We make holes in teeth!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Coffee Tastes Good

Warning: Like the Garmin post, this is very long. And I don't have a lot of time at work to edit so forgive the raw nature of the post.


Just curious how you go about roasting your coffee beans? What equipment do you use? How long does it take? and is there much of a learning curve? Where do you get your raw beans? Questions, questions, questions. This is mtbdawgJeff BTW.

Let me start by saying there are startup costs that aren't exactly tiny. So consider yourself warned. On the other hand I will never go back to not roasting my own coffee. It is my strong opinion that if you're going to do this you should drink it black because you won't get the full flavor with sugar and cream/milk in it. You're also entering a whole new world of coffee here. This world will ruin every other cup of coffee you ever drink. OK that's my preface.

You can get more than you need to know at Sweet Maria's. That's where both Cliffy and I get our beans. They also have equipment but you can find it cheaper elsewhere so use it as a reference but but at Zaccardi's or wherever. The first thing you need is the green beans which I generally buy in 2 pound bags from SMs. I find 1 pound too little to get a good feel and 5 too much if it sucks. You can get a good look at the selection here. Tom reviews and scores every cup he sells which I find helpful. I think Cliffy's tastes don't line up quite so well though. YMMV.

My suggestion would be to start with some basic stuff, maybe a few Brazilians, Columbians, and maybe a Costa Rican or two. I think the best 2 bags I've ever had came from Costa Rica and Columbia. The downside on all those is that they're pretty boring after a while. They generally produce consistent beans but you're not going to get real strong flavors, especially with the Columbian. You'll get a little more variety with Brazil but also a bit of harshness at times. Costa Ricans are probably the most consistently good of those. Also, I find the peaberry beans the easiest to work with in terms of getting the roast right. You can experiment with other regions like Ethiopia (yirgacheffe specifically) or some of the Indian coffees, but stay away from the monsoon stuff. I would limit experimentation though until you get your feet wet.

There are other online sites but none hold a candle to SMs in my experience. Just about nothing is in stock year around so if I find something I really love I buy a 5 pounder soon - the green beans keep forever, or 2 years apparently. Otherwise it will be gone the next time I order. Average price per pound is something like 5-6 bucks unless you buy Blue Mountain or Kona, a total waste of money since those beans are really difficult to work with and not really that great at the end of the day.

Then of course you need to roast. I started with a small and reasonably priced machine but it wasn't really cut out for the big time and it started to fall apart too soon. I then went with an iRoast and both Cliffy (I think) and my mother-in-law as well as sister-in-law and a friend of my mother-in-law have all followed. The roast takes anywhere from 6-10 minutes and the cool cycle is 4 minutes with that machine. So total time is 10-15 minutes and you get about 5 ounces per roast, maybe a hair more.

If you do roast you need ventilation. I do mine in the basement under a window with a window fan blowing out. If you have a super industrial kitchen fan that will also work, but it needs to be super industrial. If you do it out in the shed be careful when the temps in the winter because the roast will stall. As for the roast itself it will take you maybe a few roasts to get a start. You might nail a good one on the first roast and then never match it. That just happens sometimes. Plus you're always going to think those first good roasts were the best ever. There's a lot of good info at SMs on this and this page is a good resource for getting an idea on how to hit the various roasts. I would recommend starting with a city or city-plus roast which is just after the first crack, which is very audible and drawn out. The second crack comes fast and furious and if you're not careful you can make a lot of smoke very fast as the bean oils rapidly try to escape and start to burn. Generally you're in throwaway territory then. Or Spanish coffee which is like liquid coal.

The roaster is going to cost you in the realm of $175 if you get that one. After I roast I put the beans in a reasonably airtight container, I have a small beehive white ceramic sealed jar. I think SMs say you should air them out but in my experience this does no good. The opening and closing of the container you store it in plus the fact it's probably not really airtight give it plenty of "breathing" potential. I find it tastes best 2-4 after I roast.

After you roast you need to grind. Now that we're in the wonderful world of good coffee you don't want a blade grinder. You want to pony up for a burr grinder, one that is easy to clean. I'll leave that step up to you but in general you'll need to drop at least $50-100 to get a good one. I think I found a Capresso grinder on sale for $50 before I bought a far too expensive model when we got the espresso machine, the next natural step in the coffee addiction. On grinders, the thing is that coffee beans are really volatile and if you grind it with a blade it gets hot and bad things happen to the taste at that point.

Then there's the brew. If you have a drip pot that you can't clean completely it's probably not really worth it. I have a french press and IMO it makes coffee so much better than drip that we don't even have a drip pot in the house anymore. We now have 2 different french presses, a small one for single cups and a big one for up to 3-4 cups. You can clean every single piece of it or put it in the dish washer. No rancid oils ever build up. But if you go french press, never ever ever drink the last sip. That's where all the super fine grinds collect at the bottom of your cup.

The process might seem involved but it's just the way we do it now. And once you start getting a good taste for it you'll see why you need to be so particular about all the details. If I don't wash the press completely before I brew - I mean even if I brew 5 minutes after my wife - I can taste the oils going bad from her brew. If you grind and then brew it an hour later, the quality isn't as good as it could be. If you go too far into the roast the flavor starts to change rapidly. Over the first few days the flavor will start to change. There are all kinds of little variables that can change the way it tastes. This is why you will never get a cup of coffee that's not either stale or overroasted. Starbucks standardizes their stuff this way, by overroasting their beans.

So if you're the kind of guy who likes the same cup of coffee the same way day in and day out, this is probably not something you'd want to do. If you enjoy the unknown here and can accept that you might never be able to nail that perfect cup of coffee but love trying, I don't really think you can go wrong. No, actually you can't go wrong.

In terms of cost, you need to drop the money on a roaster. And of course you need to buy some beans but you presumably buy coffee already so it's a wash there. The grinder is probably the least important of the details for day 1, especially if you do use a french press. But eventually you probably want to get a decent one that's not to hard to clean (very important, the ability to clean). And a french press can be had for less than $20. If you put together a bunch of stuff on EBay I'm sure you can get a lot of it cheaper as well.

Personally I think it's totally worth it and like I said, I would never go back at this point. I mentioned above that you really can be all over the map with the way it comes out. But I think the worst cup I've ever made is still better than the best cup of store bought coffee, be it brewed or ground or whole beans. I've never found a "freshly roasted" coffee that's remotely close.

As for learning curve it's really not that steep. If you overroast you probably end up tossing it and starting over in 2 hours when the machine cools off. If you underroast it gets tricky because you really don't know it until you've had a cup or 2 and it's just overly sour. You'll quickly learn by the cracks and the color of the bean what you're doing.

That should be a good amount of info to get you started. Maybe Cliffy has some input on what he thinks, since he's pretty much in the same boat I am with all this stuff. If you're interested further I can answer more questions or find a way to get you some roasted beans to try. Or you can come over one day and check it out, since you probably drive by my house on the way home every day when you pass exit 30 on 287.

Yes I still ride my bike. Maybe tomorrow I'll talk all about it.



  • At 12:32 PM, Anonymous Jeff said…

    Wow thanks for the detailed write-up. I am already partially sucked in to being a coffee snob... I already have a burr grinder and discovered the french press a few years back. I even have a small one at the office so I don't have to drink cafeteria coffee.

    So, the investment for me would be the roaster itself. And finding a place to use it without setting off the smoke alarms. Even my basement is wired with alarms, so I'm not sure thats an option. (Side note: the smoke alarms are all linked and deafeningly loud throughout the entire house, and my 'brave' german shepherd dog acts mental for a week after it goes off. So I don't want to trip the alarm making coffee). My kitchen vent is nothing special so I'm sure that won't cut it either. There is always the garage, but thats the same issue as the shed in the winter. I have to figure out where to use the roaster before I take the dive.

    Thanks for taking the time to type this. Everything I needed to know before taking the plunge. I'll peruse those web sites when I get a chance.

  • At 2:20 PM, Blogger Steve said…

    damn you, damn you, damn you. i stopped reading at about $300 into your post. *how am i going to to get this past meghan?* shaggz ponders....


Post a Comment

<< Home


Accommodation in aviemore