Most coffee drinkers choose their favorite brand, roast, and flavor then make a hot pot each morning. If we aren’t fans of brewing our own coffee, we pop down to the local coffee shop to grab a cup of perfection that’s crafted by a barista with more skills than we possess. Unless you’re a true coffee enthusiast, not much thought goes into the process of roasting the coffee beans we consume each day to provide us with the energy kick we need to navigate through life. There is one step in the coffee roasting process that most of us have heard about, however. This step is known as the first crack.
Given that the first crack is legendary when being spoken of, it’s natural that you’ve heard of it, but what does it mean? Simply put, the first crack is the popping noise a roaster will hear when the coffee beans are nearing edibility. Let’s learn a bit more about first crack and why it should be important for all coffee lovers sitting back and enjoying a cup of joe.
What Is First Crack?
Roasting coffee is a delicate process. Everything needs to be done properly for the resulting roast to be tasty, full of aroma, and go flying off the shelves as it should. No matter the type of coffee being roasted, 2 important stages, or cracks, take place. The first, is, of course, known as the first crack. This is when the moisture inside the coffee bean has evaporated, and steam is created inside the bean. As that steam builds, the pressure inside makes the bean crack open. Once this happens, the coffee bean is then able to shed its silverskin or coffee chaff.
The first crack is a sign of the beans being edible. For coffee roasters, this step in the process is called the first crack thanks to the sound it makes. It sounds similar to popcorn popping and alerts the roaster that the beans are nearing the light roast phase of the process. The first crack can be quick and loud, or slow and low depending on the roast being made. The time it takes to reach the first crack can help coffee roasters determine whether the beans they are working with are good quality or if there may be a defect that could result in lower-quality flavors.
What Happens Next?
For some coffee roasts, the process doesn’t go much farther than the first crack. Light roasts are typically finished at this point. That doesn’t mean the first crack is the only one. Yes, there is a second crack when roasting coffee. Medium roasted coffees will near this point, but it is dark roast coffees that typically wait for the second crack and the inevitable, yet the softer sound it creates. Many of your darker roast coffee flavors roast beyond the second crack to provide them with more prominent flavors. At this stage, care must be taken as coffee beans that are roasted too long can ignite.
Final Thoughts on the First Crack
The first crack is easily the most important step in the coffee roasting process. For those of us who simply drink our coffee without knowing how it’s made, this step in the process is something we’ve heard of but never truly thought much about. For a coffee roaster, someone who wants to experience everything the beans have to offer, this is a magical step. The next time you hear a coffee roaster mention the first crack and how amazing it is, you’ll understand more about what it means to them and the coffee you’re enjoying in your cup.
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