From raw to roasted: The journey of a coffee bean

Pilot Coffee Roasters in-house coffee bar
Pilot Coffee Roasters' barista is always ready to serve up their coffee, roasted on-site. 

There’s a bean in the oven. And somebody needs to roast it.

But only an experienced roastmaster knows when it’s done.

We recently visited Pilot Coffee Roasters in the east end of Toronto to discover how a master of coffee roasting creates the perfect roast profile, every time.


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All it takes to usher a humble coffee bean from raw to roasted is what Brett Johnston calls the cool marriage of both art and science.

The skinny on the art of coffee roasting

  1. Every batch of coffee can perform differently in a roaster.
  2. Even beans from the same farm can grow under completely different conditions, requiring a different approach.
  3. First crack happens when the cellular structure of the bean expands to the point that it breaks the bean.
  4. Second crack is much fainter and more of a snap (think Rice Krispies).
  5. The roastmaster tracks when the crack happens while keeping an eye on size and colour.
  6. The flavours listed on Pilot’s bags aren’t added, they emerge naturally, like a fine wine.

Johnston is a roastmaster with Pilot Coffee Roasters.

He’s been with them for four years and has seen all sides of the business, starting behind the counter with brewing, cupping and tasting.  As a roastmaster, he’s travelled to both Guatemala and Brazil to visit farms and carefully select the beans.

Johnston says every roastmaster worth their salt needs to taste their own coffee.

“Every single coffee requires a unique approach,” Johnston said.

“We may know that a Brazilian coffee might have less moisture content, so that’ll mean things will kind of heat up quicker and move faster on us and that can be a general trend we observe of Brazilian coffees, but every coffee is gonna require us sample roasting it, developing a profile around that specific coffee, setting it, putting it into production, and even changing it as that coffee ages.”

So how does a roastmaster use both art and science to create the perfect roast profile?

First, they collect data for every roast. They keep detailed records of everything they roasted and how they roasted it.

Second, they use the power of their senses, looking and listening for the telltale sounds of roasting: first crack and second crack.

Many of Pilot’s roasts are labelled with flavours such as toffee or chocolate. But that doesn’t mean they were added after the fact. Instead, the flavours emerge like those of a fine wine.

Whether you’re a coffee snob or the uninitiated, you can’t deny that the life of a coffee bean from raw to roasted is an adventure unlike any other, all the way from the fruit to your cup.

About this article

By: and
Posted: Nov 29 2015 11:18 pm
Edition: Toronto
Filed under: Special Reports Arts & Life Food