Talking About Roasting: Tuli Keidar, Mecca. Sydney, AUS
A while back now I got some correspondence from Tuli inquiring about roasting on a Probat UG-22 as well as a G90. It was some really inspiring back and forth about roast development and and different approaches. I was also extended a very generous offer to visit, one that I still need to take them up on. Tuli recently reached out to me again to share with me some of the coffees that he's been excited about roasting lately. Always interested in trying another roaster's coffees I gladly accepted and and a couple questions of my own for him. Photos by Mark Rose / The Vaka Project
CS: What's your scoop, Tuli?
TK: My name is Tuli Keidar. I'm the Head Roaster. The roasting company is called 'Mecca'. Mecca was founded 10 years ago by Paul Geshos. We roast on a Probat UG15 and a Probat G90, both refurbished and modified by US Roasters Exchange.
CS: How did you get into roasting?
TK: I became interested in roasting while working at a coffee cart at a nearby university. I was working as a barista in order to save up for a backpacking trip, but I found the rhythm and skills required to make coffee addictive. I started checking out the local specialty coffee roasters on my days off and eventually decided to make my own roaster. There's an online community called 'Coffee Snobs' that's popular in Australia which centres around home roasting. Using some advice from there I made a roaster that they nicknamed 'Coretto' - it's basically a domestic bread maker (you put the beans in the baking tin and it agitates them) and a heat gun, which I had attached to a retort stand pointing down towards the beans. I added a bunch of mods like a cooling system and I had a bean probe connected to datalogging software in the bean mass.
Sadly I had to sell it when I moved house, but it was pretty great!
My mucking around with roasting at home led me to get a job at one of Mecca's cafes where I started as a dish washer, then barista and eventually I worked my way into the roasting department, where I have been for the last 2-and-a-bit years.
CS: You sent 2 washed Ethiopia coffees, do you generally offer multiple offerings from the same Origin? If so, how do you approach them differently?
TK: It is pretty common for us to have multiple offerings from a given origin. We have been steadily consolidating the number of different origins we buy from. The majority of our coffee is bought through 'direct trade' style transactions, and after a number of years of steady travel, we've found a handful of origins - namely Kenya, Ethiopia, Guatemala and Colombia - offer a wide enough array of flavour profiles to make up the bulk of our year's inventory. However, we do supplement this selection with smaller purchases from other origins and through auctions like COE or the Esmeralda auction.
In relation to the two we sent you, the Ethiopian Dumerso and Duromina, I think that they are a great example of the wonderful diversity of flavour within origins. The Dumerso is a Yirgacheffe and it offers the classic tea-like florals and citrus profile that you'd expect from a great coffee from that region. On the other hand, the Duromina (from Djimmah) has a much creamier mouthfeel and displays both lovely florals and acidity that ranges from citrus to tropical fruit to dark berry, wine-like notes on darker roasts.
We try not to apply too many pre-conceived ideas onto a coffee before roasting it or marketing it. We will taste the coffee many times, get well acquainted, then showcase it according to it's own merits.
CS: How do your customers react to having multiple offerings from the same origin?
TK: I believe that the coffees we buy, even if they are from a single country, are distinctive enough for our customers to be able to appreciate them as their own entities. From my experience our customers tend to develop relationships with a certain lot of coffee, or a washing station/cooperative, not so much an entire origin.
We are going to continue moving in a direction where we put the washing station, cooperative or farmer in the limelight (alongside the variety of coffee) more so than the origin itself. I do believe that understanding what country the coffee is from is important because it helps add context and supports the narrative behind the coffee, but it is not the most important factor when it comes to a coffee's flavour.
TK: Whenever we use a DP coffee in a blend we are very cautious not to allow it to dominate the flavour profile too much. Fortunately, the Kochere DP coffee in the blend is beautifully prepared and displays minimal ferment or overripe fruit qualities, so even when it composes one third of the blend it does not dominate.
When it comes to roasting it, we've found that the DP Kochere is cleanest and most elegant at a fairly light roast level. If we go too dark with it, some ferment notes begin to enter the cup as well as a turpeny astringency. Consequently, it is the lightest roasted component of the blend.
CS: What do you love about roasting and what ideas around or concepts of roasting would you like to understand better?
TK: Man, there's so much I love about roasting. Just like with coffee making, I love the rhythm of it. I love how deeply absorbed you become in the smallest details of the roasting process, and the weird way that you develop empathy with a machine and with the roasting coffee beans. To this day, every roast is still exciting and scary. I also love the feedback cycle between cupping and roasting. It is so, so hard to make the coffee match your expectations on the cupping table. I think that's what keeps us all so motivated.
I still have a lot to learn in regards to the development of acidity in coffee. There are certain coffees that show amazing, complex acidity at roast levels beyond what we would consider appropriate for filter roasts. I would love to gain greater control over the acidity development so that I can access those flavours at a roast level that is still very clean and transparent.
That's just one of many facets to roasting that I would like to understand better. I don't think there is a single aspect to roasting that I understand to it's full capacity. That's both daunting and very exciting.
CS: With your roasts, are you trying to do something more unique in your market or are you producing roasts more along the lines of what your customers are looking for/expecting?
TK: Hmm. I think that our roasting style has always been dictated first and foremost by what we love to drink. Because this has been our roasting philosophy from the beginning, our wholesale partners have chosen Mecca at least partly because they share our coffee preferences. Ultimately, we try to make our coffees taste as sweet, balanced and clear as possible so that our customers can enjoy the personality of each coffee with no distractions.
When it comes to our espresso blend we try to walk the tightrope between having it produce a sweet and clean espresso while also having enough heavy, rich flavours present to allow it to work well in milk. This comes partly down to coffee selection and partly down to roasting.
The coffee scene in Australia is very different to the States because there is virtually no filter coffee culture here. It's all about cappuccinos, flat whites, lattes and espressos. This is both a blessing and a curse. We're able to roast our filter coffees fairly light and serve them to customers without them having too many preconceived ideas about how it should taste. On the other hand, not many people order filter coffee, so the entire notion is a novelty for many.
The concept of drinking filter coffee is still in its infancy here, but we are getting better and better at roasting and marketing it.