All over the world, trendy cafes and their Instagram-worthy latte art and mythical-sounding coffee creations (“Unicorn Tears”, anyone?) are basking in the spotlight. For a certain class of java enthusiasts though, aesthetics doesn’t matter that much.
What does this cohort really care about? Things like, where beans are sourced from, how they’re prepared and roasted, and the various flavour profiles to expect from each cup.
They also want to easily produce that solid brew right in the comfort of their own home and this is where small batch producers like The Tiny Roaster come in.
The Tiny Roaster is a Singapore-based boutique speciality coffee roastery launched in 2013 by Alex Chong and Tiffany Chan. Their main purpose was to build and grow the local home roasting and homebrewing community.
“Our passion is sourcing and bringing in different types of carefully selected crops of coffees, and a variety of different types of coffees to share with our home coffee community, as well as educating our community on brewing and roasting great coffees,” says Chan.
What Makes Small Batch Special?
So, what exactly is “small batch, precision roasted coffee”, and why is it so appealing to some?
Small batch roasting ensures a more consistent roast. The process allows roasters to pay attention to the fine details and enables better quality control. This contrasts with large batch roasting, where it can be easy to overlook things that affect the taste of the coffee, like defective beans.
Another plus to small batch roasting is the freshness, which is due to the reduced time between roasting and packaging. Think about it: If you roast a 100-kilogram batch of coffee beans but only manage to sell 20kg a day, the last 20kg you sell will already be five days old, which is far from ideal. A small-batch roaster is more likely to do a new batch each day so that anyone who purchases the beans can be assured of maximum freshness.
For The Tiny Roaster, every new single origin is profiled multiple times during pre-production, and cupped, brewed, and extracted using several methods. It’s then tweaked until they find the most desirable profile.
At The Tiny Roaster, each single origin has a different roast profile, which is then replicated for each batch of that particular coffee.
“We roast our single origins in small batches of a maximum of 4kg only. Each batch of roasted coffee is then hand-sorted to remove visible defective beans. This minimises the chance of a taint in the coffee. Every bag of coffee bean order that our customers place is roasted to order, which means we do not keep and send out old stock,” says Chan.
Small-batch roasters like The Tiny Roaster often have the room to play around and experiment with roasting techniques to get different tastes and unique flavours. They are also a lot more transparent about the suppliers they work with and where their beans are sourced. These factors have helped make small batch coffee a hit with the discerning drinker.
“While coffees from places like Ethiopia are very well received and always sell really fast, we do enjoy bringing in coffees that are not so widely received [yet] – coffees from regions like Burundi, Tanzania, Nicaragua, which can have very unique taste notes like sandalwood, brown rice, and rosemary,” says Chan.
“They may not be the most welcomed flavours for most drinkers, but they are unique and it’s a different approach. We like letting our customers try more varied types of coffees and understanding how coffees from different producers, different lots, and different processing methods can taste so different.”
These days, many coffee lovers are eager to whip up their own cup without having to step into a fancy cafe. However, those that don’t do their research face a number of challenges. Chan explains that a lot of The Tiny Roaster’s customers write in to ask why the coffee they’ve brewed at home doesn’t taste that same as in the store, and why they just can’t seem to get the same results at home.
“This is a good problem for us really. It allows us to reach out to our customers to help them try to make better coffees through education. It can be as simple as adjusting a grind size, changing the brewing temperature, or understanding which method of brewing works for that coffee,” says Chan.
Picking Up Home Brewing
With small batch roasts so readily available, it also raises the question: “Why don’t more people roast and brew coffee at home?”
Chan points out the fact that home roasting and brewing is more of a hobby; if you’re not that into coffee, it’s simpler and more convenient to pick one up at a cafe. She also brings up the risk of producing bad coffee. “This is usually the biggest challenge. Doing it the first time is usually quite tough and that’s where a lot of people give up. You would probably not know where to begin and brew it anyway, resulting in some really bad coffee.”
But, as with most things, Chan believes it’s all about practice. It’s also about knowing your equipment and truly enjoying the learning process and discovering how to make a better brew each time.
Also, like plenty of other hobbies, they usually start cheap, and then naturally you’d start wanting upgrades. “Some of our home roasting customers started with roasting on pans and popcorn poppers. Then they finally made the move to an electric roaster, which can cost upwards of SG$2,000 to SG$5,000,” says Chan. “Simply stopping that itch can be quite a challenge too!”
Compared to just a few years ago, the knowledge of homebrewers has increased significantly and interest in home brewing has picked up. Chan notes that this has brought a higher demand for more premium, select coffees.
“Last year, we brought in some Panama Gesha from the Ninety Plus estates, as well as some Hawaii Kona from Greenwell Farms for the homebrewing community. This year, we will also be introducing more premium, prized coffees, and we will be offering these in smaller bags of about 90 to 150 grams,” says Chan. “Increasing awareness, building, and growing the home brewing and home roasting community will always be our priority, so all our future plans will be focused around this mission.”
Visit The Tiny Roaster to try some of their specialty roasts or to find out more.