About 4 years ago, I was not a coffee drinker. I would drink it every now and then at Panera or Waffle House, but everyday? I didn’t want that vice. Then, my coworker and friend Justin started occasionally inviting me into his office for a shot of espresso. That was, as they say, the beginning of the end…
Justin had the espresso maker, a sweet vintage hand-crank coffee grinder and above all, he roasted his own coffee beans. He would explain to me coffee terms like “degassing” and “uniform ground size” as we drank. I thought he was a little intense about the whole process at the time. But the DIY’er in me thought it sounded pretty cool. And the coffee was better than anything I’d ever had. Eventually… I understood.
So, I started on my own coffee quest. If you follow me on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, then you have seen me post pictures about my coffee roasting adventures. They seem to get a lot of replies and likes, so I thought I would walk you through the process. Who knows? Maybe even inspire you to do the same. It’s cheap and fast and the flavor is amazing.
Before we begin on the process, here are the three “ground rules” for my coffee making at home:
1) Use fresh roasted beans. There is a noticeable difference between fresh roasted and store bought beans in both strength and complexity of flavor. If you buy coffee in any commercial venue, those coffee beans have probably sat in a warehouse/ridden on a truck/sat on a shelf for months. And with time , the strength and complexity of bean flavor dissipates. So for me, roasting small batches of my own coffee is the best way to go because the flavor is better. Period.
2) Grind beans with a burr grinder. Grinding coffee beans is pretty common practice nowadays. Even non-coffee-fanatics seem to agree that it leads to a more flavorful cup. But, if you want to take it to the next level, get a burr grinder instead of a disc grinder. Rather than using a blade to pulverize the coffee at high speeds like a disc grinder, a burr grinder uses a metal grinding wheel to slowly crush the coffee. Burr grinders create a more uniform ground size for balanced brewing and they don’t create a lot of coffee dust which can give coffee a burnt taste. They come in hand crank varieties (like the one I use pictured below), but you can also get them electric.
3) Eliminate paper from the brewing process. The paper filters used in most drip coffee makers absorb flavorful oils from coffee during brewing. So, I prefer the press pot (commonly referred to as a French press), where the coffee grounds are mixed with the water, allowed to steep for a few minutes, then pressed down with a wire mesh filter. There are other ways to lose the paper, though. You can buy reusable metal filters for most drip coffee makers. You could also go the Justin method and get an espresso machine. Espresso is just really concentrated coffee achieved through a modified brewing process that uses very fine grounds. You can drink it straight, but if it’s too strong for you, you can mix it with hot water or mix it with steamed milk and get an awesome cup of coffee. Any of these paperless methods will ensure that those flavorful coffee oils make their way into your cup.
And now, to the roasting!
Here are the coffee beans pre-roast. Coffee is grown and harvested in tropical regions all over the world. After the beans are harvested, the hulls are removed exposing the green beans. The raw fruit is then processed so that it can dry out. So, the beans are very hard, dense, and they keep for a long time. I order my beans from a company called Sweet Maria’s (www.sweetmarias.com). The guys that run Sweet Maria’s go to coffee farms all over the world to facilitate the buying of the beans directly from small scale coffee farms.I use a hot air popcorn popper to roast the beans. You can buy coffee roasting machines that allow you to roast a higher volume of beans and do it automatically. But they are expensive, ranging from $100 to $1,000. This popper was $20. Plus, I like the small batch and hands-on approach of the popper. I add 1/2 cup of beans to the popper, turn it on, and stir the beans with a wooden spoon until I reach the desired roast. The process takes 7-8 minutes.After I’ve reached the desired roast, I cool the beans. They need to stop roasting as quickly as possible. The built up heat in the coffee continues to cook the beans even after they are removed from the heat source. Since the transition from a light roast to a dark roast can happen in a minute or less with the popper method, getting the heat out of the beans quickly is a must. I use this old metal colander. It conducts the heat out of the beans and allows me to swirl them around, cooling them quickly.The end product is the coffee it’s more recognizable form. The beans need to rest for 24 hours in a partially open container to degas and to allow the flavor to fully develop. After roasting, there is a lot of built op CO2 in the beans that escapes as the rest.
Then, the beans are ready to grind and brew. This is my grinder. It has a lever inside that allows you to control grind size for different applications (press, drip, espresso) and it looks really cool sitting on the kitchen counter! Brace yourself… these run about $80-$100 (little different price point than the $10 Black and Decker). But coffee enthusiasts agree, don’t skimp on the grinder. You get what you pay for.
In our Keurig kind of culture, roasting coffee beans may seem like a worthless endeavor that takes a lot of work. But for me, roasting coffee is an art. Rather than taking a single serving approach to coffee, it’s a chance to create. So, roasting is half the fun! The other half; drinking amazing coffee that will make you excited to get out of bed and drink everyday.
The roasting process outlined above is majorly condensed in terms of detail. So, if you are at all interested in getting started in the process, there are lots of resources online to get you started. I (again) like Sweet Maria’s. Not only do they have a coffee store, but lots of articles on coffee roasting/preparation and a user forum that is packed with good threads.