Friday, May 11, 2007

Coffee Roasting--even for dummies

Alright, so now that school is over for my year, I have a little bit of time on my hands. So for the last few days I've been experimenting with a new hobby. And it's awesome. I, like the rest of the Ferry clan, love coffee. I keep trying to find ways to make my coffee better. Buying better coffee, storing it differently, better water, better grinder, better maker, etc. Throughout most of this I've been using the great coffee from Jittery Joe's, roasted here in Athens. But no longer. I have a new type of coffee. I now roast my own--right out on my back porch.
It turns out that roasting your own coffee is both cheap and easy. And really fun. Using a $15 air popcorn popper I bought at Target, I can roast any type of bean to just about any roast (though that part I am still getting the hang of).
I ordered three pounds of green coffee from Sweet Maria's--including a Kenyan, Tanzanian, and four sampler bags--for half the price of roasted coffee. I started with the Tanzanian, since I had the most of it (they sent it as one of the samplers, too). The first roast took about two and a half minutes. Way too fast. The second roast I was able to slow a little using Edward Spiegel's mighty fine tips on air popper roasting. The roast did slow, but only slightly. At this point, I waited a little but kept going at a little too quick of a pace (because I was just having too much fun). So the roasts got slower, but not as effectively as if I had waited for the popper to cool. The resultant coffee varied by degree--from a full Vienna or French for the first (which I purposely let go too far) to a light City to my first genuine (I think) Full City. By using various methods, I have found what seems to be a pretty solid method. I start with fewer beans (I still need a scale). I use a an open-ended can as a chimney to stop beans from popping out after what they call "second crack" (which is just what it seems like...the second time the beans starting cracking). I tilt the popper forty-five degrees until after first crack (again, just as it sounds like). I agitate the beans with a wooden spoon every five to ten seconds until first crack. And I have taken to stopping the roast right after second crack starts or up until thirty seconds into it (though I think I must wait longer--I just get scared of burning the beans when they begin smoking). With this method I have extended the roast time from six to eight minutes--a much better time.
So, the taste. Well, the resultant coffee was pretty mediocre at first. The first batch is still waiting, as I have little interest in trying it. The second batch clearly roasted too fast, as the beans were scorched on the outside while not roasted well on the inside. The cup tasted both burned and oddly "raw" and very earthy--but not in a good way. However, the second and third roasts got progressively better. Indeed, the cup I had of the Nkoanekoli last night was quite good. In fact, I think the roast I did yesterday of it will prove to be even better. While I'm thinking of it, one of the things I like about this (but would drive a multi-person coffee household nuts) is that the popper roasts just enough for my large mug of coffee, meaning I get to have a full individual roast with each cup. Nice. Anyway, I also roasted my first batch of Sulawesi (Grade One Toraja), an inclusion in the sampler bag, the first day. I had waited about two hours, so the machine was cool. This was clearly my best roast of the day and the most recent one I have tried. Indeed, I am drinking it now, which is what is prompting my post. I know Brian is a huge Sulawesi coffee fan and I had not tried it. So I was saving my post until I could try it (after waiting for the roast to degas about 24 hours). I see now why he loves it so much. The batch turned out terrific, even though it was slightly under-roasted (a Full City, when I wanted a FC+). The body is nice and thick. The acidity is noticeable but very low--just a nice touch. Best of all, though, is the incredible earthiness that balances it out. It is a bold coffee, but very well-rounded. A great cup. Now, it should be noted, though, that I have little to no knowledge of what I am actually looking for here. It tastes good and I know what I don't taste (winey character, bold fruit, etc.) more than what I do, but I would still say it is a great coffee.
I still don't think I've quite gotten the hang of roast degree, as I can't seem to nail the Full City+. And I certainly have no real palate to speak of. Nonetheless, I keep plugging away. And I know one thing: this is well on the way to being the best coffee I've had (thanks, of course, to the quality of the beans, not the roast).
Pictures of my set-up to come later.

1 comment:

  1. I am thoroughly and astoundingly impressed. You MUST bring the get up when you come to Cincy and give me a tutorial.