Ask Mike: Green Beans

Home roasters ask, "How do you choose green (unroasted) beans?"

Today we’re in for a treat. We’ve got CFO, head roaster, and green buyer Mike Perry answering your questions about how to choose green unroasted beans. Whether you’re new to the coffee world or in tune with flavor profiles and processes, learning how to roast is an art, a journey. One of the first steps is knowing which beans to buy.

Mike, do you have any tips for home roasters?

First, check the flavors of the roasted version. When I buy, I look at distributor notes and they typically match [with what we’re looking for] because they are roasting similarly, medium-light. We manipulate it a bit on the roast to get more sweetness, a little more body.

Should home roasters determine some based on region?

Generalities, with more determinations made by process.

Natural process: When it comes to region, if you’re looking for fruity, berry-like coffees, Ethiopia has crazy berry flavor profiles. When it comes to Central and South American coffees, Panama and Columbia natural processes especially have strong fruit notes. Brazil naturals are an exception to the flavor process, because their flavor profile is more like honey, citrus fruit, and chocolate, and that’s what we’re looking for, rather than red fruit.

Washed process: You’re going to get more of a clean coffee with citrus, caramel, or cacao flavor notes.

Honey process: This is in between natural and washed, so depending on how much mucilage is left on, depending on what the weather is like, you’ll get a little more sweetness, that’s why people like them.

Mike’s recommendations based on how coffee is being brewed, what roasters are looking for:

A good question to ask is how they’re going to enjoy it. If they’re making espresso, look for a natural or honey process. For everyday drip, look for a washed process.

Another thing buyers should look for is high elevation, which will give more brightness, more acidity (a tasting term).

  • If you’re looking for body, that’s where the earthy Sumatra comes in.
  • If you’re looking at brightness, high elevation, that’s where Kenya comes in.
  • My go-to is Kenya: a clean, bright cup to wake me up.
  • Sometimes you get a Natural Geisha, that’s where crazy candy flavors come into play, that’s a treat.

Pictured, Mike at the roastery with one of the grandkids.

When you’re green buying, what do you look for?

I’m tasting blind, tasting to see what comes through for three things:
(1) Clean (no defects, no bad tastes) and consistent
(2) Natural sweetness
(3) Flavors that speak to me, stand out

And then from there, look at what fits our current needs. We’re not just “buying expensive”, we’re looking for good coffee that people can afford.

Any other tips?

Experiment, have fun. This is what’s fun for me with my background [in chemical engineering], every roast in the beginning is an experiment. Then we taste it, and if it’s a little light, we go back and roast 3 degrees darker. Make sure to manipulate one thing at a time: that’s key. Enjoy the discovery of it, like when a sweet, hidden raspberry note comes in.

Like a chef, look for good ingredients. And like a chef, you’ve got to write it down, create a recipe. Otherwise, you can’t duplicate it!

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