eli5: How do large scale coffee roasters coax the same flavors out of beans in each batch?



As far as I know, roasting the beans produces the flavors, so how do companies like Starbucks ensure every batch of beans they roast produces “Verona” and another batch produces “Pike Place”? Do they add flavorings? Different bean sources? Roasting process factors?

It just blows my mind that Starbucks, Dunkin, McDonalds, etc. can all produce such different coffee from the (same?) coffee beans.

In: Chemistry

this is part of the reason that starbucks roasts their beans so dark.

most higher end, smaller batch coffees tend to be roasted on the lighter side, since this allows the origin characteristics of the coffee to stand out most. these roasters are not aiming for a specific flavor profile or trying to match previous roasts, they are simply trying to take the green coffee and make it taste as good as it possibly can in the cup.

large companies like starbucks, however, are not catering toward a smaller specialty coffee clientele, they are marketing to less concerned consumers who only want consistency. in order to achieve this, a darker roast is used that will fry out any variabilities in the coffees year to year and produce a similar tasting cup. dark roasted coffees tend to be made from somewhat lower quality beans with less remarkable flavor since the actual flavor of the origin is mostly replaced by the flavors of the roast itself. lastly, the beans that they use don’t come from smaller lots like a single origin coffee would, they try to get a larger sampling from entire regions since this tends to even out inconsistencies from specific farms or localities.

hope this makes sense!

The more you roast the beans, the more uniform and consistent the profile becomes, but you sacrifice more and more of the identity of the bean. All the biggest brands all taste the same because they do the same thing to the same end – they buy and blend the cheapest beans they can get and roast it all to hell until it all tastes the same. It’s the only way they can distribute that much product with a consistent profile every cup.

The Starbucks examples you cite are both blends, though their origins are different, which is the biggest contributor how you could have any hope of telling them apart. Verona is also supposed to be 20% Italian roast – the only thing darker than that is charcoal.

A major challenge to mass produced food, of any type, not just coffee, is getting it to taste the same every time. Think Coca Cola – you open a can of Coke and you’re expecting it to taste a very specific way – open one a year later and you’re expecting it to taste *exactly* the same even though it’s the product of cooked raw materials. That’s not an easy task.

This involves a **lot** of quality control at every stage of the process from sourcing ingredients, to how each stage of preparation is done, to how it is packaged in the end.

This is not easy. To achieve this requires experienced staff, consistent producers of raw materials, development of processes to ensure everything is done the same every time, and industrial grade equipment and monitoring systems capable of achieving consistent results every time, along with systems for detecting when the result is incorrect.

This isn’t a home kitchen exercise – it’s a highly engineered process.

If they just put different names on the same beans, would anyone notice? Can people identify different Starbuck’s blends in a blind taste test?