Friday, June 16

Roast Some Coffee

I think we've all had enough of Starbucks for the little guy or make your own beans.

Are You Interested In Roasting at Home?
For the brave and curious, roasting at home is definitely feasible. It sort of begs the question, 'Why bother?' in the same way that sewing your own clothes does, but there are home sewers, too. And even though I don't rank myself among the particularly brave when it comes to craft projects, I have tried home roasting.

Check out Sweet Maria's. They've got a huge supply of equipment, information, and reasonably-priced green beans.

I have a home roasting machine from Swissmar called the Bravi. It's a fairly automated literally load up 8 ounces of green beans, select a roast level and then push the green button. With good quality green beans and several trial-and-error batches, you can turn out a decent finished product.

Careful control over time, temperature, and agitation is key to successful roasting. Guerrilla roasters use hot-air popcorn machines with a hole drilled in the top to insert a thermometer. Some put a single layer of beans on a cookie sheet and put it in a hot oven, or use one of those stovetop popcorn makers that you crank. You don't really need a machine like the Bravi to achieve a solid home roast, but it definitely helps. There are smaller, less expensive machines to be had as well.

The key thing in any roasting of beans, whether it's at home or at a factory, is to keep the beans from contacting direct heat for too long and burning. Keeping everything moving and controlling temperature is well left to a mechanism especially designed for the task, in my opinion. Home roasters generally heat things to the 525-600 degree F range. Commercial roasters, by contrast, start at around 600 F and can get as hot as 1000 F.

What Happens in the Home Roaster
What comes out first is smoke...and lots of it...and it keeps on coming for about 15 minutes. Mainly it's chaff that's burning off, the papery skin that encases green beans. The smoke that's produced by the roaster is very herbaceous and acrid at first, then it becomes woodier and more aromatic as the beans dry out and the fats and carbohydrates in the green beans undergo transformation into the aromatic oils we all love (and crave in the morning) so much.

Roasting near a window, having a powerful outside-vented hood turned all the way up, or doing it outside is key. The level of oil in the beans means that the smoke will stick to your walls for a while, set off smoke detectors, and drive your roommate or spouse can smell it for days.

Once the beans have been roasted to the level you want (which you have to determine through trial and error for the most part) they will need to cool and de-gas CO2 for at least 6 hours. Many people believe that waiting up to a day helps the flavor to develop fully. I've found over-night to be plenty, and since coffee flavors dissipate so fast, sooner is better than later to try a pot. Once the beans have rested, sock them away in an airtight container to minimize the loss of the aromatic oils you just worked so hard to create.

Just Want to Enjoy Something Amazing?
Here are a very few places I've been that stand out...

Blue Bottle Coffee Company in Oakland, California is a micro-roaster that's taking back coffee from the likes of Starbucks. They've got a stand in Hayes Valley in San Francisco where they serve coffee and espresso drinks, and they also have a cart the farmer's market at San Francisco's Ferry Building. They ship!

Barefoot Coffee Roasters in Santa Clara, CA are committed to coffee crazy...with a fair trade / organic let's do the right thing twist. Gorgeous capuccinos with amazing leaf-patterned crema and foam. Fabulous quality. They also sell roasted beans to the trade.

Spot Coffee is a phenom in Buffalo, New York and the surrounding area. They've got great quality beans and they also retail the home version of quality equipment. You've got to hang out in the Elmwood or Delaware locations to get the full's young mixed with Buffalo yuppie professionals. Some queer, some college, some laptops.

Intelligentsia Coffee
is the place to check out in Chicago. They've got a few locations, including Millenium Park. In addition to some of the most professionally prepared espresso drinks and lovingly roasted beans anywhere, Intelligentsia has a great website with lots of great information about where coffee comes from and how it's processed.

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