Behind the Grind with Reuben Villagomez
Reuben Villagomez, a physics teacher turned expert coffee roaster, talks about the process of roasting coffee, the emerging roasting scene in New York and his plans for a Goffee signature brew.
How does roasting coffee work in a city like New York?
“It’s changed a lot. It used to be that in order to start roasting coffee you had to make a big financial commitment to even get into the business. But in the past five years a number of collective spaces, similar to shared kitchens but coffee roasteries, have opened up. The way it works is that you become a member of the collective which allows you to rent time on the production roaster, which allows new roasters to start up with a much smaller financial commitment. They start out at a shared space and build up their volume until they reach something sustainable and then hopefully go out and build their own roastery.”
Can you walk us through the process of roasting coffee?
“Step one is to source your green coffee beans. You solicit samples from a large number of sources and then sample roast them to a light roasting degree so you can taste everything that’s present in the bean. You then cup the coffee, which is just a standardized way of tasting in the coffee community in a way that someone in Japan or in the US can have the same tasting experience. It’s done by slurping the coffee into a spoon, trying to aerate it and hit every part of your flavor sensors as possible. Once that’s done, you enter into the drying phase, which is just trying to evaporate water. Then you apply heat and the color starts to change, which means that chemical changes are starting to occur. We call that the Maillard phase, which is a sugar reduction reaction similar to browning meat. You carefully control this burn reaction until what’s called ‘first crack’, which is similar to popcorn popping. The speed of the Maillard reaction will define the body of the coffee. Then comes the development phase, which is where you have to be the most careful to control the reactions that are happening within the bean. Finally, you drop them out into a tray and try to cool them as fast as possible to arrest the roasting process.”
Where does the coffee we drink in New York come from?
“The main producing regions are Latin and Central America, the Pacific region - mainly around Indonesia, and East Africa. You also have some emerging regions like Yunnan China, India, Thailand and Vietnam. Espressos usually center around Brazilian pulped natural coffees because they’re widely available at cheap prices and produce a really dense body and thick crema in espresso, which a lot of people look for. However, a lot of times that coffee will be cut with more nuanced and interesting coffees to add flavor. Brazil is by far the largest coffee producer in the world, and they’re the only ones who have really gotten it down to a science of industrial agriculture. Otherwise, most specialty coffee is grown by smaller producer on 10 to 100 hectares in the mountains.”
Can you tell us about your involvement with Goffee?
“I came on to be the center of coffee expertise for the company and help coffee develop one or a few signature blends that se can create a menu around. This will help us reduce costs and deepen brand loyalty by having something that we own that no one else has. The first thing I did was to create the Goffee signature cold brew blend, which I see as a kind of choir. You have your middle voices, your altos and your tenors, and then your outer voices - your bass and your soprano. Typically, much like in a choir, it’s much easier to pick out the soprano and the bass. You can think of a bass note as a darker roasted, more comforting elements of coffee. Then your high notes are more acidic, more vibrant and floral. So I designed this blend in a way that every voice is equally represented on the palet. I did that by putting higher relative amounts of the alto and tenors, which are a Colombian and an Ethiopian coffee at a medium roast level, to balance out the stronger high and low notes. The next step will be to create a signature espresso for Goffee that we can replace some of our standard blends with. I have some experience matching blends and flavor profiles, so I look forward to doing that with Goffee as well.”