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The Joy of Home Coffee Roasting

Coffee.  It is one of the subjects I enjoy discussing way past the tolerance level of many other people.  In fact, I chuckle inside when I hear someone order a Carmel Macchiato at Charbucks Starbucks and refer to themselves as a coffee snob.  I digress.  Let me open the doors of coffee in my world to you.

Several years ago my wife and I went on a vacation to the Big Island of Hawaii.  As many of you know, Kona Coffee is thought to be some of the best coffee in the world, and it is grown right there on the Big Island.  While we were there, we took a tour of Greenwell Farms, something I highly recommend.  I learned more about coffee that day than I thought there was to learn, but the biggest lesson came at the end of the tour.  Our guide walked us back to the area where the tour started, and we stood by a table with several coffee pots.  He invited us to try some of Greenwell Farms coffee, which I was glad to do.  As I poured my cup and began to put sugar and cream in it, our guide said, “Wait!  Don’t ruin my coffee with that stuff!”  I explained to him that I liked my coffee like candy, and with a horrified look he shared with me that this was simply because I had never had good coffee before.  Being the good guest, I reluctantly listened to him, knowing full well I would have to doctor it up if I wanted to drink it.  LOW AND BEHOLD, I was wrong!

Honestly, friends, this was an eye-opening moment for me.  I had drank coffee much of my life, and my entire adult life.  I cannot recall ever enjoying black coffee prior to this, but WOW, that was a good cup of coffee!  Naturally, I thought that this must be because Kona coffee is so good.  That indeed is partially true, but that is not the only reason, nor is it the biggest reason.  Our guide explained to me that the two reasons most people do not like black coffee is because it is often burnt, hiding the natural flavor of the coffee bean, and because it is stale.  He then told us that contrary to popular believe, the freshness of coffee has little to do with when it was ground, but it has much more to do with when it was roasted, and if it was roasted more than two weeks prior to the date you are drinking it, it is likely stale.

The stale part intrigued me, but not nearly as much as the burnt part.  After all, a friend of mine who is a self-proclaimed coffee snob would tell me that good coffee is always very dark.  He would also rave about the quality of Charbucks.  Oops.  I did it again.  Starbucks.  What I began to find is that he, like many others, has been brainwashed by clever marketing.  You see, a good light roast of coffee is diffult to do, and almost impossible in a large commercial environment like the nationwide coffee chains.  Therefore, they market the “quality” of a dark roast.  It is really all they can do.  Before you interrupt me and remind me of the Blonde Roast, you should know that this is not a light roast.  It is just lighter than their other roasts.  I could go on about this, and perhaps I will in a later post, but for now I will leave it at this: the wonder of a good, light roast coffee is something most people have yet to experience.

After this trip to Hawaii, I was determined to find good coffee that I could afford.  The truth be told, I love Greenwell Farms product.  In fact, I encourage you to try it – you won’t regret it.  I will never forget that first cup of good coffee, but it is not something I can afford to drink daily.  It is expensive to purchase, and expensive to ship to the mainland USA.

After much exploring, I found that there was NOTHING on the shelves at the store that fit what I was looking for.  Coffee labeled as Kona Coffee was just a shadow of the real thing, containing only a small percentage of Kona Coffee.  Finally, I decided that there may be a market for good, fresh-roasted coffee, so I began looking into a coffee roasting business.  While looking into this, I found that it is practical for a person like me to home roast my coffee.  I found a good supplier, Sweet Maria’s, and ordered my first batch.

I decided to take the rustic approach, and looking back I am not sure this was the best approach, but I still use it today.  I roast my coffee using an iron pan over a charcoal fire.  Check it out:

Coffee

Coffee

Coffee

Coffee

Coffee

Coffee

Once again, after experimenting with home roasting, my life was forever changed.  Though I found the light roast was the most important part of good coffee, I have since found that stale coffee does indeed taste different, and I do my best to roast at least every three weeks, though that is sometimes more of a commitment than I can follow through on.  Even so, it is much more fresh than what I am going to get elsewhere.  I have also since discovered how much of a variety there is in coffee.  For example, Kona is great coffee, as is South American coffee, particularly Brazilian.  While I enjoy all fresh roasted coffee, there are some that aren’t as good to me.  For example, I am not as big of a fan of Sumatran coffee, or quite frankly Kenyan coffee, though both are entirely palatable.  It is simply amazing to taste the differences in these beans, especially when roasted at a nice light roast.

After reading all this, you may be inclined to start home roasting your own coffee, and I tell you with mixed feelings to be careful.  On the one hand, it is an experience I would never trade.  I have had my eyes opened to something I consider to be a real pleasure in my life, but on the other, I sincerely feel I should warn you that once you open this door, you cannot shut it again.  What I mean is this: you will NEVER view office coffee, Charbucks coffee, or most any other chain coffee in the same light again.  In fact, it may do as it has done for me, and you may find those coffees unpalateable.  Yes, I can still drink them, but it sure isn’t with any sort of satisfaction.  All it does is make me long for a good cup of home roasted coffee again.


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