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Roasting Your Jolt
(Food #14, March 14, 2005)

my jolt

   When I was a little boy I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. I remember their kitchen and dining rooms particularly, because of their smell: "brown": the aromas of garlic, lamb cooking, and coffee. It all mixed and seemed to match the brown jute cord rugs, faded ivory wallpaper, the rich golden furniture with brown wicker bottoms, my Grandfather's khaki pants and work shirt and brown hat and shoes, and usually a bowl of unshelled pecans on the sideboard.
   Daddy told me that their house was the same when he was a boy. He also told me a little story that has stayed with me all this time.
   "Mama bought our coffee at the Cotton Bowl Market. It was peaberry coffee; all the beans were green in those days. She brought them home and roasted them in a big flat pan in the oven.
   "It was my job to grind the beans every day. She roasted and I ground. It smelled great! When they started selling roasted, ground coffee Mama stopped roasting and I stopped grinding."
   I could picture what it must have been like, because I remember Grandma's huge black cast iron stove with the white china burner handles and the little hand crank box grinder with the tiny drawer. They were there while I was growing up.
   Today Grandma's house is gone, replaced by a big Federal building. But her furniture is in my house, and it constantly reminds me of my childhood in her dining room. For the rest of my life I've remembered Daddy's little description of coffee making for the family. I think it's such a powerful memory for me because it's forever linked to the memory of the wonderful "brown" smell of Grandma's dining room.







grandparents

PR grinder
My $3.95 coffee grinder

   Years later I found a grinder like Grandma's in a hardware store in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was brand new, made in Germany, and it cost only $3.95. This seemed very low, but I supposed these were common household items in Puerto Rico. I couldn't pass it up. I bought one and brought it back to the States. I've used it and an electric grinder from Braun to grind roasted beans all these years.
   Last December I noticed that several companies on the web sell green coffee and offer lots of advice on roasting. With shipping, the cost of Internet coffee was a little steep. I was about to pass it all by when I discovered a small coffee roasting company in Sharpes, Florida, only a few miles north of my home. The proprietor, Bill Hoffart, assured me he would sell me green coffee at a reasonable price. And he'd advise me, too.
   Could I do at my house what Grandma and Daddy had done in the ‘30s?
electric grinder
My $50 Braun coffee grinder
coffee
Coffee-A Guide to Buying, Brewing, and Enjoying
by Kenneth Davids

espresso
Espresso-Ultimate Coffee
by Kenneth Davids
Roasting Coffee At Home
   After my visit to the coffee store, on Bill's advice, I ordered a book on home coffee roasting and two others that looked interesting:
   The books arrived from Amazon.com along with the hurricanes. I had a lot of time to read, but no way to actually make coffee. Well, at least not until after a week without electricity I cranked up my Coleman camp stove and made coffee and grits every day. It was primitive, but at least I felt human again.
   The author of the books was clearly knowledgeable and experienced, but he was also a little prissy. I like coffee. I want to drink and enjoy it. I don't feel I need to build a whole life around it. The author clearly thought I should. But author Davids said I could roast my own coffee; my Grandma had done it; I could too!
   After the storms I went back to the coffee store and bought a pound each of two kinds of green beans, Brazilian, which Davids says is a good blending base, and Costa Rican, which he says has a very complex flavor. For my first roasting test I would make a batch of each. Coffee roasters looked expensive: $100 to more than $500. Grandma used a flat pan in the oven. I decided to do my first batch in my old popcorn popper.

roasting
Home Coffee Roasting-Romance & Revival
by Kenneth Davids

coffee on my Coleman
I could have coffee during the hurricane

   I was tired of bitter French roasts. After reading a little on the subject I decided to try a lighter roast than I usually use. The book said I'd taste more subtle coffee flavors than with a darker one. I'd also have more caffeine.
roast variations
Coffee color variations during roasting: 1. green; 2. just starting; 3. first crack;
4. medium for me; 5. medium dark for me

   When green coffee beans roast they slowly turn from green to yellow to tan to brown. At an early stage in the roasting they make a sharp cracking sound (called "first crack"–original, no?) In coffee roasting first crack is a key event indicating the conversion of some internal chemicals to complex sugars. The coffee's personality starts building here. "Second crack" comes later, just before you've gone too far. It's not as pronounced as first crack, maybe a rustling sound. I wanted to avoid second crack.
   From first crack I counted minutes until the beans were the color I wanted, a medium cappuccino brown. At that point I turned off the popper and poured the beans into a wire basket for cooling. I tossed them in the air repeatedly and a large quantity of chaff came off and drifted into the sink. When they were comfortable to the touch, I poured them into a shallow pan and then into a plastic cup.
   Davids said that it takes several hours for the flavor to develop in the roasted beans, so I smelled them–no better than supermarket coffee! Two hours later, after some chores, I opened the Costa Rican and took a cautious whiff. It had completely changed; it was wonderful, round, and full; better than any coffee I'd ever tried before! The Brazilian was great, too, but completely different. The appearance had changed slightly, too. The beans were dotted with tiny shiny spots on the surface. It looked like oil spots. Davids said this was good. I ground two tablespoons and made a small pot.
   The medium-roasted Terrazu had a sharp acidy taste, just as Davids said it would. It was the first coffee I'd tasted in months that had a really interesting flavor.(1)
   I was hooked, and I could easily get hooked on the distinct caffeine jolt this first cup had. It was going to be a great daily wake-up coffee.
(1) For almost a year I've had braces on my teeth. They're really uncomfortable, and they've reduced my ability to taste subtle flavors in food. For all this time, coffee has tasted bland.
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