The 5 Stages of Roasting Fair Trade Coffee

The 5 Stages of Roasting Fair Trade Coffee

I always thought coffee roasting was like making popcorn. You just put the raw beans in the hopper, press the coffee button and sit back while the coffee starts to pop -- I mean roast!

Well, that’s not the case. Coffee roasting actually happens in many stages, each with its own unique chemical process. Every coffee roaster will give you a different number, but the end product is the same. At Black Ink Coffee Company, we break our roasting process into five unique stages; Drying, Yellowing, Caramelization and Acid Development (First Crack), Second Crack, French Roasting (very dark). You can find out more about our coffee beans by visiting our coffee section.

Stage 1.) Drying

In this stage, the raw coffee beans are added to the already pre-heated roaster. Even though all coffee is dried before shipping, the insides of the beans are still dense with water. This is because the beans are submerged in fermentation tanks during their early lives after being picked.

Once the coffee is dried, the real magic begins. At this point, the heat from the roaster begins to enhance the coffee’s natural sugars, mmmm sugar... If there is anything to take away from this stage, it’s that the sugars are developing.

Also, remember the water inside the bean? Well, just like any liquid that gets heated up, it eventually turns to gas. I bet you can’t guess what happens to this gas!

Stage 2.) Yellow to Brown

By this time, the water that saturated the beans has now turned into gas. In this second stage, the beans turn from yellow to brown. The grassy smell starts to fade into a distinct coffee smell. As the internal gas starts to expand the walls of the coffee bean, it naturally begins to grow in size. Just like popcorn!

Stage 3.) First Crack

This is the most exciting stage so please excuse my excitement. Remember the gas that has been building up inside of the bean? Well, it can’t just stay there forever. Once the bean has too much pressure, it explodes! Kind of like… coffee beans. I bet you thought I was going to say popcorn.

This stage is called “First Crack” and if you were in earshot, you could actually hear it. After the First Crack, the beans natural acids and sugars form a unique and precise bond. A good coffee roaster will know how to get the perfect balance between the two. This may take many hours of charting and cupping.

Each coffee bean behaves differently, so it is important for the coffee roaster to know everything about the bean and his/her roaster. When you throw popcorn into the microwave, do you adjust the time based on where the kernels came from, how they were prepared and the altitude at which they were grown at? I certainly don't, but you need to if you want to roast quality coffee!

Stage 4.) Second Crack

The Fourth Stage is called Second Crack and it is an optional one depending on the type of coffee you are roasting. Most Breakfast Blends, like the ones often seen in our Instagram, stop just before this Second Crack. This is when darker roasts end, like a Vienna Roast. During this stage, and the last stage, oils can be seen covering the exterior of the coffee bean.


Stage 5.) French Roast

Roasting beyond second crack ensures that you are achieving the darkest roast. Coffee beans turn from light brown to dark brown/black. A French Roast is like playing with fire, especially if you do not have adequate cooling equipment. Anything beyond this point will run the risk of burning the bean past the point of no return.

Thank you for reading The Five Stages of Roasting Fair Trade Coffee on our blog. Don’t hesitate to email us if you have any questions, and feel free to check out our About section to learn who we are at Black Ink Coffee Company.