Coffee Doesn't have to suck...
Where this all started:
One of my early jobs was at a manufacturing firm that made custom car stereo parts. The boss always had this strange contraption in his office that would pour the most amazing coffee ever. I found out this device was called a French Press, and I quickly ran out to the local housewares store to get one. It was a strange device with a plunger, that had a screen on it. This plunger fit snugly inside a glass carafe. I bought a bag of whatever coffee beans I could find on my local grocer’s shelf. I rushed home, followed the instructions on my newly found toy, and made my first pot. The coffee was good, but didn’t have that magical taste that I always had in the boss’s office. The next morning I watched for the boss to come to work, and quickly hurried into his office. “Dave, I’m sorry to bother you, but I wanted to know what kind of coffee you use in your French Press?” He had this chuckle he would always give off when something interested him. Classic cars, and Architecture would always start him on a history channel like delivery of stories. Apparently Coffee was another of these obsessions. He handed me a book: Coffee Basics by Kevin Knox and Julie Sheldon Huffaker. He then went on to explain how most commercial roasters ruin coffee by buying beans from multiple different areas, and then roasting the snot out of them. Essentially turning them all into charcoal. I indulged his story (now going on for an hour) especially because he kept pouring more and more of this awesome full-bodied coffee. I agreed with him this all made sense, and said “Yes, Dave. But where do you buy your coffee?” Again the Dave chuckle. “I don’t! All commercial coffee sucks!” He exclaimed with a sip of coffee reminiscent of Captain Picard drinking his tea. I was thoroughly confused. He then went on to say “I roast my own coffee. I buy green beans and roast them myself.” I was intrigued.
What follows is what he proceeded to teach me that night at his house. I’ve made a few modifications to his original instructions. I’ve read about 2 dozen books on methods, and practices of roasting. You can accomplish a roast in many ways. From multiple thousand dollar machines, to his current method, using a giant cast iron skillet over his gas grill. I have owned more home roasting machines than I care to put in writing. I currently have two. I have the SR500 home roaster, and the Gene Cafe Drum Roaster. I think the Gene is great, but it’s VERY expensive.
The SR500 is just under $200 US and will save you that much money in a year of roasting. It is an awesome roaster, has a few small
flaws, but will consistently produce a great batch of beans. The only down side is that it’s 8oz output means the SR-500 home roaster multiple small batches. The adjustable fan speed is nice, but any speed aside from high might as well be an asthmatic blowing on you through a straw. The device does consume a lot of power, and should be on it’s own circuit. I wouldn’t run it on a circuit with a toaster running at the same time. You will be running to the breaker box. The SR-500 home roaster is a great home roaster, and the perfect starting point for new and well versed home roasters. This is my go-to roaster for quick batches.
Now onto the Actual Coffee Beans
As is everything else on planet earth, great coffee beans are available on the internet. You can buy beans from anywhere in the world that they are produced. I am not using the Rob factor when I say that I have had at least 50-60 different varieties of green coffee beans. I love beans from Costa Rica. I’ve cupped beans from Costa Rica, they really stand out. It has a nose of tropical fruit in the dry grounds that is accentuated by a floral sweetness. Spiced plum, peach, mango, and tamarind, provide a “heaftyness” to the wet grounds, and a sweet, raw macadamia nut note comes up off the break. I take this coffee just under Full City, bolstering body, fruit juice, and harnessing a sweet finish. At this roast level, the cup has blackberry, blood orange with an underlying taste of toasted pistachio nut. The combination is quite delicious and tastes of Turkish Delight candies. This coffee is sweet all the way through to the finish, with a tasty chocolate syrup and maraschino cherry finish.
For the purpose of this blog I will be showing you three of my ‘daily’ beans that I keep on hand in house. I keep beans from Costa Rica in-house when I can get them. It’s one of the more difficult regions to consistently get beans from. There are a number of US distributors that can get these beans but it is hit or miss. But if you can get it, you will be rewarded with one of the BEST cups of coffee you’ve EVER had.
These three beans are some of my favorites. I love the Sumatran beans: Dry, fruity sweet notes, with a bit of spice, low acidity and a dense cup. Roasted to City+ or Vienna this coffee will quickly become one of your favorites too.
Three different varietals
The Brazilian bean offers a flavor of sweet tea with hints of tangerine and nutty roasted tones. Take this past City+ to Full City and you will be delighted by tastes of cocoa powder and blackberry. The Ethiopian is the bean we will roast today. We’re going to go just before Full City RoastMedium dark brown with occasional oil sheen, roast character is noticeable. At the beginning of second crack. This is a common roast level for espresso blends. This roast will produce a moderate brightness with peach notes, and floral hints. A chocolate roast taste and dense body. Will still stand up if we take it just a bit darker and notes of lemon will start to emerge.
Now we ROAST! There are a couple of things you need to know when it comes to roast, know what happens at each stage of the roast. You have a couple of different descriptions and terms used. As the roast comes up through the thermal ranks you cross different barriers. The first barrier you will cross is 380-400 degrees Fahrenheit this is the “First Crack” and this roast is rarely used. It’s called the ‘Light Brown/ Cinnamon roast’ the roast is very light and will produce a grainy sour cup at this point. The next level is called ‘Medium light Brown/ American’ this is a very common roast in the Eastern US. The acidity in the coffee is VERY high. Now we cross into the 415 degree thermal range and the ‘Full Medium Brown/ City’ Roast. Acidity is still very high but the sweetness is starting to increase. This is a common roast in the Western US. We also will now start hearing the second crack. When I hear the first few beans start to cross this temperature through
the second crack. I wait 2 minutes to make sure all of the beans are just crossing the second crack stage and then quickly start cooling the beans. Getting the heat off the beans when they’ve reached the roast stage you want is crucial. I get the beans out of the roaster as soon as they have been in the cooling cycle of the roaster for 2 minutes. I have a metal pan that is from my toaster oven that works perfectly for this. What about other roast stages? We cross the second crack into Full City/ Viennese/ Light French. The beans get a slight oily surface on them temperatures are now in the 435-445 Fahrenheit area. The Acidity starts to drop and this roast will be a VERY FULL bodied coffee. This roast is common in the Pacific northwest. From here we cross into Dark Brown/ French/ Espresso roast. The beans take on a shiny surface and temps cross to 445-460. Acidity is very low now and the body of a cup is very full. This is a common roast for France and Italy. The other misconception of coffee is that the darker the coffee the higher the caffeine, which is incorrect. The darker the roast the less caffeine in the cup. So Espresso roast beans actually have less caffeine per bean than a Cinnamon roast. We then cross into Very Dark (nearly black)/ Dark French/ Spanish. The bean is VERY shiny now and temps approach 500 degrees. Acidity is very low, and the body of coffee becomes very weak and the aroma is mild. Burned tones take over the taste of the cup. You’ve essentially turned your coffee into charcoal.
Now back to the cooling beans. It’s best to wait at LEAST 4 hours after the roast before attempting to brew. 24 hours is best. I have
some beans from an earlier roast and will proceed to show you how I achieve what I think is the PERFECT cup. First start with the water you use. I live in DC and therefore my tap water has a similar flavor to the swimming pool in my building. I therefore use filtered water. If the water you use doesn’t taste good on it’s own, it’s not going to make good coffee. There are many ways how to boil the water, from microwave to electric kettle. I prefer an old school tea kettle that heats on the stovetop. It makes hot water with the least trouble, but you can use whatever method you prefer.
Let’s approach this using the Coffee Press or ‘French’ Press: the manufacturer of these devices measures a cup of coffee as 4 ounces. The scoop that comes with the device is sized accordingly, holding 7 grams of coffee. So for 8 cups of coffee we will use 2 dry weight ounces of beans. This amount conveniently is the basket of my blade grinder. I eventually will purchase a burr grinder to make a more even grind, but I feel that I have many more uses for the 175 dollars the burr grinder takes to bring home. Grind your beans, I tip my grinder from side to side and this seems to produce an even grind. Pour the grinds into your brewer. Please make sure your brewer is clean. I always leave a few inches of water in mine so that any residual coffee oils on the screen don’t go rancid. I add a pinch of Kosher salt on top of the grinds. This helps knock down the bitterness of the coffee.
Once the Water is at a boil, pull the kettle count to ten then pour an ounce of water over the grounds stir the grounds to hydrate them. Now fill the brewer 85% full and put the plunger in. DON’T PUSH DOWN yet. Wait 4 minutes. This is the ideal time for the extraction of the coffee goodness. Once four minutes have passed push down, slowly, it should take you 30 seconds to reach the bottom. Now grab your favorite mug, and pour what I will bet will be the best cup of coffee you’ve ever had. I will warn you. This has now ruined all other coffee on the planet for you, and when you have something similar in a shop, you will know that the person in the back has the same exquisite taste for coffee you now share.