The jute sacks piled up neatly on pallets and waiting for the next stage of the process bear a myriad exotic pictures and labels. When you enter the basement at JURA headquarters in Niederbuchsiten, you are instantly transported into a foreign world, somewhere on a coffee plantation or into the cavernous hold of an ocean-going cargo ship. The aroma of coffee? Actually, no. The atmosphere is dry, with a distinct smell of fresh straw in the air, and somewhere we hear the humming of a ventilation system. Daniel Mohler, one of the roastmasters at JURA, smiles and explains: ‘Coffee only develops its aromas and its irresistible smell during the roasting process.’
It is believed that this fact was first discovered almost 1200 years ago by monks in an Abyssinian monastery. There, in what is present-day Ethiopia, a young shepherd boy was fascinated to observe that his goats started hopping about madly whenever they ate the berries from a particular bush. He decided to get to the bottom of it, so he took a handful of the fruits to the nearby monastery. The monks tasted them, turned up their noses in disgust at the bitter flavour and threw them into the fire. Suddenly, the air was filled with an aroma that spread enticingly through the corridors and cells. Filled with curiosity, the brothers crumbled up the roasted cherries and poured hot water on them to brew. Gingerly, they sipped the drink. The flavour was intoxicating, its effects invigorating: humankind had enjoyed its first coffee. And because the concoction helped the monks to stay awake during their prayers, they praised it as a gift from heaven. It is, of course, just one of the legends that abound regarding the discovery of coffee. Since then it has embarked on a triumphal march around the world and today is – quite literally – on everyone’s lips.
60 kilograms of coffee on their way to the oven
But back to the roasting department. With a few deft movements, the roastmaster opens the jute sack. The 60 kilograms of beans tumble out into a stainless-steel receptacle from where they are sucked up by an enormous tube and led into a container above the oven. The shape of the coffee beans is immediately recognizable, but they still have scarcely any aroma – at most of straw, an impression that is further strengthened when you look at their yellowish-beige colour. Wholly absorbed in his work, Daniel Mohler glances at the control panel next to the oven. He nods approvingly. The temperature is right. He touches a button to start the process. The hatch to the rotating roasting drum opens and the coffee cascades down into the heat.
JURA roasts its coffee in small batches using the traditional – and gentle – drum-roasting technique. ‘Good things take time,’ says the roastmaster, looking alternately at the temperature display and his control sheet. What happens in the roughly 15 to 20 minutes that follow is a natural process which even the most advanced scientific techniques are unable to imitate. From around 180°C, the coffee beans exude around a thousand different aromatics, which makes coffee one of the most complex beverages of them all. While the precious charge moves continuously and is roasted at the same unchanging temperatures, the roastmaster makes an astonishing comparison. ‘Imaging picking a perfectly ripe strawberry fresh from the bush. Its flavour consists of about 150 different aromas. That sounds like a lot, but its DNA has long been deciphered. Strawberry flavours can be reproduced in the laboratory and made artificially. In roasted coffee, on the other hand, over a thousand different aromas have already been identified. Its composition varies, depending on the growing region and the way it is processed. So despite our best efforts, no one has so far succeeded in synthetically creating the aroma of coffee. Even the distinctive bouquet that slowly starts to rise in the nose cannot be replaced by anything artificial.
The cracking of coffee beans: almost like popcorn
The roasting process involved so many variables that we cannot impose a particular scheme on it. Every green coffee behaves differently. The outdoor temperature and relative humidity play a significant role. Ultimately, these factors make roasting a combination of science, experience, instinct, intuition and art. From a certain point onwards, the roastmaster frequently takes samples and compares the colour with a reference chart. We suddenly hear a slight popping sound, similar to the one made when corn kernels burst open during the production of popcorn. ‘Soon there now,’ mumbles the man at the oven. ‘What you can hear now is the “first crack”. The pressure on the cell walls causes the beans to burst and release their moisture.’ It’s a matter of seconds. A series of visual checks follows in rapid succession. Then the roaster cracks a half-smile: the ideal roast appears to have been reached. The coffee beans pass through a hatch onto the cooling sieve, where air is pumped in, ending the roasting process and cooling the coffee.
At a separate workstation, the roastmaster grinds a coffee sample to a precisely defined fineness in a low, cylindrical container. A device levels off the surface and removes any surplus coffee powder. The coffee now goes under an optical precision measuring instrument that helps to determine the exact colour. For, ultimately, this will indicate the degree to which the coffee has been roasted. ‘Perfect!’ says Daniel Mohler happily, smiles and enters the relevant figures in a table. Every stage of the process is meticulously documented because every charge, from green coffee bean to packaged end product, must be traceable. After a few minutes, a powerful fan switches on. The noise level rises. The roasted coffee passes through the de-stoner, where it is aspirated into a pipe system and fed into hygienic chromium steel silos. Anything heavier than a roasted coffee bean remains behind in a collection pan. The noise level drops, the freshly roasted coffee is safely in the silos and the roastmaster takes a look at the foreign bodies in the de-stoner. Most of the time they are actual stones, but he’s already found pieces of wood, coins and once even a bullet casing, the expert tells us. ‘But I haven’t found any gold nuggets yet,’ he says with an impish grin.
Top-quality coffees from JURA
Every green coffee variety and provenance behaves differently when roasted. And that’s why the roasting procedure has to be geared to it. The JURA range comprises six varieties of superb, first-class coffee. From characteristic pure origins to sophisticated blends. The composition of the individual mixes is a closely guarded secret. Our coffee experts are constantly trying out new combinations. Wherever they are, whether at home or on vacation, they always have their feelers out and are open for discoveries. ‘At the moment, fruity notes are especially popular,’ says the Coffee Scout. And that means coffee with a gentle, aromatic acidity in the finish.
In the adjoining room, we find a modern packaging system. Under the critical supervision of two employees, it measures out 250-gram portions and transfers them to aroma preservation bags, which it heat-seals and labels with production and best-before dates. The coffee bags are then ready for dispatch all over the world. Each one of them is packed with lots of love, devotion and expertise together with a good portion of intuition. So what more could you want than an automatic speciality coffee machine from JURA to bring out its full flavour and aroma to perfection? The roastmaster would certainly wish it for the fruits of his labours as well as for coffee lovers in every corner of the globe.
Images: André Albrecht