred by two things touching, in this case the beans and the drum. A good comparison is cooking something in a pan. Convective energy is being transferred through the air around the beans. We call this the roast environment. It is similar to cooking something in an oven.
In order to achieve and even roast we need to utilise both the methods of heat transfer in our roasting. Generally speaking when the beans are touching the drum the outside of the bean that will roast faster than the inside of the bean so to balance this out we need to make sure we are using enough hot air flow to develop the inside of the bean.
What do you think are the essential skills any coffee roaster needs to have to roast coffee well?
One thing I would definitely say is essential is good focus. Roasting is a pretty quick process and you have to make sure you’re hitting your changes as accurately as possible, even a few seconds missed here or there will have some noticeable effects on your profile so you’ve got to keep your eyes on the prize!
Could you tell me a bit about the differences between sample roasting and production roasting. When/how do you roast for production?
Sample roasting is a great tool for us to try loads of potential new coffees. Usually our green buyer, Zach, will send us loads of great samples of green coffee then we’ll roast 50g or so of each sample on our tiny wee Ikawa roaster and set up a cupping table of all these samples to try before we make any decisions on what to purchase. After we’ve decided what we like we’ll then order a much bigger quantity (green coffee usually is sold in 60/70kg sacks!) and then production begins on a much bigger scale to get that delicious coffee out to the public.
How do you know when a roast has been sufficiently developed?
We usually finish most of our roast profiles around one minute after first crack (which is an indication in your roast that the inner temperature of the beans has reached a point where the moisture inside of them is evaporating and forcing it’s way out, causing them to crack). we’ve found that this helps give us just the right level of development for our coffees to be used as either filter or espresso styles but without sacrificing any of the brightness and body that we’ve carefully developed earlier in the roast. We’re aiming for versatility, solubility and balance in all of our roasts and for now, this is where we’ve found that balance!
What advice do you have for someone who is interested in pursuing a career as a coffee roaster?
The best advice I could give is to keep an open mind and be patient! Speciality coffee is constantly evolving with new processes, new equipment and even new varieties of coffee showing up. We’re in a constant state of learning and growing and especially at this end of the process, there’s still a massive amount we need to learn through continuing dialogue with farmers and producers who are the real experts on coffee. The worst thing we can do is think we know everything.
What coffee are you drinking at the moment?
I’m drinking the last of our rum aged pink bourbon! It’s one of the most exclusive and unique coffees we’ve ever had, it’s wild. Other than that, in my house I have a couple of bags from Full Court Press in Bristol! They’ve just started roasting and they were kind enough to send us up some of their new stuff, it’s delicious.
If you could start a farm in any coffee growing origin, where would it be and why?
Personally, I would have to go for El Salvador, I’ve had some fantastic coffees from there but also selfishly I would love it because it looks like one of the most beautiful places in the world.
What is your favourite part about roasting coffee?
My favourite part of my job is being a part of an amazing community of people all around the world that are really passionate about what they do. There are some truly incredible people within this industry and it’s a real pleasure to work with them and learn from them.
You can find out more about Fortitude Coffee Roasters on their Instagram @fortitudecoffee or on their website at www.fortitudecoffee.com