Smokey taste in coffee


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Jan 29, 2018
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Hi everyone!

I'm very new to home roasting. I just purchased my first roaster (a Hottop), and while I'm starting to get a good feeling for how to control the roaster itself, and what variables I can control, I'm struggling to figure out how these variables actually affect the flavor of the end-cup (beyond just the darkness of the roast).

Wondering if there's a good resource that talks about this in more depth. I'd love to set up some personal science experiments, but as this is just a hobby for personal use, I don't really want to be spending a ton of money wasting coffee beans. :)

I'm getting decent (read, better than folders) batches already, but I've noticed that most of my roasts have a very slight smokey taste to them, regardless if it's a light, medium, or dark roast. Thanks in advance for any help.

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What kind of beans are you roasting? Brazilians are prone to an ashy taste- you have to be careful because they are a softer bean and the temperature can run away if you go through first crack too fast. (That part of the process is exothermic- they are giving off their own heat, in addition to that they are being given by the roaster).

But since you say that the hint of smoky flavor seems to come regardless of roast level, I'm wondering if something is too hot on your Hottop Roaster. If you are preheating the drum I'd try cutting back on that.

As far as resources I find the Sweet Maria's website is chock full of them. They have their own tipsheets for every roaster they sell that goes further than the manufacturer's instructions. In their green coffee pages, you will find a general page of info and roasting tips about each of the major coffee regions- in addition to the descriptions of the individual lots. For example you can learn there they recommend going easy on those Brazils, giving Ethiopians a slow drying phase but a quick trip through first crack, and lingering a little at the end of a Kenya roast to curb the acidity.

Happy roasting! I'm glad you found the forum and I hope you'll keep posting your experiences and impressions.
Smoky is often a result of not enough airflow... I'm not familiar with the Hottop's functionality but if it has the ability to increase your fan speed - bump it up post browning
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Thanks for the responses CucamongaDan and Musicphan! I'm starting with an Ethiopian. Figured I'd try and keep the green coffee consistent for a while until I get the hang of things - one less variable.

I'll definitely look into SM's site more deeply.

Musicphan, that might actually be my issue. The HT does allow for airflow control, but I've kept it on the medium-low side at the end of my previous roasts. I'll definitely try playing with that in my next batch.
That sounds like you're on the right track. I guess I was talking more about ashy or scorched coffee from too much heat or insufficient agitation of beans- I've only air roasted, so I've no experience with smokiness. I rarely make any smoke at all, and since fresh air is constantly blowing through the beans to keep them moving, there's not much opportunity for any smoke to permeate the beans anyway. In air roasting, varying the air speed is the primary way of controlling the speed of the roast- it's still going to be a factor with a drum roaster, but the thermal mass of the drum is the biggest factor.

I'll look forward to hearing how your next batches come out- I bet no more smoke taint if you keep things ventilated . Btw Ethiopians can be some of the trickiest to roast- so you're getting some good experience!
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Figured I'd give an update. I experimented with bumping up the fan speed after FC through the rest of the roast. That seemed to make a big difference on the smokey flavor. Thanks guys!
For me its always the fan speed. Too low around 1st or 2nd crack and you have smokey flavor. Not so tasty.

Figured I'd give an update. I experimented with bumping up the fan speed after FC through the rest of the roast. That seemed to make a big difference on the smokey flavor. Thanks guys!