The photo for this article was provided by the interviewee.
Based in Seighford, Hasbean roasts blends and dozens of single origin coffees from around the world. Ever since reading Coffeeographer, written by the founder of Hasbean, Stephen Leighton, I have been fascinated by this business. Out of curiosity, I emailed Roland, the Sourcing and Production Manager at Hasbean, who kindly answered a few questions about coffee roasting. Formerly a hands-on roaster, Roland shared many insights that answered my questions. Our chat is below.
For my readers, could you tell me a bit about yourself and your role at Hasbean?
My name’s Roland Glew and I’m the Sourcing and Production Manager at Hasbean and Ozone Coffee Roasters. I got into coffee as a hobby after university, with a cafetiere and stovetop pot and an enthusiasm to try whatever new coffee types I could get my hands on - though the selection was very limited at that time to things like “Monsoon Malabar” and “Brazil Santos”. Around 2008 I discovered Hasbean and fell down the rabbit hole. Buying coffees from specific farms was a revelation and I became a subscriber to the In My Mug weekly coffee subscription in 2009.
I was a huge Hasbean fan, working in a small (but very lovely) video game company in 2010 and living in Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire. Unfortunately, that business had to cut most of its staff and I decided to take the leap into working in coffee. Like most people, the only route in I could see was a coffee shop, so I began working as a Barista, first in a garden centre and then on a train station. The dream to open my own coffee shop got diverted in 2011 when I got an unexpected offer from Stephen Leighton, Hasbean’s founder and all round inspirational giant of the industry: come and be a roaster. I spent a couple of days helping out at the roastery and was happy to discover I’m a much better Roaster than I am Barista!
I’ve been at Hasbean ever since, first as a Production Roaster, then Head Roaster and most recently Sourcing and Production Manager. The work gradually evolved over the years as we grew and changed - I began roasting less often and spending more time on cupping, looking after maintenance, logistics. My newest role is in charge both of our green sourcing and our production roasting both at Hasbean and its sister company Ozone’s London locations.
Hasbean roasts a wider variety of coffees than anyone I have interviewed so far. How do you deal with having so many different coffees to roast as a business?
There are a few things which Hasbean does which are pretty different to most roasters, and they only really make sense when you do all of them together. Having a range of about 30 - 40 single origin coffees (plus 4 house blends and bespoke blends for some of the coffee shops we work with) is one of them. We also aim to roast to order for both wholesale and home customers - that means we roast pretty much every coffee every day, but that batch sizes vary from 1kg of a coffee up to 50kg of a coffee. We don’t use computer roast logging on our machines - because we roast so many different coffees and different batch sizes, a computer can’t deliver consistency.
Instead, we rely on the people operating them to understand the coffees they’re roasting and the smells, sounds and visual clues of roasting and how you use those to match our target flavour profile for each lot. That takes a huge amount of practice - roast it, taste it, throw it away if you go wrong. However, because we’re usually doing 40 - 50 roasts per day, there’s a lot of opportunity to practice! It also helps that we sample roast and taste a huge amount of coffee each year, a lot of which we don’t end up buying. Every roast you do, every coffee you taste, is an extra bit of experience to tuck away and will give you some clues when you come across similar coffees in the future.
After you prepare the roaster, what does a typical day look like? What tasks occupy your time in addition to roasting coffee?
Nothing too complicated at the start of the day! Make a plan of what needs roasting (remembering that you lose around 16% of the mass during the roasting). Warm the machines up first and weigh out the right amount of green coffee for your roasts. Then begin your roasting - for us, that’s usually around 8:30 each morning when the first roasts go in. There are lots of nuances to it, but (depending on the machine and batch sizes) you should normally be able to hit a steady 3 - 4 roasts an hour. It’s much easier if you keep going rather than letting it cool down too much between batches, so we’ll usually have everything done by the early afternoon.
The most important bit is after that! At the end of the day, each machine gets a thorough clean so we know it’s ready for the next morning. We do maintenance one evening a week where we’ll do bigger jobs like cleaning airflow pipes and oiling bearings. We’ll call an expert in when we need one, but we try and do as much general upkeep as possible ourselves. We’ll also make sure our green bean supplies are topped up and that we’re all set to go again first thing the next morning. We all like to know we can start the next morning with everything in it’s place and ready to go.
I don’t roast much coffee any more, so most of my day is spent on e-mail and phone calls. One thing which fills a lot of time (for both the roasting team and me) besides roasting is cupping coffee. We get a huge number of offer samples which all need to be sample roasted (usually about 50g worth) and I need to cup and score it. Members of the roasting team will often join me and we also have to cup our production roasts for QC purposes.
How do you decide how a particular coffee should be roasted?
We do a test roast of usually 1kg and cup it. I’ll discuss it with the roasting team. If I’m happy, whoever’s done the roast will talk through it for everyone else, discussing how it behaved and how they did the roast. If we think it’s not tasting like it should, we’ll discuss what changes to make and they’ll have another go at it. We usually find a roast we’re happy with in one or two goes - an advantage of our focus on roasting as a craft based around sensory experience is it’s pretty easy to get a new coffee roast profile pretty much right first time. This isn’t static though - as the green coffee ages, you often need to tweak the roast profile to make sure you’re still getting the best out of it. It’s back to that same process of roast - taste - refine which is how we learn. That process never stops.
I have read that the degree to which coffee is roasted affects the flavours. Could you tell me a bit more about why different roast styles accentuate qualities like sweetness, acidity, and bitterness?
It’s a big, complicated and not well understood topic! I recently heard a description by Verônica Belchior of Coffee Sensorium (go follow them on Instagram!) of a coffee bean as like a tiny chemical reactor - each one builds up pressure and heat during roasting until you get hot enough - then a huge cascade of chemical reactions happens in the last few minutes of roasting. Brewed coffee is among the most chemically complex beverages you’ll find, and most of that doesn’t exist in that form in the green coffee - it’s the products of Maillard reaction, caramelisation, Strecker degradation and other processes.
It’s a huge topic to dive into, so instead we’ll stick to some practical generalisations.
Sweetness - Green coffee has lots of sugar, but most of this is broken down by the roasting process. That does mean that very light roasts often taste quite sweet (with simple, white sugar or fruit like sweetnesses), as there is slightly more sugars remaining, however, darker roasts develop caramelised flavours and a heavier texture, which your mind associates with sweetness.
Acidity - Roasting both creates acids in coffee and also breaks those acids down. Very long (or dark) roasts are usually much lower in acidity than shorter roasts.
Bitterness - It’s worth remembering that all coffee is bitter. Darker roasting causes more pronounced “roasty” flavours, which begin to give a lingering bitterness. However, very light roasts can often be more bitter too, as precursor compounds haven’t been broken down sufficiently (though this bitterness is often less lingering and you might notice some astringency too).
BUT - The brain doesn’t perceive these qualities separately. As an easy example, some acidity and sweetness together will remind most people of fruit, so creating an experience which is more intense than if you had experienced those two elements on their own. At the end of the day, a roast profile isn’t just about the chemistry in the coffee, it’s about how that translates to a taste experience.
What advice would you have for someone who is interested in pursuing a career in speciality coffee?
Be honest with yourself about what you’re good at and what you want from your job. Very few jobs in the industry are well paid and most of them involve a lot of work which won’t feel glamorous - be that emptying bins, cleaning roasters or doing the accounts. If you don’t get the opportunity you want, are you willing to start your own business and all the risks and stress that entails? There’s no right and wrong and this isn’t to put anyone off, but rather go in with your eyes open and remember every day what it is about your job that makes you happy.
If you’re thinking of a cafe, pick up some barista shifts first. If you’re thinking about roasting, ask a local roaster if you can volunteer to help out for a few days. Can you see yourself doing exactly that for the next 5 years? Do the research and ask questions. The industry is generally very friendly and supportive.
What roaster(s) do you use at Hasbean?
3 Probat drum roasters - a G60, an L25 and a P12.
1 Ambex - a 2kg machine
1 Probatone B3 Sample roaster (built in the 1930’s/40’s we think - this is my favourite!)
What is your favourite method of brewing coffee?
I can’t pick one! Most used is definitely the Chemex - it’s my go to for flavour and reliability.
However, on a lazy Sunday morning I have a soft spot for either a Syphon or an Ibrik. Neither quite works for my normal morning routine, but I love the coffee I brew with them.
If you could visit any coffee origin in the world, where would you go and why?
I’m planning a lot of visits actually, as soon as travel restrictions improve, so I hope to tick quite a few off the list! Many of those trips are ones I’ve been dreaming of for years, so I can’t pick between them. One which I’m not going to, but which would be super interesting, would be Yemen - it’s one of the earliest coffee cultivating cultures, has amazing genetic diversity and is totally different to other producing origins in it’s culture, environment and processes. And the coffees can taste spectacular, of course!
You can find out more about Hasbean on their website at www.hasbean.co.uk.