Roasting Coffee at Starbucks: A quick overview

PhotoGrid_1439869592776[1] grid costa rica elenaHave you ever looked at a coffee green and unroasted, and then an hour later bought it at Starbucks? This is what I did on Monday August 17, 2015. I was curious about a new "micro lot," I'd heard some gossip about: A "micro lot" is a very small amount of coffee, less than a "small lot" coffee. A "micro lot" of coffee may only be a few hundred pounds. Reserve coffees at Reserve Starbucks across the U.S. and internationally are usually "small lot" coffees.

Coffee Roaster Mike roasted two 20-pound "micro lot" batches while I was there, and so here's a glance at roasting at Starbucks:

Starbucks sourced about 150 pounds of a sun-dried Costa Rica coffee. Coffee (usually, with very limited exceptions) comes to Starbucks (and coffee roasters everywhere) in burlap sacks:

2 - 1 - 20150817_192629[1] Micro Lot Coffee Costa Rica Santa Elena

Inside the burlap sack is green, unroasted coffee beans:

2 - 1 - 20150817_192718[1] green cofee costa rica santa elena2 - 1 - 20150817_192734[1] costa rica unroasted coffee and roaster MikeA small amount is weighed out for roasting. They don't roast the whole 150 pounds at once. In this case, the roaster was working with 20 pound increments out of the 150 pounds of coffee.

The roaster is working with specifications created by coffee masters at the Starbucks headquarters, in order to come up with exactly the perfect roast profile. It's not uncommon for coffee to be roasted from ten to fifteen minutes, at temperatures around four hundred degrees. But each coffee (whether it's a blend or a small micro lot estate coffee such as this) has its specific roast profile.

Next the coffee goes into the roaster. Even while it's roasting, the coffee roaster is checking its progress on a computer as well as a visual check of the beans, using a "trier." A "trier" is like a small scoop that can pull out a tiny sample of coffee from the roaster, mid roasting. The coffee roaster can check the coffees progress from green, to light roast, to the perfect roast. In this case, the Costa Rica Elena coffee is a "medium" roast profile.

Once in a blue moon, I hear stories (even partners sometimes) who think that some kind of flavoring gets roasted with the coffee. This is incorrect. The only thing that goes into a Starbucks coffee roasting for roasting is high quality, green, unroasted coffee.

2 -1 - 20150817_193736[1] roaster mike and the trierFinally, after a time in the roaster, it's done and poured into the cooling tray below:

2 - 1 - 20150817_194408[1] roasted coffee coming out of the roasterAs the coffee quickly cools down, the coffee roaster continues his visual inspection of the coffee, looking at its sheen, color, and quality. Mike continues to look at the quality and roast of the coffee he just roasted.

After a short period of cooling, the coffee is poured into a special container:

2 - 1 - 20150817_195448[1] transfer to bin2 - 1 - 20150817_195859[1] in the bin - 20 pounds of costa ricaThis container is attached to a de-stoning machine. I assume every roaster has some kind of additional process to check for stones. It's rare but it's possible that a tiny stone about the size and shape of a coffee bean could get through to roasting. Starbucks has a machine that sorts the coffee from stones by weight. A stone would be too heavy to be vacuumed up into a tube that transports the coffee to a holding area (out of view) and drops to the bottom.

2 - 1 - 20150817_195930[1] de stoning machineThis basic process is the same for all coffees whether the roaster is at a huge Starbucks roasting facility or a tiny one. In the above picture, Coffee Roaster Mike is watching the coffee beans fly into tubes (via a vacuum mechanism) and if there were tiny, heavier impurities, those would be filtered at the bottom.

The coffee roaster now checks the quality of the coffee again. (This step is out of view). He may grind some of it in a coffee grinder, or work with it in other ways to ensure that the coffee is exactly the right roast profile and quality. The coffee roaster won't let coffee that has come out a little dark or otherwise defective be sold at Starbucks. This does indeed happen! Coffee Roaster Mike said that if the coffee is not perfect, Starbucks calls it "NIS" (not in specifications) and it's rejected.

Finally, the coffee appears on the scoop bar at the Roastery:

2 - 1 - 20150817_210230[1] costa rica elena at the scoop bar

Finally, I left the store with a half pound of Costa Rica Santa Elena coffee!

The Costa Rica Santa Elena coffee was grown in the Tarazzu coffee-growing region, at an elevation of roughly 4,000 - 5,000 feet. It's rare to find a sun-dried coffee from Costa Rica. This exceptional coffee will have flavor notes of dark cherry and chocolate. Starbucks has been working with the Santa Elena coffee farm for years, and recently the farm passed the Starbucks CAFE practices certification.

Try this coffee with berries, chocolate, or even lemon. Costa Rica Santa Elena sun-dried coffee is a Roastery-exclusive coffee.

Freshly roasted coffee (not packaged in flavor lock packaging) should de-gas for about six to eight days before consuming it. The coffee should be consumed within about 14 days of the date of roasting for best freshness and flavor. Coffee packaged in flavorlock packaging should be used before the expiration date on the packaging.

Sometimes the freshly roasted coffee goes immediately to the area of the Roastery that packages it into flavorlock packages. You can see a bit of the packaging area of the Roastery in this past article.

Hope you enjoyed watching this coffee go from green,unroasted coffee to being sold at the Roastery! I know that I enjoyed the process! While the volumes of coffee roasted at big Starbucks roasting facilities are much, much larger, the very basic process (as I understand it) is the same as what happened here. (If you know better, please tell me. I love coffee education!)

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