HomeRoast Digest

Topic: Altitude Roasting? (25 msgs / 600 lines)
1) From: Bryan Mannos
Hi Folks,
First post to the List, been lurkin & learnin.
I live in Salt Lake City, Utah and have been going through quite a few
roasts since having my HWP for about a week.  I'm having a doozy of a time
hearing that first pop.  I hear a few distingushed pops when the roast looks
a bit uneven, but it's not much.  Then later I can hear the constant popping
that kinda goes into a frenzy the will fade as things get pretty dark.  I
guess my question is:  When I'm hearing those few pops at first, the beans
"appear" to be city and on their way to full city.  Do I just have an
illusion of what city is? (very possible!)
Also, keeping true to the subject line: From reading the HWP review on Sweet
Marias regarding dial settings. It would seem that those second pops are in
mid steam with the dial at 4.5  This seems a bit dark for the setting and
was wondering if it could be my altitude? (approx 4500 feet)
Bryan Mannos - Precision  - whirlyblade - Capresso Aroma Classic - Pavoni
Professional (I know, Im gonna get a grinder soon!)

2) From: John Roche
This does not answer you question in the least but thought you might find
interesting anyway. I stumbled upon last night:http://www.lucidcafe.com/cafeforum/schomertable15.htmlall about the *Denver Effect" ie, high altitude espresso
Bryan Mannos wrote:

3) From: Hugh Solaas
Never fear, Bryan, so things just happen a little faster up at your higher
altitude.  I'm sure you don't even notice the difference when you're
Just listen for the "pop" of the first crack, notice the color and smell
when that is happening, and then do the same thing when the "rice crispy"
sound of the second crack arrives.  After a few times, you'll find out what
you like in a roast profile.  Just like cooking, it takes a little practice
doing it.  Don't be afraid to turn your HWP knob down some if 4.5 is too
high -- that's what it's there for!
You didn't say how your coffee tastes.  Are you getting good results?

4) From: Bryan Mannos
Thanks John and Hugh!
I must say, the link John send was a bit depressing regarding the espresso,
having a Pavoni Professional gives me doubts if I'll ever get that elusive
perfect espresso!  I read quite a few excellent sources on this machine and
have put a good amount of practice in!  Loading it up with Tom' Monky Blend
and I'm mostly happy with the results, just will never know if it's possible
now.  I am grateful for the link non the less.  Someday I'll get my nickels
lined up for that Solis. (or equivalant)
Yea Hugh, I was figuring on lowering the setting too.. Just wanted to make
sure I knew when that first crack was, but I have a feeling I'll know if I
underroast.  Your post was a great help.  The "rice crispy" analogy was
My first roasts were a Tanzanian Peaberry that was outright amazing... those
roasted funky (fast) becuase of their size, I did 2 batches... [gotta pay
more attention to Tom's guidlines :)]
I also roasted Tom's Moka Kadir to a true Full City.  What a unique taste!
Pretty complex that I could tell. Also roasted some Yemen Mokha Sana 'ani to
a nice medum brown (city I suppose) Wow!  It's like I just had a taste bud
operation. :)
Today I roasted some Timor and Pearl Moutain Estate, both again at Full
City.  Can't wait to try them tomorrow.
I'm almost to the stage of feeling comfortable enough to roast the St.
Helena bean!  (had to get some!, too beautiful not to taste)
Thanks for the encouragement Hugh, I'm having a great time learning this
stuff.  Sharing my beans has been a blast too...
And as far as Tom goes, what an artist!  Tom, you're a great example of what
the perfect business is about.
Ok, I've taken enough of folks inbox..
Thanks again,
Bryan Mannos

5) From: Hugh Solaas
Hey Bryan,
Sounds like you're doing just fine.  The sense of discovery one finds at the
beginning of homeroasting is the best part of the journey.  Have fun!
You didn't say what you are using for a grinder right now, but you did say
you were saving your nickles for a Solis ( the Italian side of my family )
grinder.  So, are you using a whirlyblade?  If so, start saving dollars
instead of nickels for your Solis.
A good grinder will take you to a new plateau with all your coffees and
brewing methods.
--Hugh Solaas

6) From: Hugh Solaas
Oh, yeah, Bryan,
I forgot to add, don't take that "mile high" espresso link too seriously.
While it is true that altitude might negatively impact some espresso
machines, the effect won't be the same for all of them.  Also, Mr Schomer is
a perfectionist, and what he considers "dreck" you might find pretty tasty.
At the very worst, you can take satisfaction that you will probably soon be
pulling the best damn shots in your town.

7) From: Robert Norton
I've been pulling off excellent shots at 4950 feet for years without any of
Schomer's problems. Some of them were better than any shot I ever got from
Schomer in his own shop. I suspect the operative statement in regard to his
problem in that article is in the first few sentences: "I built a new

8) From: Bryan Mannos
Thanks again Hugh....
I actually grabbed a Solis 166 Burr grinder yesterday! weeee..  I immediatly
noticed a difference, not to mention that my Pavoni actually worked :)
I spent a good 3 hours pulling shots yesterday as well, I believe I got a
good one down now!  Just gotta get consistant.
And thanks Robert!  You've got me by at least 500 feet there.  That's
I'm certainly getting more comfortable with the Precision now.  I even
roasted some St. Helena today, it looks soooo good!  Amazing how preped it
was, hardly any chaff.  I roasted it to what I think is a city roast on it's
way to full city.  I used dial # 4.
Some reviews: (all Sweet Maria's beans, roasted with the Precision, brewed
drip w/Capresso Aroma Classsic, Burr Ground)
Timor Aifu, Full City, 4.5 on dial, 24 hours since roast.
Not too impressed Im sorry to say.  I even spent some time to get intimate
with the cup, just didn't do it for me.  Seemed flat and ininspired, perhaps
that is what's meant by a balanced cup.  I'll go lighter on my next roast.
Indian Plantation - Pearl Mountain Estate, Full City (maybe agressive) 4.75
on dial, 24 hours since roast.
After cooling down a touch, this beauty was wonderful!  Had a nice body and
some acidity left with what I'd call a nice chocolate/spice finish.
Aftertaste was bliss.
Brazil Beridor - Acaia' Semi Washed, French Roast, 6 on dial (reached a tad
after the end of second crack)
I roasted this one twice, the first was what seemed full city (4.5 on my
dial) that was pretty bitter for me.  This latter roast was my first French
roast, didn't over do it and I was very impressed.  Had that wonderful dark
roast flavor with great body and a sweet chocolate finish. Very clean. I'll
do this again for sure!  (I know it's grown for espresso, but I had to brew
I'm new to this list, so if reviews have been done before and are considered
passe' please let me know, otherwise I'll be happy to post more results.
I've got a lot more testing to do!  (a lifetime I imagine)

9) From: Nora Hill
I've really enjoyed reading all the posts, and I've learned a lot just
watching.  I'm in Colorado (5k ft), and I also wondered if altitude affected
the roast.  The first batch I stopped at 6.5 minutes, and it was (maybe) a
city.  Made a pale and lackluster brew, at any rate.  The next two batches I
roasted for around 9-10 minutes, in a Poppery II.  They were dark, but not very
oily or black.  From this list, I know that a lot of factors affect roast time,
but it seemed very slow to me, based on the info at sweetmarias.  When I was
looking at gas cooktops, the salesman said that we get less heat from the same
BTU burner, because (if I recall), there's less air to heat up.  I wonder if
the same applies to air poppers?  Of course, you said you think it roasts
faster.  Hmmm.
I also read the article on the "Denver Effect" at lucidcafe, and I agree with
someone who believed this problem may be due to the phrase "I built a new
machine".  I have a Krups pump machine, and I've had zero problem getting a
perfectly acceptable cup with very nice crema.  None of the strange
effervescing he describes.  I fervently believe that with my *brand new* Solis
grinder (!) and home-roasted Monkey Blend (good!), I will have an even better
cup of espresso.
Nora Hill, Roasting Neophyte
Bryan Mannos wrote:

10) From: drg
   You will get a little less heat from the gas burner because there is less
oxygen available to the gas in the thinner air.  I suggest you go ahead and
roast a little longer.  The Monkey blend makes a great espresso and if your
Solis is adjusted right, you have a great grinder.  I recommend a darker
roast and coffees that take a darker roast for beginning home roasters.  It
takes a little development of the palate and more precise roasting skills to
appreciate and produce the subtle flavors gained from the lighter roasts of
those special coffees that Tom raves about.  I roast outside in a wok so I
can see and smell what is happening during roasting.  I have taken parts of
a batch out at as many as five different stages and it is amazing how much
difference you can get in the same bean at relatively small differences in
the roasting.  If I reach 102 I will be half as old as my house and if I'm
still going then I will still have room to experiment and learn about
roasting coffees.
   Jim Gundlach
       roasting in a wok
          on a wood stove
            burning oak
              harvested with a stihl
                 in shorter alabama

11) From: Bryce Decker
To Jum Gundlach,
        When you are roasting in the wok, what other equipment do you use
for stirring, cooling, etc.?
        Also, my geographical curiosity is piqued by "shorter Alabama".
What might that mean?  -Bryce

12) From: drg
   You can go to:http://www.sociology.auburn.edu/woknwood/wok.html   to get a look at my set up.  Shorter is the town, I live about six miles
out, and Alabama is the state.  You can take a look at:http://www.sociology.auburn.edu/jim/house.html  jim

13) From: Nora Hill
Thanks for the input.  Last night I roasted my second batch of Monkey Blend.  80
degrees ambient.  I got to 12 minutes, and it still didn't look very dark.  It was
a dark brown, but essentially no oil.  Plus (got a new thermometer w/the grinder),
the temperature in the popper never budged above 400 degrees.  The second crack
began (I think) at 6 minutes, temp At 12 minutes it was still at 400, and the
color didn't seem to be changing.  So I shut it off.  I had some espresso this
morning, and it was good, but I'm not sure my Poppery 2 will get the beans any
darker.  I may search for another popper.  But I'm also going to try less beans in
the next batch.  And maybe dissect the popper to make sure all heating elements
are firing.
(The lack of O2 for combustion makes sense, and that would make no difference to
an electric element.  Think it may be the popper.  Since I don't have a wood stove
;-), I'll start thinking about a Hearthware.  But I can get another popper to
experiment with in the meantime.)
drg wrote:

14) From: Nora Hill
Thanks, Paul, I'll try more beans.  I assume you have the same setup, where
the thermometer barely touches the beans?  But I also assume that the
temperature in the chamber should be indicative of something, if not the
actual bean temperature.  When you get maxed out at 400, do you consider that
a problem?  And can you get a slightly (or very) oily roast with a smaller
batch, with a bigger batch, or with any setup?
"J. Paul Sheridan, III" wrote:
Thanks for the input, Rafael.  *Something* different happens at altitude.
Gas water heaters and gas furnaces are adjusted for altitude.  You can't just
move one in and expect it to work correctly.  The ones in the stores have
stickers on them saying that they are adjusted, although I don't know what
the manufacturer does.  Back in carburetor days, you had to get your car
adjusted, too.  Not that I would ever rely on a stove salesman for technical
information, but they tell me that you won't get quite as much heat out of a
gas stove burner at altitude.  We're not talking half or anything, just to
expect a slightly lower output.  That's what they say.  What I thought he
meant was that there are fewer air molecules to move the heat from the gas
flame to the bottom of the pot.  Which may also have some applicability to an
electric element, too.  Then again, he could be full of coffee beans.  But I
think this is all pretty moot, because we're not talking about huge heat
differences.  But interesting, nonetheless.
cationic wrote:

15) From: Nora Hill
I used 2/3 cup.  It does swirl around slowly, but I'll try adding more.  At worst (I
hope) I'll have to stir it until they lose weight.
Don Puryear wrote:

16) From: J. Paul Sheridan, III
_More_ beans (not less) will get you a hotter batch in a Poppery.  But
remember to stir often...
Whenever I've roasted a small batch, my temp. tops out at 400, also.
Spunky Paul

17) From: cationic
No, the gas burner will not produce less heat at higher altitudes. Gas
burners are adjusted to burn under "lean" (fuel) conditions (excess
oxygen), otherwise the flame would be very yellow, sooty, and not very hot.
There is always enough oxygen in the air (even at Denver altitude) to
properly adjust a gas burner and have a bluish-white flame that burns all
the fuel, produces the maximum heat, and does not produce soot (partially
burnt fuel).

18) From: Don Staricka
What Rafael says is true. The only significant difference at higher
altitudes is a lower atmospheric pressure which allows water to boil at a
lower temperature. Since water can not get any hotter than its boiling
temperature the fact that this temperature is lower at high altitudes means
that it takes longer to cook certain foods. I doubt that this would have
much effect upon the roasting of coffee beans although first crack might be
heard a bit sooner (just a guess).
At 02:27 PM 5/5/00 -0400, you wrote:

19) From: Bryce Decker
Message text written by INTERNET:homeroast
   You can go to:http://www.sociology.auburn.edu/woknwood/wok.html   to get a look at my set up.  Shorter is the town, I live about six miles
out, and Alabama is the state.  You can take a look at:http://www.sociology.auburn.edu/jim/house.html  jim<
        That was an awesome response.  It sure answers all my questions and
gives rise to a host of others that are off topic for this list., like the
provenance of that old wood stove you use.   With the lid off, that open
round hole in the stove top is an ideal nest for the wok, and it strikes me
that it would be hard to beat  a wok for stirring beans in open fire
        I have always used flat-bottomed cast iron frying pans, mostly
because they were there and nothing else in sight served as well.  They
retain and radiate heat nicely, but the flat bottom gets in the way of
efficient stirring.  Keeping the beans in motion is one of the most
difficult things to get right in this kind of roasting.  Also, if you stir
too vigorously, or begin roasting after one too many drinks,  beans fly out
of the pan.   High-sided iron chicken fryers, which I used on one occasion
are better.  Using peaberry helps you roast more evenly, but they are
rarely what you have on hand  when your electric roaster burns out.
        On balance, I think you have hit on one of the best combinations
for open-pan roasting that I have encountered.
        Some other thoughts.  Few folks will be able to lay their hands on
an old iron stove like that antique beauty you use, or have a big yard to
put it in like yours,  but woks are easy to find these days.  Heavy ones
suitable for coffee roasting will be harder.  I suppose I would ask a
Chinese cook where to look for one, or check out eBay's Chinatown.  Then
you have the problem of a suitable fire for the wok, and a support for it,
which is essential because of a wok's spherical bottom.  I have seen them
used for gas stove tops.  But if you were using a wood or charcoal fire
under a wok, you would still need a ring with legs to hold it in place as
you stir the coffee beans.
        Thanks again for posting those pictures.   -Bryce

20) From: Michael Vanecek
I always just did 1/2 cup and it worked well for me. I know that's by
volume and not by weight, but then consistency is not a thing to be had
with a Poppery - each roast has it's own characteristic depending on how
much you stir it, how warm or cold the day is, type of bean, etc...
Since you're constantly babysitting it, it's fairly easy to get good
batches of coffee because you're always looking at it, smelling it,
hearing the cracks - seems to me its to commercial roasters or even the
HW or Alpenrost what a motorcycle is to a car...
Don Puryear wrote:

21) From: Don Puryear
How much coffee are you putting into your Poppery II? If your batc is
too small, you will lose too much heat t complete your roast. Try sing
enough beans so that they barely agitate at the beginning. The agitation
will increase as the beans become lighter due to moisture loss.
Nora Hill wrote:
Join AllAdvantage.com and get paid to surf the Web! Please use my ID 
(IET-946)  when asked if someone referred you. Thanks!

22) From: Rafael A
There is no such thing as "air molecules". Air is a blend of nitrogen and
oxygen (and a few other gases, which are present in small amounts). There
are nitrogen molecules and oxygen molecules, but no air molecules. In any
event, there are plenty of molecules to "move the heat" - even in Denver.
And, heat is moved by other mechanisms besides convection  (conduction and
radiation), so there is really no effect from altitude this way.
As I said in my previous note, gas burners are adjusted for altitude. The
adjustment is needed to compensate for the different level of oxygen in the
air. However, after adjustment, you can be sure that there will be enough
oxygen to burn the fuel that goes through the nozzle. A well adjusted gas
flame will produce as much heat as can be obtained from the fuel it is fed.
It burns in an excess of oxygen, even in Denver.

23) From: Nora Hill
Home roasters,
I apologize in advance for beating a dead horse that can't interest many (if
any) of you, but I just can't stand it any more.  If I don't respond to this
post, my head will explode.  Plus, I promise you I will not do this again.
Could you possibly be more patronizing?  I suppose you could have explained to
me what molecules are -- that would have done it.  Try assuming that I'm not a
complete idiot nor totally uneducated.  By the term "air molecules", I meant
the molecules that are present in our air, not a molecule named air.  I think
it's a perfectly valid phrase.  What do you think "air" means?  It's a common
word with a specific meaning.  Look it up.  For pete's sake, I think any
seventh grader who has not been sleeping through school knows what our air is
made of.  Having successfully passed seventh grade, and several grades after
that, I'm also aware of what heat is and how it is transferred.  I am a
scientist, by degree and vocation.  Part of my job is to communicate complex,
scientific information to technically savvy and not-so-savvy parties.  Although
I can be extremely precise, I'm not at work, so I thought it would be OK to use
phrases like "air molecules" and "move the heat", because they would get my
point across without making me sound like a pretentious prig.
I don't recall the post from you in which you said gas burners are adjusted for
altitude.  I must have missed that one.  In the post I responded to, you said:
"No, the gas burner will not produce less heat at higher altitudes. Gas
burners are adjusted to burn under "lean" (fuel) conditions (excess
oxygen), otherwise the flame would be very yellow, sooty, and not very hot.
There is always enough oxygen in the air (even at Denver altitude) to
properly adjust a gas burner and have a bluish-white flame that burns all
the fuel, produces the maximum heat, and does not produce soot (partially
burnt fuel)."
I was under the erroneous impression that you thought altitude made zero
difference to gas burner operation, but I don't see how you can maintain that
an adjusted burner produces the same amount of heat.  After further thought and
agreeing with your most recent comment, I believe that high-altitude burners
are adjusted to emit less natural gas.  This adjustment would ensure complete
combustion in an atmosphere that contains fewer oxygen molecules in a given
volume, or a lower partial pressure of oxygen, which is what I assume you meant
by "different level of oxygen".  Of course appliances at high altitude have
complete gas combustion, or we would all have died of carbon monoxide poisoning
long ago.  Since you don't think I have a brain in my head, I found a document
athttp://www.ruud.com/technical/PDFs/1404.pdfthat says:
"The amount of fuel required at sea level for a clean burn is not the same
amount of fuel required when the heater is installed in a high altitude
application. Balancing the fuel- air mixture is accomplished by doing one of
two things: derating the water heater or devaluing the gas fuel... Derating the
water heater affects only the heater and is accomplished by replacing the
orifice in the burner assembly [with a smaller orifice]." [Devaluing is
something the gas company does.]
I believe a smaller orifice would result in a lower heat output, because the
gas still has the same heat capacity, but there's less of it coming out of the
I'm still not convinced that my original premise is invalid.  This topic did
have application to coffee roasting at the beginning.  I'm using an air popper,
which heats coffee beans through convection.  Assume we have two identical air
poppers, one at sea level, and one at 5000 feet above mean sea level.  They are
both cranking away (I'm being figurative here, I know the air popper doesn't
have a "crank") under identical conditions (e.g. ambient temperature,
electrical supply).  The poppers are blowing identical volumes of air, but the
air at 5000 feet amsl contains fewer air molecules because the atmospheric
pressure is lower.  (Boyle's Law, which I'm sure you are familiar with, because
I do not assume you are an idiot.)  I think it stands to reason that the popper
at 5000 feet amsl will therefore heat the beans more slowly.  As I said in my
last post, I'm convinced that this is moot, because there are too many other
variables, like batch weight, that make a larger difference to the roasting
speed.  I first brought this topic up because I thought my roasts could be
progressing slowly because of altitude.  However, Paul Sheridan graciously
suggested I increase the batch weight, which I will try with my next roast.
That post was helpful and in response to the problem I was having.
You are welcome to continue with this topic, but this is my last post.  I get
enough condescension from coworkers, so I really don't need it from a
discussion forum on coffee roasting.
Rafael A wrote:

24) From: Mandy Willison
Nora, I am ( am idiot ie. I am not familiar with this bloke. I tried to
contact a Captain Boyle who lives down the road) but he wont email back with
any imfo on this.
-bean'wild! (who is, as I just roasted up some 'non Tom' beans and it had a
bloomin rock in it- those things kill grinders)

25) From: Eric Bear Albrecht
At 5:20 PM +0000 5/7/00, Nora Hill wrote:
Absolutely.  Oxygen molecules and nitrogen molecules are both air molecules
and even argon atoms (singly since they don't pair up) can be air molecules.
  Eric Bear Albrecht   ebear    W5VZB
"I can answer that in one word - you never know."
                  --Jauquin Andujar

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