Mastering The Art Of Roast Milk Based Coffee Beverages The allure of milk based coffee beverages like flat whites, lattes, and cappuccinos is undeniable in cafés worldwide. Reflecting their popularity, 2020 statistics from Project Café USA highlight the latte as the favorite in the UK and a top contender in US coffee shops.
In response to this trend, coffee professionals are increasingly curating roast profiles specifically for milk-infused drinks. These specialized profiles are designed to bring out the best in the coffee, ensuring that its unique flavors not only stand out but also harmoniously blend with various types of milk.
But what does it take to create these specialized roast profiles, and what advantages do they offer? To gain deeper insights, I engaged with James McWhorter, co-owner of Edison Coffee Co. in Texas, and Aaron Jordan, a green coffee buyer at Helena Coffee in Washington. Their expertise sheds light on the intricacies of roasting for milk based coffees. Continue reading to uncover their valuable perspectives.
Unraveling the Charm of Lattes and Cappuccinos
Milk based coffee beverages have captivated consumers worldwide, becoming a staple of café culture. The National Coffee Association’s 2022 Fall National Coffee Data Trends report confirms this, placing lattes and cappuccinos in the top three favorites in US coffee shops.
James shares his observations from the front lines: “Even as pour-overs and batch brews gain traction among our customers, milk-based drinks, typically ranging from 12 to 16 ounces (354ml to 473ml), dominate our orders in both our coffee shops and tasting room.”
He attributes this trend to a couple of factors. “The availability of premium plant-based milk options has broadened appeal,” he notes. “Additionally, milk based coffee often serve as a gentle introduction for those venturing into specialty coffee for the first time.”
Aaron also highlights the role of seasonal offerings in the popularity of these creamy concoctions. “Specialty cafés often have a repertoire of seasonal milk-based beverages,” he remarks. “Take, for instance, the pumpkin spiced latte—a fall favorite that has become a seasonal staple on the menus of many specialty coffee establishments.”
Tailoring Roasts to Complement the Creaminess of Milk
Aaron explains that historically, coffee roasters have honed their craft on profiles suited for straight espresso or filter coffee. Some have ventured into the realm of omni roasts, versatile enough for both methods.
Yet, the art of roasting has evolved, with a growing number of roasters sculpting profiles expressly for espressos destined to mingle with milk in luscious beverages. These profiles are meticulously crafted to ensure that the coffee’s essence not only survives the addition of milk but thrives, enhancing the natural sweetness and smoothness that milk brings to the table.
Take lighter roasted Ethiopia or Kenyan beans, known for their vivacity and notes of fruit and flowers. When united with milk, their delicate symphony of flavors risks being muffled, sometimes even turning sour or jarring. Consequently, these beans are often preferred black, savored as espresso or pour-over.
To address this, savvy roasters have begun curating blends and single origins specifically for their synergy with milk. These coffees are typically coaxed into revealing more classic tastes—think chocolate, nuts, and caramel—flavors that engage beautifully with milk’s velvety texture and sweetness.
Sculpting a Roast Profile for Milk’s Perfect Partner
In the pursuit of a roast profile that marries seamlessly with milk in coffee concoctions, it’s crucial to predict how the coffee’s inherent flavors will dance with dairy.
The coffee’s origin plays a pivotal role. Typically, beans from Central and South America display a more restrained acidity and a harmonious blend of chocolate, nutty, and fruity notes, making them a stark contrast to the lively, spirited profiles of African coffees.
These taste profiles are sculpted by the terroir—factors like altitude, climate, and soil quality. Beans from lower, warmer regions tend to offer less acidity and richer chocolate and earthly notes, while those from cooler highlands gift us with sharper acidity and fruit-driven flavors.
“Coffees that boast a low acidity with foundational notes of chocolate, caramelized sugar, and nuts are naturally companionable with milk,” elucidates James.
Both James and Aaron agree that while blends are traditional favorites for milk drinks, single origins can also excel if their flavors are well-balanced.
“A light, bright, fruit-forward single origin can inject a delightful complexity into a milk beverage,” Aaron reveals. “Conversely, a deeper, more developed blend might achieve a more harmonious flavor balance.”
The choice of processing method is another critical factor, as it significantly influences the coffee’s flavor profile and thus its compatibility with milk.
“For a cappuccino that sings with fruity complexity, go for a naturally or honey-processed bean,” suggests Aaron. “But for those looking to spotlight chocolate and caramel notes, a washed coffee from Latin America might be best.”
Natural and honey processes enhance sugar development and fruit flavors, while washed processes yield cleaner and more defined profiles. Some roasters blend processing methods to create a more nuanced and rounded flavor suitable for milk-based drinks. “Each processing technique can be tailored for milk beverages,” he adds.
When it comes to the roast itself, the spectrum from light to dark significantly alters the coffee’s taste. Selecting the right roast profile involves a symphony of variables: origin, bean density, and the specific coffee characteristics you wish to amplify, such as acidity, sweetness, body, and finish.
Given that milk-based beverages feature espresso, roasters must craft profiles with espresso’s rapid extraction rate in mind to avoid underextraction, which could yield a sour taste that clashes with milk.
To address this, many roasters lean towards medium to dark roasts for better extraction ease. “Espresso solubility is key,” James emphasizes. “We often favor longer, more developed roasts for espresso than for filter coffee.” This approach allows sugars to caramelize thoroughly, fostering flavors that resonate beautifully with a spectrum of milks.
Enhancing Beverage Quality with Tailored Roast Profiles
It’s clear that specialized roast profiles for milk based coffee drinks are key to elevating the quality of the final beverage, but the question for roasters is how to optimize these profiles for the best results.
James reflects on their journey of fine-tuning roast profiles, “Initially, we tested filter roast profiles for our espresso, but the results were challenging to perfect. The espresso was too acidic, and the flavors failed to penetrate the bolder milk-based drinks.” “Eventually, we devised an espresso roast profile that really showcased the blend’s best features,” he continues.
On the other hand, Aaron points out the common oversight among roasters of neglecting their customers’ taste preferences while developing roast profiles.
“Diversity in customer palates varies widely, and if the goal is to broaden the appeal of specialty coffee, roasters should also weigh customer preferences heavily,” he notes.
James concurs, emphasizing the importance of context, “When crafting a roast profile for milk drinks, consider how it will be enjoyed. It’s also about pushing boundaries and embracing innovation.”
Roasters must also account for the various milks used in their establishments when creating roasts for milk based coffee drinks.
With the surge of dairy alternatives, recently underscored by the 2023 World Barista Championship’s updated rules welcoming these options, it’s crucial to adapt roast profiles accordingly. Since alternatives like oat, soy, and coconut milk differ in creaminess and flavor from traditional cow’s milk, each requires a thoughtful approach.
For example, the subtler taste of oat milk might pair better with lighter roasts, whereas the stronger profiles of soy or coconut milk could be balanced by darker roasts.
Roasting with milk beverages in mind is an increasingly prevalent practice, ensuring that coffee flavors not only complement but also enhance the milk—regardless of its source.
Aaron suggests a methodical approach for roasters aiming to perfect their milk beverage roast profiles, “Begin with a clear vision of the desired flavor in the finished cup. Develop your profile with that target in mind, then roast, taste, refine, and repeat until you achieve perfection.”