Tuesday, March 27, 2007

cafe post script

I wrote that coffee roasting post in such a hurry yesterday, I left out some important things. Here they are:

1.) I told you that a stopwatch was essential, but then I told you that you can't roast by the clock. So why do you need a stopwatch? Good question. And while we're asking good questions, how long does this whole roasting process take?

Depending on the type of beans, the darkness of your roast, and the temperature external to the popper, roasting time will vary but will almost always be under ten minutes per batch. Sometimes, when it's cold outside, it takes the popper longer to raise the temperature in the popping chamber to the level it needs to be for roasting. Other times, when it's hot outside, the temperature in the popping chamber goes up super fast. Thus, roasting the same beans to the same roast-darkness might take a full two minutes longer in winter than it does in summer.

As I explained before, you can only really judge your roast by listening for the cracks, but I use the stopwatch to help keep me focused. I usually roast four batches at a time (one after the other, obviously) and I generally don't sit by the popper for the duration of each roast. I used to, but over the years I've started multitasking because sitting by the popper for 45 minutes can be boring.

What I do is this: I hit the stopwatch at the start of each roast, but I pay particular attention to the first roast. I notice when it hits first crack and when it hits second. That gives me a rough idea where the roast will be at different points in time. During the rest of the batches, when I'm paying less attention, I can always check my watch just in case. If I'm in the house watering the plants and I lose track of time, I can check the watch and see that, since "x" amount of time has passed, the cracks I hear must be second crack, not first crack, so the roast must be nearly done.

Some people can tell by the smell when the roast is where they want it, other people can tell by the color of the beans, but nothing is as easy to track as the sound of the cracks.

2.) Once the roast is technically over, you want to cool the beans as quickly as possible or else the roast will continue by default. I dump them into a bowl and agitate them until they stop cracking. The Sweet Maria's site suggests you use a metal spoot to stir them and get lots of air to them. I just shake them and shake them in the bowl and probably don't do a great job, but it works for me.

3.) Contrary to popular belief, "fresh roasted coffee" is not brewed directly after a roast. You must wait AT LEAST four hours (and maximum 24) before brewing. Freshly roasted beans are giving off tons of carbon dioxide and if you try to roast too soon you will get bad results. All the carbon dioxide inside the beans will be fighting to come out, while the hot water is fighting to come in for the brew and they will sort of cancel each other out.

In addition to waiting to brew, you must also wait to store your fresh coffee in an airtight container until 12 hours after roasting, or the escaping carbon dioxide will have nowhere to go. I usually leave mine sitting in bowls but you could also pour it into a glass jar and just leave the lid off. As soon as 12 hours passes, seal it up tight because *that* is the secret to keeping coffee fresh: an airtight container. NOT THE FRIDGE. NOT THE FREEZER. Please, for the love of Juan Valdez, don't put your coffee beans in cold storage. It makes them stale. Put them in a tightly sealed glass jar, out of direct sun, and call it good.

Sweet Maria's website says if you follow those instructions, you can call your coffee "fresh roasted" for five days. I tend to roast enough to last almost two-weeks at a time and I can assure you that it keeps tasting really good until the very last day. Although, the first cup is always the best. Possibly because, on the morning after your roast, when your beans have been sitting with the lid off all night, your house smells like the best smelling coffeeshop on earth -- in fact, it smells so good, it's not like any coffeeshop on earth, it's like a coffeeshop in heaven. It's indescribable.

4.) Don't be afraid. The first time will be nerve-wracking and you'll be like "how can I tell if it's cracking? How can I hear the cracking over the noise of the popper?? Is it cracking yet??? It must be!!!" Just relax and listen and if you fuck it up, throw those beans away and start over. You might have to toss the first couple of batches until you know what you're doing, but if you follow my instructions you should be ok.

Resist the urge to stop the popper and look inside, or even to remove the little butter melter flap while roasting is in progress. For best roasting, the temperature needs to stay constant throughout. Interruptions fuck things up, although peeking in once in awhile just to see what it all looks like won't be catastrophic. But keep the peeking to a minimum.

Also know that roasting DOES NOT smell good. It smells bad. Your neighbors might call and ask if your house is on fire. You will NOT want to breathe the exhaust from the popper. Don't freak out when your roast smells like something slightly toxic: that's ok. You're smelling the result of a series of chemical reactions inside the beans. After the initial cool-down period, freshly roasted beans start smelling good. I usually leave them outside for about an hour, then I bring them in. Otherwise, they stink up the house.

There is a difference, however, between normal bad-smell and burning bad-smell. If you let the beans go too long (longer than ten minutes is a rough guide), they will start to burn, a thicker smoke will come out of the popper and the smell will be extra-bad and burny. Please stop the popper before it catches on fire. And throw those beans away. Charcoal is what you've got when all the coffee oils have burned up. Like I said in the last post, you just can't roast charcoal. Chuck that batch and try again.

5.) Finally, for more information on roasting or green beans or anything, you should check out Sweet Maria's. They're great. The best: Tom imports all the green beans, he goes all over the world to select them, and he gives lots of helpful information about them. The selection is enormous and always includes organics and free trade beans. It's awesome.

Happy roasting.


Post a Comment

<< Home