This article was written by Shannon Marks, a Snowy Elk Blog Contributor.
Coffee roasteries are becoming more prevalent today, and are known to highlight the delicious natural flavors of high-quality coffee beans. Roasteries are the crucial “middle-man” between raw coffee beans and the brew in your cup.
"Once people are exposed to craft coffee, there's no turning back"
says Brandon Mock, a Craft Coffee Product Designer .
This brings into question, what exactly is craft coffee?
Nick Brown, editor of “Daily Coffee News” by Roast Magazine, describes the most defining aspect of craft coffee as, made by hand with various degrees of care and ingenuity, and similar to other craft foods and beverages such as cheese, wine or beer. We agree, but we take it a step further.
Our focus for craft coffee is not only producing high quality roasts, but also engaging our community in the story of the coffee, from the farm it originated from to the inspiration behind our local roasting process.
The Complexity of the Roast
There are opportunities for craftsmanship throughout nearly all stages of production, ranging all the way from farming the beans, to pouring it in the cup. The craftsmanship applied in these stages is the application of professional skill, and manual precision throughout the roasting process to achieve the highest quality of natural flavor. Each single origin coffee bean has a specific flavor profile (unique to it's country, farm and even environmental conditions), and the roasting process is a vital piece of the puzzle in bringing out the bean's particular flavors. Many different aspects must be considered carefully before the roasting process can begin, to achieve the desired flavor profile.
The average coffee drinker rarely, if ever, sees green coffee beans at all. Green coffee beans are the raw coffee cherry "seed" before it has been roasted, brewed, or treated in any way. Coffee roasteries are usually the first and last to see the green coffee bean before it is transformed into the purchased product.
The flavor of the coffee roast is dependent on several different factors. In “The Science of Coffee Roasting”, Paul Adams explains that two identical batches of coffee beans roasted with the same machine, on the same day, to the same final temperature and color, can smell and taste radically different. Adams says, “the contrast lies in the journey the coffee beans take from the beginning of the roast to the end.”  There is a significant complexity to roasting coffee, and the combination of several different variables define the final outcome of the batch.
The roasting temperature from the beginning to the end of the roast can vary, as well as the heat source used to roast the beans. Other important variables to consider in the roasting process are moisture-content and bean density. Essential questions must be asked, as posed in his article “Variables Involved in Roasting” such as, “where does this coffee come from? What elevation was it grown at? How was this coffee processed (washed, semi-washed, natural)? What is the age of the coffee?”  These are all crucial factors in roasting process because it determines how quickly the beans are "cooked". Understanding what part of the world these beans grow in is the responsibility of the Master Roaster, and this knowledge is integrated into the roast to bring out the natural flavors and highlight the craft quality of the beans.
There are other considerations besides where the beans came from. For example, what size batch is being roasted? At what temperature? How much airflow is applied? What is the temperature and humidity in the space in which the roasting is happening? How long did the roaster warm up? Is this the first roast of the day? What was roasted prior? This information all adds up to being able to answer the most important question – how does the coffee taste?
Generally, it takes approximately fifteen to twenty minutes to roast coffee beans. It also depends on the roasting profile of the bean, be it a light roast (or “champagne”, as we like to call it), a medium roast (or “toasty”), or a dark roast (or “midnight”). Many trade leaders agree that the quicker the roast, the better the coffee. This helps to avoid charring the most sensitive parts of the bean and ultimately lending way to the flavor we all look for in our cup of coffee. Here at Snowy Elk, we make it a point to never over-roast our coffee beans, leaving you without that rough or bitter taste.
The Unique Story of Craft Coffee
Although craft coffee is commonly thought of to stem from the creativity of the brewing process, it truly begins with the roasting process. Although that's not to say there isn't a craft-element in the brewing process. We roast each batch of craft coffee with precision and careful attention, honoring and respecting the bean's origin, creating a final product roasted with symmetry and balance. It's our mission to bring out the natural flavors the coffee without adding anything. It is this mindfulness that revolutionizes each sip into something more than a single cup of coffee.
William Harrison Ukers states in his book All About Coffee that, "the proportion of coffee consumers and distributors, such as restaurants and hotels, who roast their own coffee is so small as to be negligible, at least in the United States."  This speaks to the rareness, and quality of the roasting industry, adding to that special flavor of craft coffee. As Adams describes in his article, “Brewing has its ins and outs, but the real power is in the hands of the roaster. It’s in the act of roasting that the flavors in the cup are shaped, and the promise of the green bean is fulfilled.” 
As Cheyenne's newest and first coffee roastery, we not only apply craft roasting techniques to highlight the unique qualities of the bean, but we also pride ourselves in shedding light on the story of coffee and our passion for bringing in our local story and love of outdoor Wyoming adventure into the inspiration of the roast.
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Resources and References:
1. Roast Magazine, "What is Craft Coffee"
2. Cooks Illustrated, "The Science of Roasting Coffee"
3. Metropolis Coffee Company, "Variables Involved in Roasting"
4. Ukers, William H., All About Coffee, The Tea and Coffee Trade Journal Company (1922)
Snowy Elk Blog
Part of the Snowy Elk Experience is exploring the story of coffee and the unique processes applied to create a "craft" roast. It is here where we share our knowledge and perspective of Wyoming-roasted coffee, inspired by adventure, balance and natural conservation.