Prodigal Update: month two and a discussion of roast quality vs roast style

Prodigal Update: month two and a discussion of roast quality vs roast style

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Prodigal Update: month two and a discussion of roast quality vs roast style

Lessons from the first month

We received multiples more inquiries than we had coffee available. Some of that was due to us deciding some of our green, once arrived, was below our quality standards for Prodigal, and some was due to my poor forecasting skills. 

Roasting and filling orders and handling inquiries was quite a challenge, as we had expected a much slower start. To be frank, no part of the process ran as smoothly as I would have liked, but we intend to be far more prepared for our next roasting and fulfillment session. 

Before the launch we did not have a green moisture meter, color meter, or enough staff to double-check every order. We also didn’t have experience with how our roasts would evolve due to travel and resting. All of that is sorted now. 

The first day of roasts (Jan 4) cupped beautifully directly out of the roaster and the next morning. A week or two later, the coffees tasted “too developed” but not roasty. I issued a public apology and offered to make any dissatisfied customers whole. Three customers took us up on that offer. 

Working on a new machine in an environment I couldn’t control was challenging. Contrary to popular belief, roasting is about systems and controlling variables, not about sniffing beans in a trier or some sixth sense about what is happening to 50,000 beans inside a giant hunk of hot metal. Having sixty batches under our belts, learning when to roast (at night, in a sealed, climate-controlled space), and how our coffee would age with time, will all contribute to future improvements. 

The vast majority of feedback was wildly positive; we received many comments such as “the best coffee I’ve tasted in over six months,” “the juiciest roast I can remember,” etc. The majority of critical comments were something like “it was not roasty but it was more developed than I prefer.” As noted, those batches have been acknowledged, and I don’t expect many of those roasts or comments in the future, other than from the more extreme tasters out there. Doing the best one can is not the same as pleasing everyone. 

A couple of weeks ago we upgraded our sample roaster and began using the Roest. After a few days of a steep learning curve on the Roest, we’ve settled into a system using the new inlet-temperature recipe program and automated BBP.  We’ve been pleased with the overall results. I’ll write a post soon about our experience with the Roest. 

We sold coffee wholesale to three cafes with whom we had prearranged deals. With apologies to others who made wholesale inquiries, we did not have enough green to sell wholesale to any other cafes. We hope to change that soon, but it will depend on retail demand and green availability. Likewise, we hope to offer a subscription soon, but cannot do so until we are confident about having a steady stream of green that meets our quality threshold. 

Roast level vs quality of roast

Having consulted for well over a thousand roasters over the years, I have to remain relatively adaptable about roast level. It is not my job to tell my clients how light or dark to roast, it is to help them achieve their desired roast level in the highest-quality and most consistent way possible. I’ve literally never told a client “you have to roast darker (or lighter)” or “you have to roast to 20%DTR,” etc. What one writes in a book for mass consumption is necessarily different from what one prescribes to a roaster with a particular machine and unique goals. As a consultant, step one is to ask a client his or her goals. Step two is to help them achieve those goals. Everything must be customized for that client.

Like any coffee drinker, I have my personal preferences. I prefer light, juicy roasts of clean —usually washed —  coffee, and famously despise funk. I respect that others have different preferences. 

There is, however, a difference between roast level and quality of roast. 

I’ve noticed many people confuse the two. A roaster may roast darker than I like, but do a great job of optimizing that roast level. Likewise, another roaster may roast in the color range I prefer, but the coffee may be baked or underdeveloped. I do not judge roasts solely by the final color, I also judge them by how skillfully the roaster achieved that roast level. 

Roast level is a style choice. Roast quality is independent of roast level. I don’t see that distinction made often enough. 

What’s next

Prodigal will release three or four new coffees this week, depending on how we feel about the green quality once it has all arrived and we have cupped some test roasts. 

I’m pleased to say that one of the coffees we will release this week is the most delicious, highest-scoring coffee I have tasted in more than a year. It’s also the best washed Colombian I have ever had, period. The other offerings are delicious, and we are excited to dial in our system further, and share the results with customers. 

We will notify our Prodigal Mailing List subscribers a day before anyone else of our new releases. If you don’t want to miss out on the new offerings, please consider joining the mailing list. 

Thanks for your support

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