January 2, 2012

The Slowest Way To Make A Cup Of Coffee

There is a coffee roaster nearby and the wind often carries a deep, earthy, caramel aroma which sends us scurrying to Kafka's (nearer, better, friendlier) or our kitchen in search of a cup.

The thought of roasting our own had never occurred to us until we found a bag of green coffee beans in a supermarket in Mexico. Families there often roast their own beans at home in a cast-iron pan, and that seemed like a reasonable project for us to attempt, what with having harnessed fire and so on.

Turning to the ever-helpful internet, we found a good how-to on this site. While it was fun, it was also very smoky (setting off our fire alarm) and the dried skin/chaff went everywhere. Our batch of beans looked alright, but we were forced to conclude that roasting is also quite difficult, since the coffee we made tasted awful.

A few months later we heard about people using air popcorn machines to roast coffee outdoors, and this seemed like a reasonable project for us to attempt, what with having a big bag of left-over green coffee beans and so on.

A new 1200 Watt air-popper and left-over Mexican beans.

Another website provided very good instructions on using an air-popper. The two most notable stages of the roast are First Crack and Second Crack, where the beans make an audible 'tik' sound, as if you'd dropped one on a marble floor. Second Crack is the indicator that that beans are very nearly ready.

Here is how it went:

We let the popper run for a minute to warm up before adding the beans.
(We chose not to waste your time with a photo of an empty popcorn machine, but instead skipped right ahead to one with the beans in. Still with us?)

1 minute; chaff already starting to fly, but outdoors can deal with it.

2 minutes; colour starting to change.
Moment of panic as hot chaff went up someone's nose.

3 minutes

4 minutes; a delicious caramel aroma and lovely colour.

First crack at 5:15!

6 minutes

Second crack at 7:45!

Finished roasting at 8:45.

Cooling in a sieve.
Not the most even colouring, but a beautiful, coffee brown.

Fresh-roast beans need to "off-gas" for 12-36 hours, depending on what kind they are, so we kept ours in a jar overnight.

How was the coffee we made after all that?

Terrible.

Some research revealed that the quality of the final cup of coffee depends hugely (and unsurprisingly) on the quality of the beans. The reputation of no-name, Mexican beans was singled out as being particularly wretched.

Hunting for good, green coffee beans in Vancouver seems like a reasonable project for us to attempt next, what with having harnessed the power of hot air, and so on.

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