Matthew Van Elkan is somewhat of an enigma, at the age of 21 he has been involved in specialty coffee for far longer than many of us that would casually call ourselves coffee fanatics. That wealth and depth of experience has led to him opening up Leeds’ second coffee roastery, Maude Coffee Roasters. I first became aware of Matt through his role as a barista at Mrs Atha’s, one of Leeds’ finest coffee shops, where he would regularly supply me with a chemex of a guest roasted coffee. It was clear even then that he was endlessly passionate about coffee and had more to offer than just a well brewed beverage and so he turned his eye to roasting.
On an industrial road heading out of town past the bus station, beneath trains ferrying passengers in and out of Leeds is an innocuous unit that looks humble and unexciting. As with many things in life though, its not what’s on the outside, its what’s on the inside that counts and what is on the inside is, well, wonderful.
Immediately you are hit by space, but your focus will eventually land on a Probat Probatone 12 roaster resting in a space that looks as if it has been curated by an art student. The outside had given me the impression that it would be somewhat more industrial on the inside, rather it was an airy space that felt calm and relaxed. It was early in the morning when I met Matt and both of us were in need of coffee, roaster turned on we headed into the adjoining space next to the roaster, that was equally pleasant on the eyes.
Here Matt pulled a couple of shots off the Nuova Simonelli Aurelia II T3 of his Colombian El Pital before putting his milk working skills to use. Wandering around the training space while finishing my coffee, I was impressed with the work that had gone into making this a wonderful working space that would be great as a teaching environment.
Coffee finished it was time to do some roasting. Today we would be roasting a batch of Ethiopian Wondo and a batch of Colombian El Pital, which meant grabbing some green beans and loading them in the roaster.
Matt’s Probatone 12 isn’t exactly a standard model, it has some extra probes fitted to it, which provide additional temperature information throughout the roaster. Temperature information is important to a roaster, as roasting when reduced to its basic elements is essentially the control of temperature over time. Matt combines this additional temperature information with Cropster a software program that allows him to record his roast profiles and monitor them in real time. What this means is that Matt can monitor real time feedback for temperature variables in the roaster such as bean temperature, the temperature inside the drum and exhaust temperature. Helping Matt to not only understand the temperature of his roaster but also the temperature of the bean itself, this information is displayed for him in a rate of rise curve on his laptop screen. This gives him a greater degree of consistency and control from batch to batch in replicating his roast profiles once he’s found one that works.
You might notice if you have browse of Maude Coffee Roasters website that there are no espresso blends and this has a lot to do with Matt’s roasting style. Matt sees himself as one link in a long chain of people responsible for bringing you a great cup of coffee and as such has a great degree of respect for every bean he roasts. Blending coffee takes two or more different coffees from different origins and different altitudes, with different roast profiles, meaning that each of those coffees is likely to end up with different levels of solubility. This has a large impact on brewing a blend, as each of the different origins are likely to extract unevenly. Matt’s philosophy which has been influenced by the likes of Scott Rao and Tim Wendleboe, is that if you develop a single origin coffee correctly it will taste great as single origin espresso or as a brewed coffee, as it will extract well under either brew method. For this reason Matt doesn’t currently blend coffee or roast for espresso, he roasts for development of the bean.
So what does roasting for development mean? Well I’d be lying if I said I fully understood what this meant myself. Essentially Matt is controlling temperature over time inside the roaster, which in turn has an effect on temperature over time on the bean. With each bean being of a different origin, varietal, altitude etc, the same temperature over time used for two different coffees would have a different effect on each. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts denser beans, usually those grown at higher altitudes, require more energy to catalyse the beans development. This system of managing temperature over time has an effect on chemical reactions happening within the bean due to heat and pressure, including maillard reactions, effects on chlorogenic acids and loads more sciencey sounding terms and processes. Getting a bit technical? Well roasting is a bit technical, that’s why good roasters deserve a lot of credit.
In more simple terms Matt is looking to follow some of the principles included in Scott Rao’s philosophy of managing development time as a percentage of total roast time. This is the length of time that elapses between first crack and when the coffee is dropped as a percentage of the total time the beans are in the roaster. Most of the coffees you enjoy, will likely have been roasted with a development time which is between 20-25% of the total roast time. Lets say a roast, from the beans going in to the beans coming out, lasts 10 minutes, if first crack occurs at 7 minutes and 30 seconds, then that coffee would have a development time of 2 minutes 30 seconds or we could say that the development time was 25% of the total roast time. Matt’s coffees land within these development ranges.
At the end of the day Matt like every other roaster is smelling his beans while they are roasting and looking at them for colour and other clues. Post roast he’s cupping them and making sure they taste great, all the things good roasters do as a matter of course. All the sciencey stuff is meant to aid the more instinctual nature of roasting. In the end all that matters is taste, but the technical stuff will help you to have a greater degree of control over creating an environment for flavour, sweetness, acidity, balance and body etc to develop in positive ways. Thats why roasters and baristas alike are interested in extraction ratios, not because extraction ratios in themselves are exciting, but because they have an effect on taste.
All of the above helps Matt to know when to drop the beans, to know when they have finished roasting, to know when they are ready. On a first roast its an educated guess, but once you’ve cracked it, so to speak, then its a case of using all the available information to replicate it again and again with consistency. In the end, taste and consistency are what matters to consumers. After dropping the second batch, the El Pital, we headed into the adjacent room for the important job of tasting the coffee, the best bit.
Matt grinds on his Mahlkonig EK43 and placing his Kalita Wave carafe brewer on his Acaia Pearl scale, pours water from his full R/O supply out of his Hario Buono gooseneck kettle to brew coffee he roasted himself less than five minutes ago.
Pouring out into to some rather fancy cups, its time to get the refractometer out to measure TDS values before we can set about tasting. Which is a good distraction to allow the coffee to cool a little.
Happy with the extraction ratio he was getting from the roast, it was time to taste the coffee and put roasting aside for a while, instead talking about how Matt had got into coffee and what path had led him to this point in his career. It’s worth noting that this might have been the cleanest coffee I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking, due in no small fact to the quality of water and brew method used for this coffee. Tasting sweet and fruity with notes of papaya and passion fruit riding on a ribena like base. Turning my attention back to Matt, who is originally from Leeds, Matt spent much of his formative years in Sheffield, where his first interaction with coffee was working at Bragazzis, it was here where Matt’s passion for coffee developed into a desire to work with coffee on a more permanent basis. Which led to helping set up Marmadukes in its formative years before finally landing a role back in Leeds at Mrs Atha’s. It was here he developed the relationships required to set up Maude Coffee Roasters, a project that he’d spent the last three months slaving over, in order to construct the roastery you see in the pictures above. Accomplishing all this by the age of 21 is enough to make any of us feel lazy.
I finished by asking Matt what was left for him, having accomplished all he had so far. Never one to stop moving forward, Matt was interested in establishing Maude Coffee Roasters as a training space for baristas, with the potential to open the roastery 1 or 2 days a week to customers, offering a short espresso and brewed single origin menu. Not content at stopping there, he had set his eye on competition, so dont be surprised if you end up hearing the name Matthew Van Elkan in connection with barista championships sometime soon.