Eastern Highlands of Ethiopia
Ninety six miles northwest of the city of Djibouti, a rugged mass in Ethiopia known as the Eastern Highland mountains towers above the small village of Hurso. Terraced hillsides nestled in the clouds— a blissful aroma gravitates down the valley where diligent workers hand-sort through one of the world’s oldest and widely traded commodities. The flowering genus known as Coffea, with its fragrant white petals and red fruit, when ripe, will be harvested, dried, and shipped across the North Atlantic where an antique vintage roaster awaits to roast these wonderful coffee beans.
Ethiopia is considered to be the birthplace of Coffea. Written knowledge of the plant dates back to the 15th century, but there are earlier reports dating as far back as the 10th century. By the late 1800's the powerful effects of coffee had spread worldwide. There have been many technical advances in the production of coffee, but it is the final stage which unlocks the natural chocolate, fruit, and earthy notes most are familiar with in freshly roasted coffee. From backyard experimenters to elaborate systems and machinery, the 'Art of Roasting' is a blend of skill, practice, science, and observation.
Roasting coffee beans is a practice going back hundreds of years, utilizing mostly a method of trial and error, coupled with a bit of folklore and somewhat of a presentiment approach. Today, most large coffee roasters are commercialized using modern equipment, allowing for limited oversight, focused on producing large quantities of roasted coffee beans with the press of a single button.
Here at Small Town Coffee Roasters, we use an antique Royal #1 Coffee Roaster originally built in 1914. Enrique Vega (proprietor) and his son Monte Vega spent many long hours totally restoring this beautiful piece of history. There is something nostalgic in reminiscing about those a generation ago who worked with this very same American made Royal Coffee Roaster.
Operating a vintage roaster requires keen senses and constant monitoring in the same way that it was done for centuries. This is true artisan coffee roasting! Sight, smell, and sound are the keys to identifying when a roast is complete. We've also updated our vintage roaster with some modern technology to help us get consistent roasting results. Once the green coffee beans are added to the roaster, the temperature increases gradually, and soon smoke billows from the flu. In the beginning stages the smell of hay and peanuts are noticed. Listening attentively for what's called the two cracking stages, will signal the roaster to check bean color. Depending on light, medium, or a dark roast, time will vary and a second cracking stage is needed for the darker roasts. Once beans are extracted, they go through a cool down period to stop the development of the roast. When beans can be held in hand, they are ready for storage. Nothing could explain it better than seeing this process for yourself, (if you haven't already) which is quite a gratifying experience.
Please stop by to catch a glimpse of the Royal in action. Typically we roast on Monday afternoons around one o'clock, weather permitting. Viewing the process will certainly get your neurons firing, bringing the wonderful smell of fresh roasted coffee to your orbitofrontal cortex. While here, treat yourself to one of our freshly roasted brews. Of course not everyone is local to Rutherford County, so be sure and check out our short video demonstrating the 'Art of Roasting.'